You Got Served: 2013’s Slowest Home Run Pitches by David G. Temple November 3, 2013 Writers and readers of this site found their way here via many different avenues, but with relatively the same goal in mind: to try and dig deeper into baseball, to deduct meaning from things that perhaps aren’t evident on the field. I think it’s fair to assume that we were brought to the game as a whole for totally different reasons. This is especially true for young people, but it’s generally the look of the game — the aesthetics — that draw people in initially. You may not (or know someone who does not) fall into this category — I understand I’m painting with broad strokes here — but the presentation of the game still appeals to the lizard parts of our brain. We think it’s pretty, we think it’s exciting, we think it’s fun to watch. This is why we scoff when the tired adage of “you can’t watch a game on a spreadsheet” gets bandied about. We do watch the games, of course. It’s what drew us in in the first place. As far as the baseball season goes, we’re in a limbo of sorts at the moment. The World Series is over, and free agency has yet to start. Fans (and certainly writers) are waiting for that other shoe to drop. We’re in a holding pattern until we can start discussing and analyzing front-office moves, and looking ahead to the rookies, signings, and trades that will start shaping what a team will look like next season. There are a few of these dead spots in a year — when things just don’t really happen in a real meaningful baseball sense. It’s times like these when we can turn back to the aesthetic, to the eye candy. Personally, there are a few things that I will always love seeing when I’m watching a game. Balks are one. A steal of home is certainly another. Those are rare, of course. However, there are other more common happenings that will always make me smile. Call me a bad fan, call me immature, but gosh darn it do I love a home run. I love watching them live, I love watching them in replays, I love trying to hit them in video games. If you are ever feeling blue, just go watch some home runs. It almost always works. And while home runs make me smile, goofy pitches almost always make me laugh out loud — force an audible LOL. Eephus pitches, lollipop curves, Bugs Bunny pitches, whatever you want to call them. They take you by surprise. They serve as a very visual reminder that this game can be quite random, and also incredibly amusing. With that in mind, I went back and found the home runs that were hit on the slowest pitches of the 2013 season. We’re having a little break right now, why not have some fun? Here are the top 10. The pitch speeds are courtesy of PitchF/X, the HR distances from Hit Tracker Online. 10: 9.4.2013 Hitter: Hunter Pence Pitcher: Eric Stults Pitch Speed: 68.5 MPH HR True Distance: 414 ft. Pence had a 46.4% swing rate in 2013, good enough for 47th among qualified hitters. This would leave one to believe that he may swing at a pitch like this. However, to me, it would also hint at the possibility of him swinging right through it. In fairness, Hunter Pence’s overall style — something I refer to as the Anthropomorphic Bag of Marbles — looks like it would produce zero value on the baseball field, so what do I know? Nevertheless, he’s able to stay back on this pitch and drive it to deep left. If the Can’t Predict Baseball meme had a president, Hunter Pence would be a strong candidate. 9: 4.9.2013 Hitter: Matt Adams Pitcher: Bronson Arroyo Pitch Speed: 68.4 MPH HR True Distance: 404 ft. With Pujols on the west coast, Adams finally got some chances to prove himself in 2013. He did fairly well in a limited role, posting a 136 wRC+ over 300+ plate appearances. Matt Adams has power, this we know. We expect this from a player whose nickname falls into the “(synonym for large) (foodstuff)” category. Most of his production came off fastballs, however, as he was below average against off-speed stuff. But there’s off-speed stuff, and there’s Bronson Arroyo’s off-speed stuff. And when Arroyo misses with a looper, the usual metrics tend to go out the window, like they did with this pinch-hit homer from Adams. It was his first of the year. 8: 8.9.2013 Hitter: Colby Rasmus Pitcher: Pat Neshek Pitch Speed: 68.1 MPH HR True Distance: 424 ft. I have always had a soft spot for Pat Neshek. I mean, side-armers are always cool, but I always though Neshek had potential above his numbers. His fastball was serviceable, and he had a Frisbee slider that could make hitters look silly. The only problem was that he sometimes had to face left-handers. And that never went well, as Colby Rasmus displays here with a dinger to deep center in Toronto. Neshek pitched him soft and away, which is a typical approach against opposite-hand batters, but it was a little up, and Rasmus displayed great power by jacking a pitch that far off the plate. 7: 6.25.2013 Hitter: Travis Hafner Pitcher: Yu Darvish Pitch Speed: 67.9 MPH HR True Distance: 397 ft. My penchant for the slow curve means that I try to catch a Darvish start whenever I can. Darvish’s repertoire has been well documented, but it’s that goofy curve that gets me every time — and can get Darvish into trouble when he leaves it in a location like that. Hafner is far removed from his heyday with Cleveland, but he did show glimpses of his once-prodigious power, hitting 12 dingers in limited time this season. This one off Darvish would be his last of the year. 6: 5.14.2013 Hitter: Darwin Barney Pitcher: Jeff Francis Pitch Speed: 67.9 MPH HR True Distance: 388 ft. When I took tour of Wrigley Field earlier this year, the tour guide was talking a little about the team toward the end. He talked about players like Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija and “defensive specialist” Darwin Barney. That moniker is often used to apologize for a player’s offense. Barney hit seven home runs this year, including this golf shot off Jeff Francis. Even a guy with a 75 wRC+ can turn into one every now and then. It helps when the pitch is 67 MPH, too. 5: 4.27.2013 Hitter: Nick Markakis Pitcher: A.J. Griffin Pitch Speed: 67.8 MPH HR True Distance: 388 ft. A.J. Griffin is probably the second best pitcher named A.J. in the majors right now. He also has the second best curve ball of any pitcher named A.J. While not quite Burnettesque, Griffin’s curve ball is still well above average (7th best in the league). It is also very slow. And when it’s placed here: It has a good chance of being crushed. 4: 5.22.2013 Hitter: Ryan Braun Pitcher: Hyun-Jin Ryu Pitch Speed: 67.4 MPH HR True Distance: 403 ft. Ramon Hernandez was catching for the Dodgers on this day. He signaled for a pitch low and away. Ryu missed, and missed badly. Ryu’s out pitch is his changeup. It’s the second best in the league, behind Cole Hamels. There is a school of thought that a pitcher needs a good breaking ball for an out pitch — we’re seeing this argument with Michael Wacha right now. Ryu might have a good enough change to negate that argument, but if he wants to mix things up with a lollipop curve, he’s going to have to find away to keep it out of the meaty part of the zone. 3: 9.25.2013 Hitter: Will Middlebrooks Pitcher: Roy Oswalt Pitch Speed: 63.5 MPH HR True Distance: 376 ft. If you thought you were getting through this list without seeing a Roy Oswalt pitch, you were kidding yourself. Location-wise, this isn’t actually all that bad a pitch, but Middlebrooks puts a good swing on it. According to one of my new favorite sites, baseballsavant.com, Middlebrooks handles himself well on inside pitches. Oswalt’s curve, once an above-average pitch, has been declining in effectiveness over the past few years. Then again, so have the rest of his pitches. 2: 5.28.2013 Hitter: Jose Bautista Pitcher: Paul Maholm Pitch Speed: 61.7 MPH HR True Distance: 410 ft. This curveball actually clocked in at nearly 10 MPH less than Maholm’s average. I really don’t have much to say about this one. Let’s just watch what happens when a very slow pitch meets the bat of a very strong hitter who crushes pitches in that location. 1: 4.30.2013 Hitter: DeWayne Wise Pitcher: Yu Darvish Pitch Speed: 60.1 MPH HR True Distance: 374 ft. This pitch was one of the slowest pitches of 2013 that PitchF/X didn’t classify as an intentional ball. It also happened to be a home run. This was DeWayne Wise’s only home run this season, in fact. He was put in the DL in early June, then released. As you can probably tell, Darvish is the odd man out on this list. Most every other pitcher could be classified as a soft-tosser. Darvish can sit at 93 MPH and has touched 97 MPH. The wide range of velocity (he apparently had a curveball clocked at 53 MPH this season), is part of what makes him so effective. However, opposing hitters had a 187 wRC+ off the curve this year. Velocity changes are good and all, but there is probably a reason Darvish is on this list twice. If those yakers are in the zone, they’re in the seats. If there’s anything I love more than home runs off crazy-slow pitches, it’s swings and misses off crazy-slow pitches. But we’ll have to save that for a future post. In the meantime, keep an eye on those rumors, and keep praying for Spring.