There were 5,585 home runs hit in the Major Leagues in 2018. You can slice and dice them up any way you like, really. Seven hundred and six of them were hit in the first inning, the most of any frame; only 105 came in extras. The Yankees hit 267, a new Major League record, and more than double the 128 hit by the Marlins. Fourteen were inside-the-parkers, and 24 more came off the bats of pitchers.
We could do this all day. We won’t, though. Instead, like we did last year, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting pitches that turned into dingers. Not every homer comes on a hanging curveball or a poorly thrown fastball down the middle. The most interesting ones don’t look like that at all. The most interesting ones don’t look like anything else, really.
Fastest pitch: 102.1 mph, Jeimer Candelario, Sept. 7
You might remember Cardinals rookie Jordan Hicks for the record-setting velocity he showed all year, including touching 105 mph. But he used that heat in ways you wouldn’t have expected, because his strikeout rate (20.7 percent) was actually below average (22.3 percent), while his ground-ball rate (60.7 percent) was well above average (43.2 percent).
That sinking velocity made him incredibly difficult to square up, as he allowed just two home runs all season. One of them was to Tigers third baseman Candelario in September, and it was a big deal, because it gave The Tigers a 5-3 walk-off win.
We have pitching tracking data back to 2008, and only two home runs in that time — out of over 55,000 blasts — were hit off pitches thrown harder than this.
“I had a good swing right there. Thank God it went out,” Candelario said.
“I mean, he’s a professional Baseball player,” Hicks said, “so I’m not surprised by that, no.”
That’s indeed correct. Candelario is a professional ballplayer. He has 22 Major League home runs, plus 71 more in the Minors. We’d wager this one was the most impressive.
Slowest pitch: 58.6 mph, Nick Martini, Sept. 20
Enormous caveat alert here: If you watch the clip of Martini’s home run, his first and so far only Major League dinger, you might think to yourself that the man on the mound looks like he has no business throwing a ball in a big league game. You wouldn’t be wrong.
That’s because that’s not really a pitcher out there. That was rookie catcher Francisco Arcia, who was asked to soak up the final two innings of a 21-3 Oakland win, the worst loss in Angels history. (Not that the game wasn’t memorable for Arcia, who became the first player to pitch, catch and hit a home run in the same game.)
“You know, down the road maybe I’ll tell people that guy was throwing 98 [mph] with a nasty slider,” Martini said afterwards. Works for us; just don’t show them this article.
Slowest pitch (pitcher division): 65.4 mph, Nelson Cruz, June 22
As you’d expect in what became a historic year for position players getting on the mound, non-pitchers allowed plenty of homers off of pitches we wouldn’t exactly describe as “competitive.” (The five slowest pitches hit for homers in 2018 all came from position players pitching, including Arcia throwing the slowest two in the same Sept. 20 game.)
If we’re more interested in the slowest pitch thrown by an actual pitcher … ah, yes. It’s Steven Wright and his knuckleball, just like it was last year, and in 2016, and four of the six slowest pitches in 2015. This pitch came in at 65.4 mph, and it left at 108.9 mph.
(If you’re interested, the slowest pitch hit for a home run that did not come off a knuckleball or a position player was Yuli Gurriel taking a 68 mph James Shields curveball into the Crawford Boxes on July 7.)
Looking at velocity is fun, but looking at location is often even more entertaining. As you’d expect, most home runs come in the strike zone — nearly 92 percent, to be exact. But some don’t, and several came off pitches that a batter really had no business going after in the first place. We can take a look at the four most extreme, in terms of high, low, inside and outside.
Highest pitch: 4.45 feet, Colin Moran, May 22
This was Matt Harvey‘s home debut for the Reds, and things were going just fine into the fourth inning, with his team up, 2-0. Then, on an 0-2 pitch, he threw a fastball 4.45 feet off the ground, the kind of pitch no one should swing at. Moran did, right at his eyes. (Yes, he’s taller than that, listed at 6-foot-4. Batters crouch.) Somehow he parked it 399 feet into the bleachers for a homer.
“Look at this pitch,” said the broadcasters. “Who hits that?”
We’ve got the receipts. Look at this pitch, indeed. Only 8.7 percent of pitches thrown between four feet and five feet high this year ended up getting a swing. Of those, 60 percent of the swings were misses.
Look at Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart immediately before the pitch, imploring Harvey to keep it down.
Look at this missed spot, where Harvey does the exact opposite of keeping it down.
But that’s OK, or it should be. Even making contact in that spot isn’t a good thing; hitters had an .059 batting average and an .095 slugging percentage when making contact in that zone. You shouldn’t have to worry about missing your spot there. You worry about middle-middle. Now, you have to worry about everything.
Lowest pitch: 0.98 feet, Yan Gomes, Aug. 21
This year’s lowest pitch wasn’t quite the 0.73 feet (or 8.8 inches) that Odubel Herrera golfed a ball into the seats for 2017’s lowest pitch hit for a homer, but it’s still ever so slightly less than one foot off the ground. If you watch the clip closely, you can see Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon prepare to catch the pitch off a bounce.
Video: [email protected]: Statcast™ tracks Gomes’ HR on a low pitch
It was one of just two homers hit this year on a pitch lower than one foot off the ground. Unsurprisingly, both came off curveballs that didn’t curve quite enough.
Most inside pitch: 1.45 feet from center of plate, Eddie Rosario, June 2
You knew we were going to get to Rosario, or at least you should have. No one in Baseball had more hits on non-strikes than his 54. Fifty-four! He collected those in 592 plate appearances; compare that to, say, Khris Davis, who had eight in 654 plate appearances.
Just look at all of these non-strike hits. There’s so many.
On June 2, Trevor Bauer threw what should have been a safe pitch, one of many on his way to 11 strikeouts. It was a cutter, one that wasn’t even a strike before it began to cut further inside. Then it did began to move, right into his bat, and then right into the right-field bleachers. This pitch had no business going out. It went out.
“It was in his own batter’s box, so whatever,” said Bauer, which is a perfectly reasonable reaction. The next day, Rosario hit three homers against the Indians. The first one was outside the zone. So was the second one. (The third one probably was a borderline strike.)
Most outside pitch: 1.38 feet from center of plate, Anthony Rizzo, Aug. 22
This shouldn’t be a surprise, should it? Rizzo famously stands over the plate like no other hitter, leading to his being hit by an extreme number of pitches. (He’s been plunked 111 times since his first full season in 2013; no one else has even 95.)
So, while it’s true that the 94.2 mph sinker that Victor Alcantara threw on Aug. 22 was essentially in the other batter’s box, this actually doesn’t look that extreme, because Rizzo was towering over the plate to begin with. (Plus, the center field camera at Comerica Park is at an angle, as you can see by the dirt path between the mound and the plate.)
“You have to have the eye and be disciplined enough to not swing at the pitches off the plate or the pitches in off the plate, and just control the strike zone,” Rizzo told MLB.com earlier this year.
That’s both true and contradictory. On this pitch, Rizzo did swing at a pitch “off the plate.” But when you’re standing where he was, “controlling the strike zone” has a different meaning. Sure, it wouldn’t have been called a struck if he took it. But it wasn’t outside his power zone, either.
It was an eventful series for Rizzo, to say the least: The night before, he homered off Jordan Zimmermann while falling to his knees. And for bonus Rizzo content, this wasn’t the first time he’s done this. Check out this dinger from 2014. We’ll guess this won’t be the last time he’s on a list like this.