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June 24, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Home Runs Aren't Always Mistakes

by Ben Lindbergh

Ivan Nova leads the major leagues with 46 extra-base hits allowed. Many of them were mistakes. This one, a solo homer by Kirk Niewenhuis in the third inning of the Yankees-Mets game on Saturday, was not.

Nova would've liked that one back, of course, because of where it ended up. But you know how we always talk about putting process ahead of results-oriented analysis? That pitch's process was pretty sound.

There's a perception that home runs always come on hangers, that a batter can't really make a pitcher pay beyond a bloop or a bleeder unless he misses his spot and leaves a pitch over the middle of the plate. Nieuwenhuis' homer shows that's not the case.

In an article last month, R.J. Anderson quoted Greg Maddux as saying, "You know what makes you smart? Locate that fastball down and away. That's what makes you smart." Usually, it does. In fact, two pitches earlier in the at-bat, Nova threw Niewenhuis a nearly identical pitch, a 92-mph fastball on the outside corner. Niewenhuis took it for a strike. It looked like he had no other option.

Looks can be deceiving.

Nova did make one mistake: he fell behind in the count. Nieuwenhuis probably wouldn't have hit that pitch for a homer if it had come on 1-2 instead of 3-1. Still, Nova made the best possible 3-1 pitch, another 92-mph sinking fastball even lower in the zone, and Niewenhuis hit it out.

So, yes, some home runs do look like this one, Nieuwenhuis' first major-league homer back in April:

"Hanging breaking ball right here, and it stays flat," Keith Hernandez said. "Oh, that's just a hanger, and he turned right on it. That's belt high... that one did not break."

But some home runs look like this:

"This is a nasty, sinking fastball from Ivan Nova on a 3-1 count," Tim McCarver said. "Right on the black."

Home runs aren't always the result of bad pitching. Sometimes the pitcher picks a good spot and hits it, and the batter still makes him pay. Imagine how demoralizing that must be.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

6 comments have been left for this article.

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