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July 11, 2012

Pebble Hunting

How Pitchers React to Home Runs

by Sam Miller

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If we learned anything from the Home Run Derby, it's that people enjoy watching home runs go far. We didn't actually learn that from the Home Run Derby. We knew that all along! It is a pretty well-established thing about baseball. I suppose we could just as easily say if we learned anything from the Home Run Derby, it's that large physical bodies such as the earth create an attractive pull whereby things that are flung up in the air will be drawn back down, the distance of flight correlating to the force exerted on the object. If you knew nothing before the Home Run Derby, you learned about gravity, and you learned that people enjoy watching big home runs. This is an introductory paragraph, and it is complete.

There is one small subset of the population we might not expect would enjoy watching big home runs: the pitchers who allow those home runs. We might not expect them to enjoy watching big home runs, but maybe they do. Maybe they have perspective on the thing. Maybe they appreciate the aesthetics of a baseball soaring impossibly deep into the sky. Maybe they're fans, just like you. Maybe not. I honestly don't know. 

These are the 10 longest home runs of the first half of the season. I'm writing this post because I think you might enjoy reliving the 10 longest home runs of the first half of the season, but more than that because I'm interested in seeing the reactions of the 10 men who allowed these home runs. 

1. Longest HR: Trevor Cahill, 485 feet allowed, to Cameron Maybin

This is, unfortunately, about as much look as we get at most of these pitchers. Not surprisingly, when a baseball is traveling 485 feet, the camera does not focus on the pitcher who allowed it. I think you probably know enough about me by now to know that, were I in charge of TV broadcasts, in such situations the camera absolutely would focus on the pitcher. There's no suspense in where the baseball lands; it's going to land by some seats, or past some seats. The suspense is in seeing whether the pitcher performs suppuku. We will cobble together as much footage as possible to evaluate these pitchers' reactions, but I warn you: it might get epileptic up in here. 

This is the first indication that this exercise might not produce the most extraordinary reactions. Here we see Trevor Cahill turning, watching, and otherwise doing nothing out of the ordinary. He's not ignoring the occasion, but he's also not doing the Roger Rabbit or anything. Here's the telling frame:

Cameron Maybin is watching the baseball, smiling. Trevor Cahill is watching the baseball, frowning. Shocking revelations!

Tally: One of one pitchers have watched the home run. 

Bonus Announcer Commentary: 

Mark Grace: That's out there where Mark Reynolds used to hit them. 
Guy Filling In For Daron Sutton: Heh. I remember Mark Reynolds.

2. Second-longest HR: Bobby Cassevah, 484 feet allowed, to Nelson Cruz.

Cassevah appears to be our first example of a non-watcher. But that's just his immediate reaction. Cassevah's curiosity gets the better of him. 

He does, we can see, turn to watch. The ball landed 484 feet away, darned straight he's turning around and watching. People love watching long home runs! 

Tally: Two of two pitchers have watched.

Bonus Nellie Cruz:

3. Third-longest HR: By Luis Mendoza, 481 feet allowed, to Travis Hafner

This is Luis Mendoza dramatically underestimating what has happened in front of him. For just one second, Luis Mendoza sees that Travis Hafner has pulled the pitch, and Mendoza prepares to run over and cover first base. Then he realizes he has made not one mistake, but two mistakes. He turns and watches to see if the baseball is going to hit some baby or elderly person. 

 

 

Tally: Three of three pitchers have watched.

Bonus Only Two People Sitting In The Expensive Seats Behind Home Plate reaction:  

4. Fourth-longest HR: By Alex White, 471 feet allowed to Justin Maxwell

White's reaction is probably the closest thing we've seen to the classic Whiplash reaction. There is actually some real difference between White's reaction and Cahill's. Cahill watches, but he's in no hurry to watch. He knows the play is over as soon as the ball is struck. White whips around, even reorients his body to get a good look, but it's not because he wants to watch the flight, but because he is genuinely not sure if the ball is going to fly out. In fact, once he determines that it is going out, he looks away and gets to work blaming the mound.

Alex White is still young. The longer he pitches in Coors Field, the more he'll be able to tell which of the fly balls he allows are home runs (all of them) and which aren't (none of them). 

Tally:  It's hard to say whether he ultimately sees the ball land. He may have looked up after blaming the mound. Conservatively, though, three of four pitchers have watched. 

5. Fifth-longest HR: Mark Melancon, 469 feet allowed, to Josh Hamilton

Unremarkable reaction. Melancon watches.

Tally: At least four of the five pitchers have watched. 

6. Sixth-longest HR: Livan Hernandez, 469 feet allowed, to Ryan Ludwick

The Pout.

Tally: At least four of six pitchers have watched. 

7. Seventh-longest HR: Cliff Lee, 466 feet allowed, to Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Ten of these was probably too many of these. I have nothing to say about this one. I quit doing bonus details four home runs ago. But I really want to get to Lance Lynn at no. 9, so onward we go. 

Tally: At least five of seven pitchers have watched. 

8. Eighth-longest HR: Hiroki Kuroda, 466 feet allowed to Miguel Cabrera

Kuroda, if I'm not mistaken, silently challenges Miguel Cabrera to a fight. He straightens up, faces Cabrera, and does the thing where he pushes his shoulders threateningly at his foe. The move I knew in middle school as the "what what?" This home run is so disorienting to Kuroda that he threatens Miguel Cabrera With A Bat to a fight. And our second angle shows he doesn't back down: 

He just stands there, staring, like the pervert who watches you from the dark corner of your bedroom, probably.

Tally: Five or six of eight pitchers have watched. 

Bonus Tim McCarver metaphor: "Gene Mauch used to call those cookies. This cookie lands in the jar." 

9. Ninth-longest HR: Lance Lynn, 464 feet allowed to Mike Moustakas.

As a Little Leaguer, I heard that throwing one's glove at the ball made it an automatic triple. So for a short period of time, when an obvious home run was hit, I would simply throw my glove straight up in the air. TRIPLE! Not a homer, a triple! But that didn't work. That was not a legal move, in baseball. And that's why you rarely see anybody other than Lance Lynn attempt that strategy in the majors. 

Tally: Six or seven of nine pitchers have watched. 

10. Tenth-longest HR: Ian Kennedy, 464 feet allowed to Carlos Beltran

So of our 10, seven pitchers definitely watched the ball fly out, and White may or may not have. About three-quarters of pitchers like to watch extremely long home runs. About one-fourth of pitchers don't like to watch extremely long home runs. About one in four Americans has seen or felt the presence of a ghost. About one in four Americans are insane. 

All home run distances via hittrackeronline, which also has video for each. 

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

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