HOUSTON: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a three-run home run in the first inning off pitcher Brett Myers #39 of the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Everybody loves a long home run, but long home runs don't just happen on their own. Here we tip our cap to the pitches that allow them to be.
You have a friend. Congratulations! Both you and your friend enjoy watching and talking about baseball. You and your friend are together, watching and talking about baseball. Curious, you ask your friend what he or she thinks is the most impressive individual feat in the game. The conversation might go something like this:
You: Hey, what do you think is the most impressive individual feat in the game?
Friend: You mean like a no-hitter or a perfect game? Probably that.
You: No, like, at any given time. One play.
Friend: Hitting a really long home run?
You: Hmm. There's a thing about that.
There's a thing about that. There's no denying that a guy hitting a really long home run is impressive, but where we stumble is over the word "individual." See, hitting is reactionary. There is no hitting without pitching. A hitter can hit a really long home run, but he can't hit just anything for a really long home run; he has to hit a certain pitch for a really long home run. Had the certain pitch been any different, the home run might not have been so long. There might not have been a home run at all.
Hitters get most of the attention, but home runs, and long home runs, depend just as much on the pitcher. What I'm going to do here is show you footage from the seven longest home runs hit last season. But rather than examine the hits, I'm going to examine the pitches. It is the pitches that in large part made these impressive home runs possible, and these pitches deserve their time in the spotlight.
You might recall that I looked at this in May. Now we have a full season to play with. Let's look at some pitches that got the living shit beat out of them. Dinger-distance data comes from the ESPN Home Run Tracker.
- Seth Smith vs. Bud Norris
- Aug. 23
- 472 feet
There is a metaphor in everything if you look hard enough. There is a metaphor in the red plastic water bottle sitting on my desk. There is a metaphor in the fact that I'm wearing jeans and no socks. There is a metaphor in that box. Any box, whichever box you just imagined. And there is a metaphor in this pitch. This pitch was what the catcher wanted it to be. This pitch was where the catcher wanted it to be. This pitch got turned around for one of the very longest home runs of the entire season. Astros.
- Mitch Moreland vs. Mark Melancon
- June 20
- 472 feet
There is a metaphor in everything if you look hard enough. There is a metaphor in the logging business. There is a metaphor in grocery carts. There is a metaphor in sheep. And there is a metaphor in the fact that the first two long dingers on this list have Astros pitchers on the mound. Melancon acts all startled, which is cute. I guess it was only June. There was still a lot more Astros left. A lot more psychologically numbing Astros left.
- Mark Trumbo vs. Louis Coleman
- May 30
- 472 feet
It's almost impossible to tell anything about this pitch, since the TV station put the camera on top of the shortstop's hat. Here's what we know: it came on a 1-and-0 count. It was fast-ish and straight-ish. The catcher wanted it lower than it got. With Trumbo at the plate, all the ingredients were there for this to happen, so it's no great surprise that it happened. You can make only so many things with a certain set of ingredients.
- Mike Stanton vs. Kevin Millwood
- Aug. 15
- 474 feet
They say that breaking balls don't work the same in Colorado. Here we have Kevin Millwood in the first inning of his first start in Colorado last season. He's trying to throw a 2-and-2 breaking ball in the dirt, or just above the dirt. He fails and leaves the breaking ball pretty much dead center. It's probably safe to say that Kevin Millwood learned something from this.
- Justin Upton vs. Chris Carpenter
- April 12
- 478 feet
Yadier Molina has a great reputation, but his pitch-calling is only as good as the pitches the pitchers throw, and it's funny how this low-and-away fastball turned into a high-and-tight fastball. Really just a bad place for a 1-and-0 pitch to go. I love how all four people shown on the field instantly recognize what happened.
Carpenter's hands-on-the-hips, aw-shucks response is in direct contrast to Millwood's more profane response above. "Welp, I guess I deserved that."
- Juan Francisco vs. Rodrigo Lopez
- Sept. 12
- 482 feet
A few years ago I had a job interview with a major league baseball team. They were trying to fill a video-scouting position, and during the interview, I was given a test where I was shown footage of 40 pitches, and I was asked to identify them out loud. It sounds simple, and some of them were simple, but some of them were really hard. This pitch, for example, is really hard to identify, because my instinctive identification is "shit."
- Prince Fielder vs. Brett Myers
- April 29
- 486 feet
Myers was behind in the count. This pitch was 83 miles per hour. This is where he threw it:
That is very literally a centered, belt-high high school fastball that Brett Myers threw to one of the most feared power hitters in the universe. If you were worried that the longest home run of the 2011 season came against a pitch that wasn't pretty much the worst possible pitch, then, good news. And by the way, Astros.