Did you know there were 5,610 home runs in the 2016 regular season? That's up from 4,909 in '15 and 4,186 in '14, and they came in every size, shape and situation you can imagine. They were majestic moonshots, frozen ropes, or in nine cases, not even over the fence at all. They came from lefties and righties off lefties and righties; they came in dramatic walk-off fashion in extra innings or as emotional leadoff moments.
The point is, while you may have an ideal in your imagination about what a home run "ought" to look like, when you have a sample of that many thousands of data points, you're going to come up with some extreme examples. So let's use Statcast™ to find the 2016 season's most extreme dingers. Would you believe that two of them came off Chris Sale, who is one of the 10 best starters in the game? Baseball is so weird, and great, and weird.
When you think about the hitter who "should" hold the Statcast-era record for the longest home run in baseball, you're going to immediately think about Stanton. When you think about the ballpark that "should" have been the venue for the longest home run in the Statcast™ era, you're going to immediately mention Coors Field. Put the two together, and, well, that's how you end up with 504 feet, the longest homer of the Statcast™ era.
The lesson is clear: Do not hang an 88.9-mph changeup in the strike zone to Stanton, as Chad Bettis did. What's incredible here is how much distance Stanton got on what was essentially a line drive; the launch angle of 18.3 degrees was his third-lowest of the 27 homers he hit. Perhaps that doesn't make it "look" as long as a moonshot, but that corner in left-center field in Coors is marked as being 420 feet from home, and Stanton's blast landed about 15 rows above that, still moving at high velocity. Remember, the distance we're using is the projected distance it would have landed if no stands were in the way.
What's easier, guessing that the longest homer of the season was in Coors Field, or that the shortest -- nearly 200 feet (!) shorter -- snuck its way around the Pesky Pole at Fenway Park? Clay Buchholz's 93-mph fastball up wasn't really a bad pitch, and it's not like Hardy smoked it back through the box, getting an exit velocity of just 98.2 mph at an angle of 20 degrees. That combination is never a home run because it's usually not even a hit, as the Majors had a .366 average (or from another perspective, made outs over 60 percent of the time) on balls with those characteristics.
In fact, let's plot every batted ball hit with that combination of velocity and angle this year. See if you can find the one that stands out. We made it red and bold just so you can't miss it:
That kind of ball shouldn't go out, and even the ones in the power alleys that look like they did on this image didn't in the real-world parks in which they were hit. By the way, the fifth-shortest homer of the season, at 328 feet, also came off Hardy's bat ... in the same game ... to nearly the same spot. Two of the nine dingers he hit in 2016 could have only happened where they did.
HIGHEST PITCH VELOCITY: 102.4 mph, Kurt Suzuki, June 18
What's by far the most interesting thing about this dinger is that it went out slower than it came in. Suzuki took a 102.4-mph pitch, turned it around at 101.2 mph, and still hit it 402 feet. Think about how rare that is. You can't really take an 88-mph meatball down the middle, hit it slower than it came in, and still put it out of the park. We showed last year that the "hard in, hard out" myth was exactly that, a myth, but there's still something to be said for the fact that if you know it's going to be a fastball down the middle, you're still at risk of a decent Major League hitter timing it up properly.
You were expecting Weaver or Dickey or Steven Wright. Jared Hoying? Who is Jared Hoying? And then you realize that this isn't a fair fight at all, because Hoying's not even really a pitcher, he's an outfielder, and he was merely making his Major League pitching debut soft-tossing knuckleballs in the ninth inning of what would become a 10-1 Minnesota victory.
Or so you'd think, anyway. The pitch seemed to move like a knuckleball and was automatically tracked as such in the database. When asked, however, Hoying had a different name for it.
"Just a super-slow ball," Hoying said. "I was just trying to lob it up there and throw it down the middle."
This ball had a projected hang time of 7.2 seconds. Think about how long that is. Count to seven. That's how long it took this moonscraper to come back to Earth. Put another way, our rough dividing line between "fly balls" and "popups" is 50 degrees, and this came exceptionally close to breaking that line.
"A towering fly," described the Yankees broadcast, and indeed it was, and yet the fact that it became Teixeira's 400th career home run was based almost entirely on direction. Just check out the extremely rare combination of 104 mph and 48 degrees. Look what usually happens -- nothing good, as far as the hitter is concerned.
This should have been a lazy, easy fly out that you'd never notice. In many ways, it was. Except, of course, for the runs it put on the board.
There is actually such a thing as hitting the ball too hard. We've tracked 35 batted balls at 117 mph or higher over the last two seasons, and only the two Stanton dingers and this Gonzalez shot made it out. If it's not the "best" homer we've seen, it just may be the most interesting.
Of all those homers in the bigs this year, 76.8 percent of them were hit at 100 mph or more. Lower that to 90 mph, and we see 97.2 percent of homers were hit that hard or higher. And yet here we have Tulowitzki managing to hit a ball 87.1 mph -- that's below the league average overall exit velocity of 89.1 mph -- and turning it into a homer, off Sale of all people.
Asking how often this ball is a home run is the wrong question, because it should be obvious that the answer is "never, except for this time." The right question is how often is this ball even a hit, and that is also "basically never," because when you look at the combination of 87 mph and 29 degrees, you get a .055 batting average. That's a few well-placed doubles and this homer. This ball is a lazy fly more than 90 percent of the time.
So why not this time? Because it went a projected 336 feet, and the left-field line at Guaranteed Rate Field is 330 feet, getting deeper as it goes toward center. There's just about nowhere this ball could have made it out; Tulowitzki managed to find it.
Sale gets stung again -- on the first pitch of the game, no less -- though this one had a lot to do with how it turned around outfielder Leury Garcia. For all the talk about Trea Turner, we've been telling you for months that the fastest rookie in 2016 was actually Buxton, even though he struggled in his initial callup before a scorching September. Sure, he had the fastest home-to-third time (10.69 seconds on June 3) of any righty hitter, but he also had the four fastest and six of the top 10. Among righties, he had the nine fastest home-to-second times on doubles.
So no, you shouldn't be surprised that Buxton had the fastest home-to-home time of anyone in the Statcast™ era. He's that fast. He's so fast that this was actually a standup inside-the-parker, and how often do you see that?
We saved the best for last. Or the weirdest, at least. The Major League average home run trot was 22.7 seconds, and so for the slowest, you were probably expecting David Ortiz here, checking in with a nice, leisurely 30-plus seconds around the bases. But Dietrich? And more importantly, 55 seconds? That's nearly four times as long as it took Buxton. How, even?
Well, as you may have expected, there's a catch. Dietrich made it from home to first in 5.5 seconds, raising his arm in triumph as he rounded the base -- nothing out of the ordinary there. He made it to second in 9.4 seconds. Except, when he got to second, he didn't look like a man celebrating a homer. He looked like this:
Why? Because the ball was a low line drive that just barely cleared the right-field wall near the foul pole, and it was originally unclear whether it would be ruled a homer or not. So Dietrich sat at second base for a full 32.3 seconds awaiting the ruling. By the time a brief umpire conference broke up, Dietrich was 41.7 seconds into his "trot." He'd eventually get home, nearly a full minute after making contact.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.