ST. PETERSBURG - After six scoreless innings Saturday, Avisail Garcia got a hold of Lucas Giolito’s first-pitch change up and rocketed it deep to left field.
The ball soared over Tropicana Field, hit the 2008 AL East Champion banner and ricocheted off the D-ring catwalk. It awed fans, but how does it compare to the longest home run in Tropicana Field history?
Immediately following Garcia’s home run, statcast estimated the distance at 438 feet, a distance that felt inadequate relative to the grandeur of the fly ball. Sure enough, statcast revised the distance to 459 feet, a more accurate yet still underwhelming measure of the shot.
The blast felt otherworldly, reaching a banner that floats directly above row AA in section 145 of Tropicana Field.
Statcast, first available league-wide in 2015, compiles data from a Trackman Doppler radar and six high definition cameras to measure a grocery list of baseball-specific actions. It measures arm strength on throws, spin rate on pitches and distance covered by fielders. It also measures launch angle and exit velocity, the two most important data points for evaluating batted balls.
Prior to the existence of statcast, measurement of home runs was largely guesswork. Mickey Mantle’s 565-foot homer in 1953 was measured by Yankees Publicist Red Patterson. He unscientifically paced off the distance from home plate to the spot where he thought the ball landed, and he later posed for photos with Mantle holding a tape measure.
Compared to the guesswork of old, statcast paints more accurate images of batted ball flight paths.
Garcia’s home run compares to a similar shot by Nelson Cruz in 2017. Cruz, then with the Seattle Mariners, took Rays right-hander Brad Boxberger deep to left field. The ball soared between 2011 and 2013 wild card banners before landing five rows deep in section 349 and rumbling into the upper deck concourse.
The Cruz home run traveled 482 feet, according to statcast, the longest home run in Tropicana Field history.
When looking at both videos, it’s tough to determine which shot is longer. Statcast, therefore, becomes the official ruler of the tape-measure shot, and the computer says that Cruz’s homer is superior. For some, though, that feels wrong.
If the distance seems questionable, explore the underlying the numbers behind each home run.
Garcia’s home run on Saturday had a 34 degree launch angle and a an exit velocity of 111.2 mph.
Since 2015, batters have slugged 29 home runs with launch angles between 33 and 35 degrees and exit velocities between 110 and 112 mph. The home run hitters on the list include Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Kris Bryant.
The average home run ball to fit the above criteria and compare to Garcia’s blast traveled 434.8 feet. The median blasts are a pair of 433-foot home runs, one by Joey Gallo in April and the other by Mike Zunino in September 2016.
The longest home run of the list, a 495-foot moonshot of the bat of Kris Bryant in 2015, hit high off the scoreboard at notoriously windy Wrigley Field.
So, among home runs with similar exit velocities and launch angles, Garcia’s 459-foot home run on Saturday is an above average anomaly. Similar blasts tend to travel shorter distances, and the initial measure of 438 feet may not have been all that egregious.
Cruz’s 2017 shot had a 26 degree launch angle and an exit velocity of 116 mph.
Since 2015, there have been 19 home run balls with launch angles between 24 and 28 degrees and exit velocities faster than 115 mph. Notable sluggers such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton frequent the list.
The average home run ball to fit the above criteria traveled 456.8 feet. The median blast was a 459-foot home run by Franchy Cordero off Jason Vargas last April. Joey Gallo launched the longest home run ball within the criteria, a 490-foot blast off Garrett Richards in 2017.
In 2018, Garcia launched a home run that looks eerily similar to Cruz’s 2017 shot. With a 27 degree launch angle and a 116.7 mph exit velocity, Garcia’s 481-foot home run with the White Sox on April 3, 2018 is a carbon copy of Garcia’s 482-foot blast at Tropicana field.
It is clear that Garcia is capable of matching Cruz’s monster home run. Still, the underlying numbers indicate that his Saturday blast doesn’t measure up.
The 459-foot estimate, while underwhelming for some, is actually above average compared to similar home runs. Based on batted ball exit velocities and launch angles, it is almost certain that Cruz’s ball did travel farther.
Sorry to all conspiracy theorists who want to tackle statcast. This round goes to the computers.