PITTSBURGH – In the first inning of last night’s game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Arizona Diamondbacks, Pirates’ right fielder Gregory Polanco connected on his sixth home run of the year, sending Shelby Miller’s 95 mph fastball 398 feet in the opposite direction to give Pittsburgh an early 3-0 lead.
According to StatCast, the ball left Polanco’s bat at 102.6 mph with a launch angle of 34° degrees before coming to rest in the right centerfield seats at PNC Park.
Six weeks earlier, in the fifth inning of Pirates’ second game of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals (also at PNC Park), Polanco hit an 80 mph slider from Cardinals’ reliever Tyler Lyons 360 feet in the opposite direction for a game-tying sacrifice fly.
According to StatCast, the ball left Polanco’s bat at 97.3 mph with a launch angle of 27° degrees, before coming to rest, momentarily, in Randal Grichuk’s glove in centerfield
If we look at the stills of the impact point in both of Polanco’s at-bats, we can see he makes contact on the fat part of the bat (i.e. – the sweet spot) on both¹
So ultimately, what was the reason one ball traveled almost 40 feet further?
Let’s dig in…
First, the weather.
As we can see Polanco is wearing a ski mask in the game versus the Cardinals that kinda makes him look a little like Shredder. The reason for this, is the temperature at first pitch of that game was 40 degrees. Perhaps by the fifth tinning the temperature had decreased even further.
In the game yesterday versus the Diamondbacks, the temperature in Pittsburgh at first pitch was 78 degrees.
With that knowledge in hand, we can take a look at the chart below from Dr. Alan Nathan’s piece, “Goin’ Deep on Going Deep”, and see Polanco ‘lost’ nearly 13.2 feet of distance on just temperature difference alone, relative to his sac fly against the Cardinals versus his home run against Arizona.
Next, let’s look at spin rate.
According to Baseball Savant, Miller’s fastball had a spin rate of 2,182 rpm’s, while Lyons’ slider had a spin rate of 1,329 rpm’s. In referencing the chart below from Dr. Nathan, we can see Polanco, again potentially ‘lost’ another seven or eight feet of distance, relative to the two different types of pitches he was hitting²
By taking a look at temperature and spin rate, we have accounted for around 20 feet of distance, relative to the difference between the two batted balls.
Finally, if we look at pitch speed, knowing that for every one mile per hour of pitch speed we get an additional one foot of distance, Polanco potentially ‘lost’ another 15 feet of distance in the difference between Miller’s fastball and Lyons’ slider.
Add it all up and we basically account for the 38 foot distance separation between the two hits.
- Determining the exact location of contact without high speed tracking cameras is rather difficult, needless to say
- For a more in-depth dissertation on pitch spin, please check out Dr. Alan Nathan’s Baseball Prospectus piece.