Do long home runs rattle a pitcher?

Fan Confidence Poll: August 3rd, 2009
Going After The King

This is a guest post by Travis G. of Pinstripe Alley.

As I often do, I was thinking about baseball one day, specifically sluggers, and wondered if the act of slugging (hitting a tape-measure homerun) was any better than a run-of-the-mill homer.

I endeavored to study this. HitTracker was invaluable, as it measures the distance of every homerun hit; and BRef of course, because it compiles homerun logs for every player: the inning, the pitcher, etc.

So I looked at how pitchers fared after the tape-measure shots (“no-doubt”) as compared to everything else (“plenty” and “just enough” as determined by HitTracker). Would pitchers fare worse after a humiliating longball? Would there be any kind of ‘rattle effect’?

ERA and WHIP were the two stats I used to determine if pitchers improved or regressed after a homerun. I know they’re not the end-all, be-all of pitching stats, but they’re easy to figure out and are readily available in the game logs/box scores (as opposed to FIP or LD%).

Since I knew it would take many hours of research, I studied only three players, but was sure to take one each from a hitter’s park, a neutral park and a pitcher’s park. After all, if I only studied Mark Teixeira, he would have a greater percentage of ‘no-doubters’ than most other hitters because Yankee Stadium is rather conducive to ‘no-doubters’ (defined as: “the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence”; so a 370 ft. shot to rightfield in Yankee Stadium may be a no-doubter, yet a 380 ft. shot in Petco wouldn’t).

The three players were Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder (in the neutral Miller Park) and Adrian Gonzalez (in the pitcher’s paradise known as Petco). The study included all homeruns through July 20.

The number of no-doubters was directly linked to the ballpark: Tex had the most, followed by Fielder and then A-Gon. I didn’t go purely by distance because I was more interested in any kind of rattle effect a homer that appeared long would have on a pitcher. A longball that gets out by plenty in rightfield can appear longer than a ball that just clears the centerfield fence.

There were 21 no-doubters hit by the three sluggers and 50 normal homers.

The results

After a normal homer was hit, pitchers pitched to a 4.53 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. And now for the surprise: after a no-doubt’ homer was hit, pitchers actually fared better: 4.15 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. That was the opposite conclusion I expected. The results are even more pronounced when measuring by distance: 4.28 ERA and 1.33 WHIP after 400 ft. (or longer) shots, 4.56 and 1.56 after 399 ft. (or shorter) shots.

Now I know half a season’s stats from three hitters isn’t the biggest sample size, but I hope to increase the data field in the future and perhaps come to a more definitive conclusion. But still, it is intriguing and points to the possibility that pitchers bear down after a humiliating homer as opposed to getting rattled.

Other interesting tidbits

Pitchers were immediately pulled after 14% of no-doubt homers; on all other homers just 4% of the time. What value that has, I’m not sure.

For both types of homers (no-doubt and all others), the average inning of occurrence was the same: two outs into the fifth inning (4.7). Perhaps that is the most frequent time at which starters begin to tire (though the data includes relief innings).

Fan Confidence Poll: August 3rd, 2009
Going After The King
  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
    • Dela G

      i was at that game. You can actually hear me laughing on one of the fox feeds that i saw a year or two ago.

    • Bronx Baseball Daily

      Great article. I would love to see someone expand upon this and really get some strong sample sizes, but this is a tremendous start. Kudos.

      • Travis G.

        thanks! if i have the time this season, i intend to keep increasing the sample size.

  • http://Youcan'tincreaseyourrange TLVP

    I guess it could be that a no doubter from one of those three sluggers is par for the course – its going to happen. If you gave up a no doubter to Cody or Brett it might worry you much more.

    A borderline HR to one of your three sluggers could have a similar worrying effect – you get concerned when something that isn’t a home run becomes a home run, whether its wind or something else. If the pitcher then feels compelled to change his approach he’s likely to be worse off.

    I’ve previously argued that the high number of HR’s in the new stadium in part is a function of many batters thinking HR when they come to the plate – rather than look for a signle or a double they might swing for the fences since the park is perceived to be HR friendly…

  • http://Youcan'tincreaseyourrange TLVP

    in addition – the fact that 14% of all pitchers got pulled after a no doubter vs 4% for the ordinary actually implies a selection problem. Those that got pulled obviously won’t impact the average ERA

  • Mike HC

    Don’t you have to take into account who the pitchers were. If the collective ERA’s of the pitchers who gave up the normal homeruns were higher to begin with, odds are they would be higher after as well. In other words, if the guys who gave up the monster shots were better than the guys who gave up the normal homers, they would still probably be better afterwards. You would have to evaluate the difference in the pitchers performances from before the homers to after the homers on an individual basis. Just giving one combined number might just mean the pitchers who gave up the monster homers were better to begin with.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    If I were a pitcher I would be more upset with a wall-scraping home run than a bomb.

  • toad

    1. The average number of outs when a HR is hit is 14. That’s no surprise. It’s the midpoint of the game. The same is probably true for singles, walks, etc. All it means is that HR’s are likely distributed symmetrically during games, or at least that half are hit before the middle of the game, half afterwards.

    2. The differences don’t seem very big, and are probably more a function of who bats after the HR (and just random variation) than anything about the HR itself.

    • Mike HC

      The hitters will basically be the same because the same guys will be hitting after Teix, Fielder and Gonzalez on a game to game basis.

      • toad

        If the ratio of no-doubters to others is the same, or close, for all three guys, then you’re right – the guys batting afterwards wouldn’t matter. But if it’s not then it does matter. Also, since we’re dealing with small numbers even a few lineup differences could also matter.

  • Dela G

    I disagree that it may rattle a good pitcher. Most good pitchers just keep on keepin on. Felix Hernandez gave up a 460 ft bomb to marlon byrd on saturday, and then continued to mow down the rangers. Its all a mental thing.

  • pete c.

    I can’t remember who the pitcher was, but I remember an interview with one and when the question was asked about somebody hitting a homerun off him did he get upset: his response and I paraphrase was, ” hell no I think homeruns are just the prettiest things going” .
    That being said, as far as most of those guys go size doesn’t matter.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      as far as most of those guys go size doesn’t matter.

      That’s not what she said.

      • DreDog

        Oh snap!

      • Pete c.

        I thought we were talkin pitches not …

  • EdB

    Well if 14% of the guys batting after a no doubter were facing a different pitcher, don’t you have to remove those stats to figure out the actual effect on the pitchers?

    • Travis G.

      i believe i did that. since they recorded no outs, they couldn’t count toward ERA or WHIP.

  • GG

    I think it def. depends on the pitcher, for a lot of guys, yea it rattles them. A guy like CC gets more focused and amps his stuff up

  • Frigidevil

    If a pitcher gives up a bomb its usually on a mistake, something like a hanging breaking ball, something a pitcher knows he screwed up and knows how to fix. If the ball just barely gets over it feels more like bad luck, which is enhanced if he´s in a rough patch. Something like that probably has a bigger psychological effect than throwing a mistake pitch and paying the price.

    What I would like to see is the effect of a late inning homer to relievers, in the current game and subsequent starts. Now THAT stings.

  • Pasqua

    In a game last year against the Yankees (I think it was Opening Day, actually), Roy Halladay gave up a go-ahead homerun that just got over the 314 ft. sign in the RF corner. On the replay of Doc’s reaction, you can clearly see him scream, “Fuckin’ stadium!” He made his pitch, and it went out. I would venture to guess that it pissed him off and got to his head moreso than a mistake pitch would.

  • M

    Being a former collegiate pitcher, I will say a “Bomb” was more relaxing than a Home Run that barely made it over the fence. The “bomb” seems to justifiy you made a bad pitch and he hit it well, and it wa your fault. A just get over home run is much more frustrating because you feel as if you are un-lucky, and you try to over compensate the next pitch. But its all based on the pitcher’s mentatlity, the If your going to beat me, then really beat me, would agree with the Bomb not affecting him, and the dink that hits the top of the fence and bounces over would have the more negative affect. There are also some pitchers whom a bomb would rattle them, or any home run would.

  • DreDog

    What are the stats about chicks digging the long ball or the longer ball?

  • MikeD

    I doubt that one HR, no matter how far, would unnerve most pitchers. I’m not even sure what I’d make of the statistics even if they did show pitchers’ ERAs went up after giving up a long HR. It might also be a sign that the pitcher was losing his velocity and/or control, or his slider was flattening out, etc. That all said, I think it’s a great idea and would welcome more info.

    Also, vaguely related (it’s about HRs), I don’t hear as much about the new Yankee Stadium being a run-scoring factory as I did earlier in the season. I don’t know if that’s because the media has now accepted it as fact (it’s not), or they’ve just grown tired of the topic, or maybe they’re beginning to suspect the reaction was over the top.

    For whatever it’s worth, in terms of run scoring, the new Yankee Stadium ranks 14th out of 30 teams based on park factor, which compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road, and takes into account not only the home team, but the visiting team. The park’s 1.017 suggests the new Stadium *slightly* favors hitting (1.000 would be neutral). It’s 1.391 HR rate, however, is easily first in the majors, but scoring involves many aspects beyond HRs. For one, the new Yankee Stadium, even more so than the old Yankee, so far has depressed doubles and triples. The Yankees HR park factor has also been decreasing has the season progresses.

    In 2005, the Yankees HR park factor at the old Stadium was 1.430; higher than this season’s 1.391. We probably need two years of data to determine how the new Stadium truly plays, and despite Buster Olney’s best efforts, it’s a bit too early to call the Stadium Coor’s East.

  • Yards

    There have been a lot of useless posts here but this one takes the cake.

  • Steve

    i would be shocked if there is really any correlation.

    • The Artist

      Actually, I have little doubt there’s correlation. My question is whether there is cause and effect here, or if the long HR tells us something about what the pitcher has (in terms of stuff and control) that inning.

      For example, we’ve all heard the old saw “Leadoff walks usually comes home to score”. Well, duh. If a pitcher has lost his control enough to walk the first batter, he’s also more likely to miss over the plate, resulting in hits which will score that batter. It’s not so much sloppy concentration by a pitcher as much as it is a function of what he has during that inning.

      Similarly, if a pitcher misses so badly and has so little on his pitches that an opposing hitter launches one into deep orbit, that tells me about how he’s throwing the ball more than saying he was devastated by the long blast. So I won’t be surprised if the next few batters smoke him, since he’s got nothing.

      Correlation, not causation.

  • Adam B.

    I suspect what we have a combination of effects here. Short home runs may be indicative of many things. One of them might be a strong wind effect blowing balls towards the wall more. Another thing about short home runs is that a manager may interpret it as a pitcher being unlucky, that “the ball just barely made it over” or “that hitter just muscled a pretty good pitch over” and leave a pitcher in, when it’s truly that the manager is being too lenient. Whereas, with a long home run, a manager may see it as a sign of a pitcher being done if he was pitching poorly in the past or in the past few at bats and if he’s a good pitcher it’s the “He just missed with that pitch” mentality and the good pitchers are the ones who tend to stay in after the long HRs.

    Just theorizing, but it would seem to be the explanation.