On July 16th, 2017, Abraham Almonte blasted a home run into the right-center field bleachers of the Oakland Coliseum.
The alleged 505-foot distance would have made it the longest home run hit in the Statcast era up to that point. News outlets and social media spread the news of the blast throughout the next 24 hours, and much of those articles and posts are still available for your perusal.
Almonte’s longest career dinger up to that point traveled 435-feet. How did he manage to blast one 70-feet farther?
Well, about that
It didn’t seem possible that Almonte could blast homers as far as Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. But how far did it really go? I decided it was time to finally go through the information and find out.
I booted up Baseball Savant, started clicking my way through the data, and noticed that they no longer list it as the longest home run of 2017. Good, I figured. They’ve gone ahead and revised the number.
Except it turns out there isn’t a number for the distance at all.
There are only two home runs listed for Abraham Almonte on the Baseball Savant web page when you query the length (“distance projected”) of each of his home runs in 2017. The only one missing in the search results is the July 16th, 2017 home run. We know that he hit three home runs in 2017. It also felt strange that the home run shows up when you ask it to tell you the launch angle of every home run he hit in 2017.
So, yes, the home run still exists according to Statcast. It just went (null) feet instead of 505.
Why is the data just gone?
A conspiracy theorist could come up with all kinds of juicy ideas:
- MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL is manipulating the DATA for certain PLAYS to make sure only SUPERSTARS have the longest DINGERS.
- Real Statcast exists in a bunker outside Cooperstown along with the undoctored video of all games ever played. We’re fed a stream of edited video and reams of fake statistics because MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL thinks that we can’t handle the TRUTH. If we could only access it we’d know that Almonte is one of the great hitters of our generation and the lizard people running the league would have to ANSWER TO OUR DEMANDS.
- There is no system of cameras and radar equipment. All numbers are simply generated by an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of computers watching MLB.TV in a sick ploy to boost subscription numbers.
- BASEBALL HASN’T EVEN EXISTED SINCE 1999, COINCIDING WITH THE CREATION OF THE HOLOGRAM MOON TO REPLACE THE REAL ONE THAT WAS DESTROYED BY NASA.
Fortunately the truth is a straightforward, though a little unsatisfying when it comes to our pursuit of the home run’s true distance.
What actually happened here?
I reached out to MLB Statcast Guru Mike Petriello to figure out what happened regarding Almonte’s home run. He offered the following explanation:
[T]he tracking software doesn’t capture a full 100% of batted balls, and while most often the missed ones are high pops or pounded-into-the-ground grounders, unfortunately (and relatively rarely), that extends to home runs. See: Aaron Judge killing a ball in Seattle last year. It wasn’t tracked, and that’s why you’ll find blanks. No estimates are created for those.
In Almonte’s case, it was very clearly not over 500 feet. A safeguard that was put into place to check for obviously-wrong measurements and prevent them from going public in real-time failed, which was frustrating. That safeguard was fixed and Almonte’s distance was removed shortly thereafter because it should never have gone out in the first place. No reliable distance was recorded, thus none is available to offer.
I sympathize with the level of frustration felt by Mike and others that work on the system when the inaccuracy got out. Even we weren’t immune to the hype. Imagine if Tycho Brahe accidentally calculated a collision course between Jupiter and the Sun, but before he could scratch out the numbers it got reported to everyone in the world instantaneously.
The good news is that any conspiracy theories surrounding this or any other absence of data can be put to rest. I also think it’s reasonable for Statcast to simply remove values that its team knows are inaccurate rather than trying to estimate it after the fact. Having information in the system that appears to have been a direct measurement but actually isn’t would be a quick way to undermine faith in the entire project.
For our purposes, the sad fact of the matter is that we will never know how far Almonte’s blast carried. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to get to the bottom of it ourselves.
A completely scientific approach to discerning the true distance of Abraham Almonte’s home run on July 16th, 2017
Please take a gander with me at where this ball strikes the seats in Oakland.
The ball appears to strike the seat or area of the wall within the red circle that I’ve added to the screenshot above. We can dial in to the approximate location in Google Earth and figure out how far it is from home plate: 422.98 feet. Remember that: POINT. NINE. EIGHT.
Now, how high up did the ball land? That should give us some additional room to estimate how much further it would have flown. Based on the fact that the fences at the Coliseum are 8 feet high all the way around and my impatient frustration at failing to find a more accurate way to measure, I’m going to offer a rough estimate of 40-45 feet.
When we review the home runs that have been hit with the same exit velocity and launch angle as reported by Statcast for Almonte’s home run, there is a fairly tight clustering in the 440-460 foot range. Putting his blast somewhere within that window seems pretty reasonable to me. All of which is to say this:
Let’s Go Tribe’s rigorous research methods and arduous minutes of review lead us to officially estimate the distance of the home run at 445.07. It is the longest home run of Almonte’s career, and regardless of how far over the fence it carried it would have been worth the same number of runs.
Should we be worried about information just... missing from Statcast?
I honestly thought so at first, but the more I dug into things the crazier I started to feel for even considering that this was more than a glitch. Statcast is just a new attempt to objectively view and measure a messy, subjective game. As Mike’s response and ongoing work on the project shows, they continue to refine it so that we can have a deeper understanding of the game we love. It’s one of the best tools we’ve ever had, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t perfect.
Or, if you want to be romantic about it: there will always be a little bit of mystery in baseball, and we should embrace it instead of expecting these ever-more-helpful sources to someday have all the answers.