Hitting any Major League pitch for a home run is an impressive accomplishment.
But some batters ratchet up the degree of difficulty by going after bad pitches — or, at least, pitches that would look bad to most — and going deep. They take coal and polish it into diamonds.
Javier Báez is one of those guys. Already a legendary bad-ball hitter, the Cubs shortstop burnished that reputation on Thursday afternoon, golfing a go-ahead home run off the Pirates’ Tyler Anderson in the sixth inning at PNC Park. Anderson’s changeup, hurtling toward the dirt, crossed the plate only 0.86 feet off the ground, tying it for the fifth-lowest pitch to be turned into a homer since the pitch-tracking era began in 2008.
In 2019, Báez earned a comparison to the ultimate bad-ball hitter, Vladimir Guerrero (the elder), by notching a hit when he literally threw his bat at a pitch that bounced. Unfortunately for us, Guerrero played most of his career before pitches were tracked, but even without the data, it’s obvious that he belongs in any conversation about hitting homers against pitches that have no business producing homers.
We saw that on his very first Major League homer, a shot down the right-field line in Atlanta against a pitch well off the outside corner. We saw that on the big stage, in the 2006 All-Star Game, when Vladdy reached up to his shoulders to lift a Brad Penny heater into the right-field seats at PNC Park. And we saw it in 2010, when he golfed a homer in Texas off a slow Jered Weaver curveball not much higher than the one Báez hit Thursday. (At 1.09 feet high, it was Guerrero’s lowest homer pitch on record).
Of course, there have been many great bad-ball hitters throughout baseball history, including Guerrero. But in light of Báez’s feat Thursday, let’s go back as far as we can quantify (2008) and look at the most extreme bad-ball homers on record.
Lowest: Odúbel Herrera, Phillies
Aug. 8, 2017 at Braves
As Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran delivered a curveball, catcher Kurt Suzuki dropped his glove to the dirt, expecting that’s where the pitch would wind up. Herrera had other plans. The Phillies center fielder lunged out and somehow dropped his bat on the hook, which reached the plate at only 0.73 feet off the ground. Herrera ripped a 100.8 mph shot over the right-field wall and completed the trick with a nifty bat flip. “I’m not sure that ball wouldn’t have bounced if he didn’t swing at it,” the Braves broadcast pointed out.
Highest: Mark Trumbo, Orioles
May 8, 2017 vs. Nationals
The year before this, Trumbo led the Majors with 47 home runs for Baltimore. He never reached those heights again, but he literally reached to a great height (4.57 feet, to be precise) to somehow homer off this 91.1 mph four-seam fastball out of the hand of Washington’s Gio Gonzalez. Despite Nationals catcher Matt Wieters practically coming out of his crouch to get his glove up for the pitch, Trumbo lifted a drive well up into the left-field seats at Camden Yards.
Furthest inside (right-hander): Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Aug. 10, 2013 at Yankees
Look, Miggy isn’t closing in on 500 career homers for nothing. You don’t pile up big flies like that — not to mention win a Triple Crown and a couple of MVP Awards — without being able to do some incredible things with a bat in your hands. Cabrera’s lightning-quick swing allowed him to get around on a 92.5 mph Phil Hughes inside fastball that was 1.88 feet from the center of the plate. Not only did Cabrera rip a line drive, he managed to keep it fair long enough to clear Yankee Stadium’s left-field wall. That was one of 44 Miggy bombs in 2013, when he slugged a career-best .636 and won his second AL MVP.
Furthest inside (left-hander): Joe Mauer, Twins
June 4, 2008 vs. Orioles
The six-time All-Star was known more as a pure hitter and on-base threat (.306 career average, .388 OBP) than a big bopper (143 homers, including nine in 2008). But Mauer certainly could give one a ride at times — even on a pitch that wasn’t far from hitting him. In this game at the Metrodome, Baltimore lefty Jamie Walker tried to sneak a sinker past Mauer off the inside corner (1.59 feet from the center of the plate). But Mauer opened up, pulled his hands in and walloped the ball into the right-field upper deck. Well played, Mauer.
Furthest outside (left-hander): Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
June 23, 2014 vs. Reds
This was the year when Rizzo really came into his own, transforming from a top prospect going through Major League growing pains to a franchise cornerstone who soon would help bring a title to Wrigley Field. The first baseman made his first All-Star team and bashed 32 homers, including this one off a looping 74.3 mph curveball from Cincinnati’s Alfredo Simon. Not only was the pitch far outside (1.71 feet from the middle of the plate), but it was also about even with the top of the strike zone. Rizzo managed to channel his inner slow-pitch softball slugger, shooting his hands out and poking a fly ball into Wrigley’s left-field bleachers.
Furthest outside (right-hander): Christian Villanueva, Padres
Sept. 26, 2017 at Dodgers
Villanueva didn’t stick around long, playing 122 games for the Padres in 2017-18 before jumping to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. But he had no shortage of power, launching 24 MLB home runs in those games, including a three-homer game on April 3, 2018. A September callup the previous year, Villanueva made some bad-ball history at Dodger Stadium. Reaching out for an Alex Wood changeup that was 1.58 feet from the middle of the plate, he managed to slice a drive into the right-field corner, just over the 330-foot mark. Upon review, the play was ruled a home run due to fan interference.