We know that Oracle Park is the single most difficult park to hit a home run in. It’s also one of the fields where the fewest cheap home runs are hit. Only Marlins Park and Busch Stadium have had fewer balls that weren’t barreled or hit solidly go over the fence. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t cheapies that just sneak over the fence. This year, there have been two home runs hit in San Francisco that had an expected batting average of less than .200: Manny Machado’s opposite field homer off Dereck Rodríguez and Kevin Pillar’s go-ahead bomb against the Brewers on Friday night.
Pillar’s home run was the softest hit home run at Oracle this year, and since Statcast started tracking exit velocity in 2015, there have only been three with a lower exit velocity: Hector Sanchez’s three-run homer off Jeff Samardzija in 2016, Stephen Vogt’s homer off Sam Dyson in 2017, and Buster Posey’s homer off Grant Dayton in 2017. That’s three cheapies hit by the Catchers of Giants Past, Present, and Future.
We don’t get to say this about balls hit at Oracle very often, but each of these balls would have been routine fly outs anywhere else. But which would have been the most routine? Who has hit the cheapest at Oracle Park?
Here are all the poorly hit homers on a scatter chart. The x-axis is expected batting average, and the y-axis is exit velocity. What were looking for is a combination of the two.
The clear winner here is Buster Posey. Mac Williamson is the only batter with a lower expected batting average on his homer, but he hit his at 98 mph, so that doesn’t count. On May 15, 2017, Buster Posey hit his sixth homer of the month in a game where Matt Cain threw 6 2/3 of one-run ball against the Dodgers. If this sounds like it was in the golden age of Giants baseball, it was not. The Giants were 16-24, Madison Bumgarner had recently crashed his dirt bike, and Matt Cain finished that season with a 5.43 ERA.
But this one game was great, and everything broke the Giants’ way. In the seventh, Buster Posey hit a ball at 93 mph and 37 degrees. That neither qualifies as being hard hit nor was it hit in the optimal range of 15-30 degress. It had just a .064 expected batting average, and of the hundreds of balls like this, Posey’s was one of three that went over the fence.
This is what it looked like:
Out of the box, Posey didn’t look like he thought it was going out. Grant Dayton didn’t look upset when the ball came off the bat. I don’t think anyone thought it was going out until Cody Bellinger started running out of room. Had this ball been hit now, the 2019 version of Bellinger would have taken a better route and robbed Posey.
After the replay, Duane Kuiper said, “I don’t think the wind helped it at all. In fact, I think it hurt it.” That probably isn’t true. The wind probably carried this ball out.