Stats & Info: Nelson Cruz

Cruz fills big power need for Mariners

December, 1, 2014
No American League team needed Nelson Cruz more than the Seattle Mariners. Last season, the Mariners designated hitters combined to hit .189 with an OPS of .568. Both of those numbers ranked last in the American League.

The M’s also struggled to find power from the right-hand side. The Mariners .604 OPS from righties was the lowest single-season mark for a team since the 1988 Pirates righties had an OPS of .603.

Nelson Cruz
Cruz parlayed a terrific 2014 season into a reported four-year deal to help fill those voids in Seattle. The $57 million dollar deal would be the third-largest in total value ever given out by the Mariners trailing only a five-year deal worth $64 million to Adrian Beltre and a 10-year, $240 million dollar deal for Robinson Cano.

Value added
This past season, Cruz was the only player in baseball to hit 40 home runs while driving in 100 runs.

From a wins above replacement standpoint, Cruz was worth nearly five wins last season (4.7), after putting up a WAR total of 4.3 from 2011 to 2013.

Although the 4.7 WAR marked a career high, Cruz did have a similar season in 2010 with the Texas Rangers when he had a WAR of 4.1, despite playing in just 108 games.

From Camden to Safeco
While the assumption was Cruz would benefit from playing at Camden Yards last year, he was actually much better on the road than at home. Cruz hit .289 with 25 home runs on the road, while batting .252 with 15 home runs at his hitter-friendly home park.

Despite a .234 career batting average at Safeco Field, all of Cruz’s 15 home runs at Camden Yards this past year would also have been home runs at Safeco.

Good omen for Seattle?
Cruz is not the first slugger to spend just one season in Baltimore before moving on. It was 38 years ago that Reggie Jackson made a splash in New York after spending one season with the Orioles. The Yankees went on to win consecutive World Series titles in his first two seasons.

Gil Bransford, Justin Havens, Paul Kinney and Kenton Wong contributed to this post

ALCS Preview: Royals vs. Orioles

October, 10, 2014

Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsThe Royals live by the stolen base, but preventing them is Game 1 starter Chris Tillman's strength.
Stat to Watch: Chris TillmanOrioles Game 1 starter Chris Tillman is just the right person to deter the Royals baserunning advantage. Opponents are 2 for 13 stealing against Tillman in the last two seasons and have been successful on only 32 percent of their attempts the last three seasons, the lowest success rate in baseball.

Inverse Opponents
The Orioles finished atop the majors in home runs and last in stolen bases this season and their ALCS opponent, the Royals, finished last in homers and first in steals. This is the first time this happened in the same season since the inaugural World Series was played in 1903.

The Orioles led the majors in home runs and finished last in stolen bases, the first team to do that since 1979 and only the sixth team to do that since 1903 (the first World Series). Only one of the previous five made the postseason -- the 1968 Tigers — but they won the World Series (by beating the Cardinals, which the Orioles could do).

On the flip side, the Royals became the 18th team to finish last in homers and first in steals since 1903 (the first World Series). Only three of those previous 17 teams — the 1987 Cardinals, 1965 Dodgers and 1959 White Sox — made the postseason, and only one of them — the 1965 Dodgers — won the World Series .

The distance between them
The Orioles hit more than twice as many home runs as the Royals during the regular season (211 to 95). In terms of total home run distance, the Orioles hit the ball over twice as far as the Royals (15.72 miles worth of home runs to 7.17).

Nelson Cruz, who led all of baseball with 40 home runs, had a total distance of 16,088 feet. The Royals as a team had 37,844 total feet of home runs, meaning that Cruz’s total home run distance was equal to nearly 43 percent of the Royals total distance.

This is largely due to the contrast in the team’s home ballparks- Camden Yards and Kauffman Stadium- among the least spacious and most-spacious ballparks in baseball.

There were 211 home runs hit at Camden Yards, 95 of which would not have been home runs in Kansas City.

Speaking of Cruz, Only Hank Aaron (4.67) has a better career at-bats per home run rate in LCS play than Cruz (5.25), among hitters with at least 10 LCS plate appearances.

The long suffering will end for someone
Among American League teams only the Mariners, with no World Series appearances since MLB returned to Seattle in 1977, have waited longer for a return to the Fall Classic than the Orioles (last appearance: 1983) and Royals (1985).

A total of 15 Royals on the current active roster were not yet born when their team last appeared with the championship on the line. That number swells to 19 for the Orioles who haven’t competed for a title since Cal Ripken was just 22 and a guy who went by the name “Disco Dan” Ford patrolled right field for them.

Cruz's power swing very much in control

September, 7, 2014
Nelson Cruz may have entered Sunday with only 3.5 wins above replacement this season. But a game like Sunday's against the Tampa Bay Rays can serve as the signature for his MVP candidacy.

Cruz is unlikely to win the award, but he has been extremely important to the Baltimore Orioles in 2014. He became the fifth player in the past 20 seasons to have at least seven RBIs and account for all of his team’s RBIs in a win, the first since Jason Giambi did so for the 2011 Colorado Rockies.

Cruz also became the second player in Orioles history with two home runs, a triple and seven RBIs in the same game. The other is Cal Ripken Jr., who did so against the Texas Rangers in 1991. The last player to have such a game in the major leagues was Ryan Howard for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006.

When Cruz signed with the Orioles this past offseason, it was thought that he would thrive because Camden Yards is friendly to power hitters. But Cruz has been far better in road games (24 home runs, 66 RBIs) than in home games (15 home runs, 35 RBIs) this season. He ranks first in the majors in road home runs and is tied for 10th in home runs in his home ballpark.

What makes Cruz so dangerous as a power hitter is that he can hit home runs on pitches located almost anywhere within reach. He has 19 home runs against pitches on the inner half of the plate or off the inside corner. He has 20 home runs versus pitches on the outer half of the plate or off the outside corner.

His splits on pitch height are similarly balanced -- 18 home runs against pitches in the upper half of the strike zone, 21 in the lower half of the zone.

His two home runs Sunday came on pitches that were up-and-away and down-and-in, as shown in the image below.

ESPN HR Tracker derby dream team

July, 8, 2014
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesYoenis Cespedes will attempt to defend his 2013 Home Run Derby title.

The Gillette Home Run Derby (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) captains Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista will announce their teams this evening on the 6 p.m. ET edition of "SportsCenter." The ESPN Home Run Tracker team put together the lineups it would most like to see, using data from every home run hit this season.

American League

Yoenis Cespedes
Yoenis Cespedes hit a total of 32 home runs in last year’s Home Run Derby, eight more than any other contestant. Target Field has a shorter power alley in left-center field than Citi Field (377 feet vs. 385 feet), although it does have a slightly longer distance to the foul pole (339 feet vs. 335 feet).

Of Cespedes’ 32 homers in last year’s derby, 26 were hit to the left of center field.

Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz leads the majors with 28 home runs. He also has 19 homers off fastballs this season, four more than any other player.

Cruz has hit 2.1 miles worth of home runs this year, which leads the majors. He's also shown some of the most raw power in baseball, being tied for fourth in the American League with five homers of at least 425 feet.

Jose Abreu
Jose Abreu has 27 home runs, second-most in MLB behind Nelson Cruz. Abreu is one of three players to hit two or more miles worth of home runs this year.

David Ortiz
David Ortiz is one of four players to hit a 475-foot home run this season. Ortiz’s 482-foot homer on April 22 traveled 119.9 mph off the bat, the highest for a home run this year.

Ortiz has 16 homers of at least 400 feet this season, tied for fourth-most in the league. The only players with more than Ortiz are Edwin Encarnacion (injured), Mike Trout (has already declined derby consideration) and Giancarlo Stanton.

National League

Giancarlo Stanton

Stanton’s average home run to this point in the season has traveled 423.8 feet, the longest of any player with at least 10 homers. Stanton’s average is no sample-size fluke either: His 21 homers are the most of the 11 players averaging at least 410 feet per home run.

Stanton has nine homers this year that traveled at least 425 feet, most of any player in the league. Stanton has five 450-foot home runs; no one else in the league has more than two. Stanton has more 450-foot home runs than any other team in MLB.

Michael Morse
Michael Morse has eight 425-foot home runs, two 450-foot home runs and an average distance of 420.5 feet. All of those are second in the league behind Giancarlo Stanton.

Morse ranks in the top 10 in the National League in average distance, speed off the bat and apex among players with at least 10 home runs.

Justin Upton
Justin Upton has hit four 440-foot home runs, trailing only Stanton and Morse for the most in the majors. His 477-foot homer on April 10 is the fourth-longest in baseball this season and the longest at Turner Field since September 2010.

Ian Desmond
The shortest of the 15 home runs hit by Ian Desmond this year was calculated at 387 feet, making him the only player who has hit at least 15 homers that all traveled at least 375 feet. His average home run distance is 416.4 feet, the fifth-longest in the majors (mininum 10 HR).

Desmond’s 462-foot shot on April 21 is the second-longest home run recorded at Nationals Park since ESPN began tracking home runs in 2006.

Encarnacion, Stanton powerful in May

June, 1, 2014
May was a memorable month when it came to home-run hitting, particularly for a couple of players, one who couldn’t stop hitting home runs and the other, who couldn’t stop hitting long home runs. Here are our honorees for this month.

HR Hitter of the Month: Edwin Encarnacion
Edwin Encarnación hit 16 home runs in May, joining Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Mark McGwire as the only players in major-league history to hit at least 16 May homers.

After only going deep twice in April, Encarnación had five multi-homer games in May, tied for the most in a calendar month in MLB history.

Encarnación’s May homers traveled a total distance of 6,639 feet, over 1,300 feet further than the next closest hitter (Nelson Cruz, 5,321 feet).

Encarnación pulled all but one of his home runs in May and has pulled 72 home runs over the last three seasons – the most in baseball.

Trevor Ebaugh

Road Warrior of the Month: Nelson Cruz
Cruz warranted recognition in May as well and he gets it from us in this regard.

Cruz plays in homer-friendly Camden Yards, but showed he can hit home runs anywhere at any time. He had the most road homers of anyone in May with nine.

He averaged 414.4 feet per road homer, almost 17 feet longer than his average home run at home.

Long Drive Champion of the Month: Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton led the majors in average home run distance in May (minimum five home runs), averaging 437.1 feet per homer. Stanton hit eight home runs in May; the shortest of which was 412 feet (the average home run distance in baseball this season is 396.8 feet).

Stanton leads the majors in 450-foot home runs this year and crushed two in May to up his season total to five.

Stanton has more 450-foot homers than every other team in baseball.

On May 23, Stanton hit two homers calculated at 463 and 444 feet. The 907 total feet is the second-furthest total distance in a game this season, falling short by one foot to Michael Morse, who hit a combined 908 feet of home runs on April 23.

Longest homer of the month: Paul Goldschmidt

On May 28, Paul Goldschmidt drove a Troy Patton fastball 470 feet to center at Chase Field in Arizona for the longest home run of the month. The 470-foot home run is a career long for Goldschmidt.

Shortest Home Run of the Month: Miguel Cabrera
On May 17, Miguel Cabrera wrapped a home run around the Pesky Pole at Fenway Park that was calculated at 329 feet, the shortest home run of the season (not including inside-the-park homers). It is the shortest home run Cabrera has hit since ESPN began tracking home runs in 2006.

Short home runs in Boston are nothing new. Since, 2006, the 10 shortest home runs in the majors have all been hit at Fenway Park (excluding inside-the-park home runs).

Breakout Performance of the Month: George Springer
Astros rookie outfielder George Springer hit 10 home runs in May, including a seven-game stretch in which he hit seven homers. According to Elias, only one other rookie in baseball’s modern era (since 1900) had a stretch to equal that (Rudy York, 1937).

Trevor Ebaugh

Cruz, Springer hitting hard during hot streak

May, 30, 2014
ESPN Stats & Information
Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz and Houston Astros rookie outfielder George Springer are two of the hottest hitters in Major League Baseball.

Cruz is hitting .472 with seven home runs and 12 RBIs during a 10-game hitting streak.

Springer is hitting .390 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs during an 11-game hitting streak. The homers all have come in his past seven games.

Springer is the second rookie in modern MLB history (since 1900) to hit seven homers in a seven-game span (Rudy York did so in 1937).

Springer has 10 home runs this month. In the past 100 years, Mark McGwire (15 in 1987) and Wally Berger (11 in 1930) are the only rookies with more homers in May.

Cruz and Springer are both hitting the ball hard lately.

Since May 17, Cruz (.348) and Springer (.341) lead the American League in hard-hit average (hard-hit balls per at-bat).

Springer ranks second (.610) and Cruz third (.578) in the majors in isolated slugging percentage (total bases minus hits divided by at-bats) since May 17.

Five of Cruz's seven homers during his streak have come on fastballs. He's hitting .714 with a 1.929 slugging percentage on at-bats that end in fastballs during his streak, both of which lead the majors since May 20.

Springer is doing his damage on the outer half of the plate. During his streak, he's hitting .444 with four home runs against pitches on the outer half. Prior to May 17, he was hitting .203 with just one homer against pitches on the outer half this season.

Springer and Cruz look to continue their hot streaks when the Astros host the Orioles at 8:10 p.m. ET Friday.

Cruz Carrying Orioles with Monster May

May, 29, 2014

AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyCruz has plenty to celebrate. His 12 home runs in May are the most in Orioles history.
Nelson Cruz has been on fire lately. Cruz is hitting .469 with 7 HR and 11 RBI during his current 9-game hitting streak, raising his season batting average 33 points (from .273 to .306). But this hot streak goes back even further.

Cruz has 12 home runs in the month of May, the most by any Baltimore Orioles hitter in May in franchise history. And he’s hitting .321 with 13 HR in his past 28 games, dating to April 27, thanks to his willingness and ability to get to the outside pitch.

Since April 27, Cruz has been crushing pitches on the outer half. His slugging percentage and hard-hit average have gone through the roof.

Nine of Cruz's last 13 home runs have come on pitches on the outer half.

Much of the new Oriole slugger's success from outer-half pitches has come from his ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. Cruz has hit 25 percent of his balls in play to the opposite field since April 27, up eight percent from his first 22 games.

Cruz already has 19 multi-hit games this season, nearly halfway to his career high of 40, set in 2012.

Rangers rely on hit parade without Cruz

August, 20, 2013

AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSince losing Nelson Cruz on Aug. 5, the Rangers have the best offense in baseball.
When Nelson Cruz was handed a 50-game suspension for being linked to Biogenesis, the Texas Rangers lost one of their top hitters. But the Rangers' offense has been the best in baseball since his suspension.

And they haven't done it with the long ball. On Monday they scored 11 of their 16 runs against the Houston Astros in the third inning without hitting a home run. The Rangers lead the league in runs per game (6.6) since Aug. 5, despite having hit just six home runs in that span, tied for the fewest in the majors.

Instead, the Rangers have reached base at the third-best rate in that timeframe, helped by their ability to draw walks (third-best walk rate since Aug. 5). And they've been aggressive on the basepaths. Since the Biogenesis fallout, Texas' 24 stolen bases lead the league.

Leading the way are Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin. The duo has combined for 15 stolen bases since Aug. 5 (Andrus, 8; Martin, 7), more than 26 other teams in that span (only the Royals, Yankees and Astros have stolen as many bases).

Adrian Beltre has remained the cornerstone of the Rangers' offense, batting .422/.544/.600 since Cruz's suspension. It’s his best hitting month in terms of average despite not having the same power he had the first four months of the season (23 home runs through July; two home runs so far in August).

A.J. Pierzynski has emerged as the team's second-best hitter sans Cruz, feasting on anything inside the strike zone. He's batting a league-best .545 with a 1.500 OPS on at-bats ending with pitches inside the strike zone. He batted .309 on such pitches prior to that, right around league average (.304).

Rios brings some power, speed, a few flaws

August, 9, 2013

The Texas Rangers were able to find someone to fill in for suspended slugger Nelson Cruz, making a trade with the Chicago White Sox on Friday for outfielder Alex Rios.

How does Rios fit in with his new team? Let's take a look at the numbers.

The basics
Rios gives the Rangers a combination of modest power and speed.

Only two other players have as many homers (12) and as many stolen bases (26) as Rios does this season-- Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura

Rios is not quite the player that Cruz was.

His 0.9 Wins Above Replacement are less than Cruz’s 2.1 in 2013. However, Rios was worth 4.6 Wins Above Replacement last season, 15th-best among major-league outfielders.

A closer look
Rios enters with a nine-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .324, but he only has one extra-base hit during this stretch.

Rios has a .263/.304/.330 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slashline in his last 49 games, with one home run in 194 at-bats. He’s compensated by running, with 17 steals in 19 attempts.

Rios is hitting the ball on the ground much more in this stretch (48 percent of the balls he’s hit, compared to 42 percent previously).

His fly balls have also lacked any sort of oomph. Our video-tracking service charted 36 percent of the balls he hit in the air through June 9 to be “hard-hit.”

But only 22 percent of them have been so since then. Our distance estimators note the average depth on his balls hit in the air has plummeted from 280 feet to 254 feet.

For those who think that Rios might find his power stroke in Rangers Ballpark, keep this in mind: In 161 at-bats there, he has only one home run.

His biggest strength
Rios thrives against hard stuff. His .327 batting average against fastballs, sinkers and cutters ranks in the top 15 percent of major league hitters. He misses on only eight percent of his swings against those pitches, which rates 13th-best among the 153 players currently qualified for the batting title.

Rios has no fear of the game’s hardest throwers. His 16 hits against pitches thrown 95 mph or faster is only two shy of the major league lead, shared by Allen Craig and Rios’ new teammate, Adrian Beltre.

On the decline: His Defense
Rios has rated positively in right field by Defensive Runs Saved every season from 2004 to 2012, his tallies ranging from four to 18 Defensive Runs Saved during that span.

But this season has been considerably different. His -6 Defensive Runs Saved rates seventh-worst among the 35 players with the most innings in right field this season.

Rangers fans won’t want to hear this but Rios’ biggest issue is one he shares with Cruz.

His rating at catching balls hit to the deepest parts of the ballpark is by far the worst of his career.

Quality and quantity to Upton's home runs

May, 1, 2013

Daniel Shirey/Getty ImagesJustin Upton left little doubt to each of the 12 home runs he hit in the first month of the season.

The month of April ended in style when it came to home runs. There were 50 home runs hit on Tuesday, the most in a single day since Sept. 11, 2007 when there was also 50 home runs.

No team had more than the Cleveland Indians, who hit seven against the Philadelphia Phillies, including three off Roy Halladay. The 50 home runs measured a combined 19,992 feet, or just under 3.8 miles.

Here’s a look at some of the HR highlights from the first month of the season.

Player of the Month
Justin Upton hit a league-leading 12 home runs in April, two shy of the MLB record for the most in March/April. None of Upton’s home runs were cheap -- each one traveled more than 400 feet. His longest of the month came on Opening Day against Cole Hamels. It went 460 feet, Upton’s 12th home run of at least 450 feet in the past four seasons. That’s tied with Giancarlo Stanton for the most in MLB over that span.

Upton’s average home run distance in April was 423.5 feet, that’s the highest this season among players with at least six home runs. Upton hit eight home runs in April that went at least 420 feet, four more than any other player and three more than he had all of last season. This is resurgence for Upton, who led baseball in 2011 with 18 home runs that traveled at least 420 feet.

Unlikely HR of the Month
On April 13, Nick Swisher hit a 397-foot home run at Progressive Field in Cleveland off Chris Sale. The ball cleared the 19-foot left field fence by about 10 feet.

ESPN Stats & InformationNick Swisher's home run on April 13 was helped significantly by a strong tailwind.

The home run appeared to be a clear no doubter. However, at the time the wind was blowing 23 MPH out to left, which pushed the ball an extra 69 feet. If there was no wind, the ball would have landed about 14 feet shy of the warning track and would not have been a home run in any major-league park. It was the most wind-aided home run since David Wright’s home run was pushed 72 feet by the wind in Citi Field on April 24, 2011.

Since the start of the 2006 season, only eight other home runs have been aided more by the wind than Swisher’s.

Longest of the Month
There was a tie between the Cubs Anthony Rizzo and the Angels Mark Trumbo. On April 18 against Alexi Ogando, Rizzo hit a career-long 475-foot home run to right-center field. It was the longest home run hit at Wrigley Field since 2008.

On April 29, Trumbo matched Rizzo, hitting a career-long 475-foot shot off Dan Straily to left-center field at the Coliseum. It was Trumbo’s third home run longer than 470 feet in the last three seasons, the most in baseball. There are only three other players (Giancarlo Stanton, Prince Fielder, Nelson Cruz) who have hit multiple 470-foot home runs during that time span, and 19 total such home runs. In addition, Trumbo’s home run was the longest hit at Oakland in the past eight seasons.

2012 HR Awards: Stanton reigns supreme

November, 10, 2012
Without further ado, we present you with our end-of-season Home Run Tracker Awards.

*Please note: All information goes back to the 2006 season, the first year of the ESPN Home Run Tracker database. In addition, this excludes inside-the-park home runs unless otherwise indicated.

2012 Winner: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (494 feet)

Giancarlo Stanton won the award for longest 2012 home run by hitting a 494-foot blast on August 17 off Josh Roenicke at Coors Field. It was the fifth-longest home run since ESPN HR Tracker began in 2006.

B.J. Upton
2012 Winner: B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Rays (323 feet)

B.J. Upton hit a 323-foot home run off Ervin Santana on April 24, the shortest home run of the season and the shortest home run at Tropicana Field since the beginning of ESPN HR Tracker in 2006.

2012 Winner: Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies (162 feet)

Todd Helton’s walk-off home run off J.J. Putz on April 14 had an apex of 162 feet, the ball hanging in the air for 6.92 seconds. It had the highest apex since 2009, when Alex Rodriguez hit a 390-foot home run with a 169-foot apex.

2012 Winner: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (43 feet)

Adam Jones’ 354-foot home run off Edwin Jackson on June 23 had an apex of 43 feet, the lowest by an Oriole player and the lowest at Camden Yards since the beginning of ESPN HR Tracker in 2006.

2012 Winner: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (122.4 mph)

Giancarlo Stanton’s second award set a record, as his 462-foot home run off Jamie Moyer on May 21 had a speed off bat of 122.4 miles per hour -- the fastest since the beginning of ESPN HR Tracker in 2006.

2012 Winner: Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Ervin Santana gave up 39 home runs this season, the most in the majors. Jason Vargas and Phil Hughes tied for second with 35. Since 2006, only Bronson Arroyo has given up more home runs than Santana.

Nelson Cruz
2012 Winner: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers (418.6 feet)

Nelson Cruz averaged 418.6 feet per home run this season, beating out teammate Josh Hamilton by an average of 2.9 feet. Cruz’s 484-foot home run on June 3 was the fourth longest of the season, and he had home runs of 470 and 464 feet as well. Only six of his 22 home runs went less than 400 feet.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezThe Giants hit just two home runs at home in July, both by Buster Posey.
ESPN's Home Run Tracker analyzes video of each home run hit this season and as far back as 2006. Each month, the tracker will detail the best and worst home runs, as well as some other interesting statistics pertaining to the long ball. With the exception of the final day of the month, below are the notable home runs for the month of July.

No Doubter of the Month: Longest true distance HR
June Winner: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers (484 feet)
July Winner: Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres (485 feet)
On July 2 at Chase Field, Maybin hit a 485-foot shot to left-center field. Not only was it the longest home run of his career, but the second-longest at Chase Field since ESPN began tracking home runs in 2006.

Wall-Scraper of the Month: Shortest true distance HR
June Winner: Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (329 feet)
July Winner: Cody Ross, Boston Red Sox (338 feet)
On July 19 at Fenway Park, Ross hit an Addison Reed pitch into the monster seats for a walk-off home run. The 338-foot HR is the longest “wall-scarper” this season. It was Ross’ shortest home run since he hit one 337 feet off Hiroki Kuroda in 2008.

Moonshot of the Month: Highest apex HR (maximum vertical height ball reaches)
June Winner: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds (152 feet)
July Winner: Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians (154 feet)
Hafner’s 363-foot HR off Ricky Romero on July 13 was the third-highest in 2012. The two home runs with higher apexes in 2012: 366-foot home run by Todd Helton on April 14 that had an apex of 162 feet, and a 419-foot bomb by Paul Goldschmidt on April 6 that reached a height of 156 feet.

Liner of the Month: Lowest apex HR
June Winner: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (43 feet)
July Winners: Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati Reds and Casey Kotchman, Cleveland Indians (47 feet)
Ludwick’s 361-foot HR on July 14 was his lowest apex since the beginning of the tracker in 2006. Kotchman’s 354-foot shot on July 4 also had an apex of 47 feet, the lowest at Progressive Field since May of 2010.

Mother Nature: Most climate-impacted HR
June Winner: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds (+67 feet)
July Winner: Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies (+50 feet)
On July 28, the wind was blowing out at Coors Field when Michael Cuddyer’s 363-foot home run was aided by a 13 mph wind. That carried the ball an extra 50 feet. Only four home runs at Coors Field have been more wind-aided since 2006.

Masher of the Month: Player with greatest average distance (min. 5 HR)
June Winner: Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks (425.8 feet)
July Winner: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (424.9 feet)
Cabrera’s nine home runs in July had an average distance of 424.9 feet, more than five feet more than the next closest player, Edwin Encarnacion. Four of Cabrera’s nine July home runs went at least 440 feet, including his 300th career HR, which went 457 feet.

Team Power Outage of the Month: Team with fewest HR
June Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers (6)
July Winner: San Francisco Giants (14)
After relinquishing the June award to their NL West rivals, the San Francisco Giants once again take the award for fewest home runs. The Giants hit just 14 in July, three more than the 11 the Giants hit in May. Only two of the Giants’ 14 HR in July were hit at home.

Cruz crushes the ball to earn June HR award

July, 1, 2012
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesNelson Cruz headlines the June awards with his 484-foot homer against the Angels.

ESPN's Home Run Tracker analyzes video of each home run hit this season and as far back as 2006. Each month, the tracker will detail the best and worst home runs, as well as some other interesting statistics pertaining to the long ball. Below are the notable home runs for the month of June (games through June 30).

No Doubter (Longest true distance)
May Winner: Justin Maxwell (471 feet)
June Winner: Nelson Cruz (484 feet)
Nelson Cruz’s 484-foot blast in Angel Stadium off Bobby Cassevah on June 3 is the longest home run hit this season. It is also Cruz’s longest home run of his career and the longest home run hit at Angel Stadium since the beginning of the ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006.

Wall-Scraper (Shortest true distance)
May Winner: Jed Lowrie (330 feet)
June Winner: Adrian Beltre (329 feet)
Adrian Beltre drove a Brad Brach pitch off the bottom of the right field foul pole 329 feet in PETCO Park on June 19, giving the Rangers the first two June awards. The 329-foot homer is only the third home run to have a true distance of less than 330 feet this year.

Moonshot (Highest apex - maximum vertical height a ball reaches)
May Winner: Josh Hamilton (153 feet)
June Winner: Jay Bruce (152 feet)
Jay Bruce’s 392-foot home run off Joe Smith on June 18 had an apex of 152 feet, taking the award by one foot over Mark Trumbo, who hit a 364-foot homer on June 10 that had an apex of 151 feet.

Liner (Lowest apex)
May Winner: Adam Dunn (47 feet)
June Winner: Adam Jones (43 feet)
On June 23, Adam Jones hit a 354-foot home run off Edwin Jackson that had an apex of 43 feet and left Camden Yards in 3.06 seconds. It is the lowest apex of the season and lowest apex by an Oriole since the beginning of ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006.

Fastball (Fastest speed off bat)
May Winner: Giancarlo Stanton (122.4 mph)
June Winner: Giancarlo Stanton (120.0 mph)
For the second month in a row, Giancarlo Stanton takes home the award for the homer with the fastest speed off the bat.

Server (Pitcher who allowed the greatest cumulative distance)
May Winner: Mike Minor
June Winner: Jason Vargas
Jason Vargas gave up 11 home runs in June, including a 457-foot bomb to Justin Upton on June 20. The 11 home runs allowed did not exactly help Vargas’ 7.34 June ERA.

Masher (Greatest average home run distance, min. five home runs)
May Winner: Mark Trumbo
June Winner: Miguel Montero
Miguel Montero’s five June home runs had an average distance of 425.8 feet, edging out Torii Hunter by 1.2 feet. Montero hit a 458-foot home run off Jarrod Parker on June 9 and a 447-foot home run off Yoshinori Tateyama on June 14, helping his cause.
Tonight in Arlington, Sunday Night Baseball features a clash of the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers.

Texas leads the league in runs, but the most interesting thing to watch when the Rangers are batting will actually be the shifting Rays defense.

Last season Tampa Bay led the majors by shifting their infield 216 times, an average of 1.3 shifts per game.

This season the Rays have already used 125 infield shifts, amplifying their usage to nearly six times per game.

The huge spike in shifts has primarily been caused by adjusting more often against right-handed hitters. Last season, the Rays shifted on seven percent of such at-bats; this season, the number is 50 percent.

Is this hyper-shifting working? Perhaps. Twenty-one games into the season, the Rays rank 20th in defensive efficiency but are 2nd in defensive runs saved with 20.

Tampa Bay’s opponents are hitting .255 on ground balls this year, compared to the league average of .226.

Looking at a larger sample size, Rays opponents hit .222 on ground balls in 2011, notably worse than the league average of .237.

It’s worth pointing out that the shift not only affects ground balls, but also line drives. Opponents are hitting .642 on line drives against the Rays this season, six percentage points lower than the major-league average.

Again, this season’s sample size is small, but the Rays defense was very similar a year ago, also holding opponents to a line-drive batting average six percentage points lower than the major-league average.

Several Texas Rangers are strong candidates to see shifts tonight. Since 2009, Josh Hamilton has hit 68 percent of his ground balls to the middle-right or far-right portions of the field, with 19 percent to the middle-left or far-left.

Righties Ian Kinsler (74 percent) and Mike Napoli (75 percent) have both pulled about three-quarters of their ground balls since 2009. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz aren’t far behind, at 65 percent each.

According to The Fielding Bible, the first known use of shifting was in 1946 against Ted Williams, who walked on four pitches. Sixty-six years later, the Rays are taking that idea to the extreme, and tonight’s game may be a showcase for their defensive revolution.

Information from Baseball Info Solutions was used in this post.

2011: Year of the Next-Level Note

December, 30, 2011
One of the things we do in Stats & Information is come up with notes and tidbits that earn the billing of Next Level. These are nuggets that go beyond the box score in an attempt to tell the story of a game, moment, or player in a different manner.

With the calendar year about to end, we went back through our files and found 10 of our favorite Next Level notes.

Justin Verlander no-hitter (May 7)
Justin Verlander
In Verlander’s second career no-hitter, he saved his heat for the end of the game, averaging 99 miles-per-hour with his fastball from the seventh inning on, with five pitches over 100 miles-per-hour.

That made it tough to time his offspeed stuff. The Toronto Blue Jays did not hit a ball out of the infield against any of Verlander's 52 offspeed pitches.

Jason Giambi: among oldest players with a 3-HR game (May 19)
Giambi became the oldest player since the mound was lowered in 1969 to hit three home runs in a game (40 years, 161 days). Giambi hit two of his three home runs on 1-1 counts, notable because over the past three seasons hit .343 with 16 home runs in at-bats ending in an early count.

There was a 194 point difference in Giambi's performance in the first three pitches of an at-bat, compared to beyond that. The typical major leaguer had a difference of 116 points last season.

Wilson Valdez gets the Win (May 25)

Pitch locations for where Wilson Valdez got his outs

In becoming the first player to start a game as a position player and then earn a win in relief since Babe Ruth in 1921, Valdez got through the 19th inning against the Cincinnati Reds unscathed.

Valdez’s nine fastballs were clocked at 87 miles-per-hour (about the same as Freddy Garcia and Shaun Marcum).

When comparing the break and movement, the best comparison to it would probably be the fastball thrown on occasion by New York Mets knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey.

The image on the right shows the pitch locations where Valdez got outs. All three came on pitches on the edge of the strike zone.

Cliff Lee in June
Lee went 5-0 with an 0.21 ERA in June, one of the best months in major league history.

The success was in large part due to getting fewer swings and more misses on the first pitch from his performance in the first two months. Lee gave up only two hits on the first pitch of an at-bat in June, with an opponents batting average of .154. That was down from .341 in the first two months.

Lee also increased the percentage of first-pitch swings that missed from 20 percent to 31 percent in those time periods.

Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit (July 10)
Jeter’s 3,000th hit was a home run to left field against Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price. Entering the game, just 23 percent of Jeter’s outfield hits went to left field, a drop of nearly 10 percentage points from two seasons prior.

From that point, to the rest of the season, nearly one-third of Jeter’s 85 hits were to right field.

Stephen Strasburg returns (September 6)
On September 6, Strasburg made his return to the big leagues on after missing over a year due to Tommy John surgery throwing five scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers went up hacking against him. Of 17 batters, nine of them swung at the first pitch. The Dodgers also swung at 22 of the 29 pitches Strasburg threw in the zone, his highest rate (76 percent) in a game.

Strasburg’s fastball returned to form, averaging 96.2 miles-per-hour, topping out at 98.7.

Mariano Rivera breaks all-time saves record (September 19)
Rivera became the all-time saves leader in MLB history on September 19 by pitching a perfect 9th inning in the Yankees 6-4 win over the Minnesota Twins.

To get the save, Rivera got a groundout from Trevor Plouffe and a line out from Michael Cuddyer before striking out lefty Chris Parmelee with a 93 mile-per-hour cutter away.

Rivera had been struggling in August, but started throwing his pitches (particularly his cutter, which he throws upwards of 90 percent of the time) to the outside corner much more frequently.

He went from throwing one-third of his pitches on the outer-third of the plate and further away in June and July to nearly 50 percent in August and September.

It worked. Rivera converted 17 of 18 save chances in the season’s last two months.

AL Wild Card Drama (Rays/Red Sox on September 28)
With the Yankees up 7-0 on the Rays in the seventh inning, the Rays win probability was less than one percent.

With the Red Sox up on the Orioles by a run with two outs and no one on base in the ninth inning, their win probability was 94.3 percent (not to mention that Boston was 76-0 when leading after eight innings entering the day).

At that point, the Rays were in some trouble in extra innings, with the Yankees threatening. At that point, Boston's chance of getting at least a one-game playoff was 99 percent.

But as we saw, 99 percent was not a baseball certainty.

Nelson Cruz, ALCS MVP
Cruz was named ALCS MVP after hitting six home runs and driving in 13 runs against the Detroit Tigers.

Cruz did almost of his damage on inside pitches, with five of his six home runs and 11 of his 13 RBI coming on those pitches.

The Cardinals fared considerably better than the Tigers did at pitching Cruz inside. He could not sustain his success into the World Series.

Albert Pujols hits 3 HR in Game 3 of World Series
Pujols became the third player in World Series history to hit three home runs in a game.

Pujols saw 21 pitches in Game 3 and seven were over the middle third (horizontally) of the strike zone, including five fastballs. He took advantage.

Four of Pujols’ five hits in the game came against those pitches, including each of the three home runs.