Two nights ago, I found myself in the infield grandstand level of Yankee Stadium. It was about as chilly a night you could ask for this late into April—a hair under 50 degrees, intermittent rain, resulting in an overall chilling effect that left my fingers as intractable as frozen icicles.
But this was not a night where the bats were as cold as the weather—quite the opposite. The Yankees exploded for four home runs in their last game of their first home stand, courtesy of Chase Headley, Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro, and none other than Aaron Judge.
Judge’s home run was different, though. I’ve been to quite a few live games in my life, and I think I’ve found myself able to understand the workings of a stadium fly ball no matter where I am. While it’s easy to tell a neophyte when you see one—jumping to the air on sight of a lazy fly ball—I think I’ve developed a decent eye for a home run off the bat.
That homer, though, was so apparently gone off the bat, so easily and effortlessly out into the left-center field bleachers, that my mouth was open in amazement. My friend and I couldn’t believe it; the many fans who endured the rain but slowly made their way back into the stands couldn’t believe it; the Yankees themselves couldn’t believe it:
Two thoughts immediately came to mind: firstly, this was the longest home run I have ever seen live at a ballpark (448 feet). Secondly, I thought, “Is it possible for him to hit it completely out of the park?” The second thought was the workings of a man freezing cold on way too little sleep, but as I thought about it more and more, my thought grew even bolder: is it possible that he could hit the longest home run... ever?
That’s a tall order, but consider this small sample. In just this season alone, he has five of the fifteen hardest-hit balls in the majors, and already two of the three longest-hit balls at the new Yankee Stadium.
There’s something in statistics called signature significance, where a single datum in a sample is so far above the mean that it’s impossible to ignore; the same argument was made for Alex Rodriguez early in the 2015 season, and it was right. The point is that Judge’s multiple home runs show that not only is it possible for him to hit a very long home run, but possibly the longest.
A question that’s reasonable to ask is what the longest home run actually is, and that’s unclear. I’m going to say pre-modern shots are too old to be accurate, so let’s say anything in modern baseball applies. That means the longest home run is Adam Dunn’s 535-foot shot back in 2004. Is that possible? Well, let’s do a thought exercise.
Consider Judge’s best comp, Giancarlo Stanton. Consider his 2014 season, where he hit 37 home runs. In that season, his homers ranged from 360 feet to 484 feet. In 2016, he hit one as far as 495 feet. That means that his longest shot, let’s say that’s the outlier. Even he has never eclipsed 500 feet meaning that in 3493 plate appearances and 212 home runs, he never set such a record.
Does that make it impossible? Of course not. But that’s the difficulty of baseball, especially one with a run environment like this one. Dunn hit his monster shot in 2004, when home runs were a dime a dozen. For Judge to get such a milestone, it would have to be a confluence of a multitude of variables coming together: high temperatures, fastball down the middle, perfect contact, good park factors, and, most importantly, enough plate appearances for this to occur.
But the small sample gives me hope, and even with Stanton as a comp, it’s significant that he’s already out-performing said comp in terms of top exit velocity. This could just be a blip because the league hasn’t adjusted to Judge’s new adjustments, but if this is an early indicator, he’ll be hitting balls farther than 400 feet rather often. It’s still up in the air whether he’ll really be around long enough to get a ball more than 530 feet away from home, but man, that game two nights ago sure felt like it.