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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Statcast allows for exact measure of home run distance

Brian McCann of the New York Yankees is

Brian McCann of the New York Yankees is congratulated by Chase Headley after he hit a home run in the fifth inning of their game against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum on May 29, 2015 in Oakland, Calif. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

What a time we live in: In addition to runs, hits and errors, you now can add advanced metrics such as exit velocity, launch angle and route efficiency to your baseball scorebook.

Earlier this year, Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) launched Statcast, a system using radar and cameras in all 30 big-league ballparks that puts a number on every movement on a baseball field (other than how many bubbles Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones blows while he's chasing down a long fly ball. Maybe that's coming next).

Using the technology, Statcast has allowed MLB to attempt to answer a question that has been on fans' minds ever since Babe Ruth turned the home run into the sport's signature moment: Exactly how far would that ball have gone if it didn't hit a seat or pole or fan or something else in the stadium?

Home run distances used to be mostly educated guesswork. Now, using Statcast, MLBAM can instantly tell us the projected home run distance, which is defined as "the distance of projected landing point at ground level on over-the-fence home runs."

Fun, right?

All of the other stuff Statcast can do may take some time to go mainstream, although exit velocity ("velocity of the ball off the bat on batted balls") seems to be getting there. But how far a home run travels is an easy-to-grasp concept that still inspires awe even in these cynical times.

Take Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton's home run on May 12 at Dodger Stadium -- or, more accurately, out of Dodger Stadium.

Stanton's epic blast off Mike Bolsinger was the fifth home run to go completely out of the venerable ballpark. The feat had been accomplished by Willie Stargell (twice), Mike Piazza and Mark McGwire. But you had to string a very long tape measure from home plate to the parking lot to find out how far those home runs went.

Statcast estimated Stanton's homer at 474.8 feet. The exit velocity was 114 miles per hour. The pitch came in at 85 mph.

Stanton hit two home runs against the Mets Saturday. Statcast measured the first at 422 feet and the second at 455.

The May 12 shot was not the longest this season or even Stanton's longest. Through Friday's games, it was No. 6 overall.

No. 1 was a drive by Seattle's Nelson Cruz on April 29 that went 482.7 feet. It landed in the leftfield club-level deck at Texas' Globe Life Stadium.

Cruz also has the 10th-longest home run, one that traveled a mere 469.2 feet on May 1.

Stanton has three of the top 10 (third, sixth, eighth), which seems fitting for the player with the richest contract in baseball history ($325 million). Even in the Babe's day, home run hitters made the big bucks.

Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays owns the second-longest home run (481.2 feet on April 23).

The rest of the top 10 includes Cubs super-rookie Kris Bryant, aptly named Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, who drove a pitch from Tampa Bay's Nate Karns 470.5 feet on April 17 at Tropicana Field. That's the ninth-longest homer of the season.

"There's no question that certain metrics are very easy to understand," said Joe Inzerillo, MLBAM's executive vice president and chief technology officer. "Obviously, home run distance. While we're doing it in a way that is slightly different from how it's been done in the past because of the capabilities that we have, it's a very easy number to understand."

Statcast does other things, too, as we said earlier, and many of these features are highlighted during MLB Network broadcasts.

"People love exit velocity," Inzerillo said. "They seem to think that's a really important metric. The one that I like that's starting to get more and more play is route efficiency, which I think is by far the coolest thing that we're doing."

Route efficiency "divides the distance covered by the outfielder by a straight-line distance between the player's position at batted-ball contact and where the ball was fielded," according to the Statcast glossary on MLB.com.

So you might not be able to get any numbers (yet) on Jones' bubble-blowing, but when he scales the wall to take away a home run, Statcast can tell you how far and fast he ran and whether he took the most efficient route.

Exit velocity has been around for a while and has been used by front offices for some time now. It is cited as one of the reasons the Mets believed in Lucas Duda over Ike Davis last year for their first-base job.

Duda's exit velocities showed he was hitting the ball harder than the traditional stats gave him credit for, which along with other metrics suggested he had untapped upside. Turns out the Mets were right about that one.

At the moment, the Yankees are trying to convince observers that Stephen Drew's exit velocities show he should be doing better than the .158 he was hitting going into Saturday night.

"It just doesn't seem that he gets the rewards that he should when he hits the ball hard," manager Joe Girardi said Friday after Drew popped up for the final out of a Yankees loss. "And that's frustrating."

Has Drew been unlucky or is he just bad? We know how most Yankees fans feel about this one.

"What I would say," Inzerillo said, "is that Statcast raises as many questions as it answers. There's certainly a thirst for more information, more data, more context. Is this number good? Is this number bad? Is that the best we've ever seen?"

By the way, launch angle refers to "the vertical angle at which the ball leaves the bat on a batted ball."

We're not sure that one's going to catch on. But who knows? As we all learned this past week when A-Rod passed Lou Gehrig on the all-time RBI list, runs batted in wasn't an official stat until 1920. There probably was some traditionalist somewhere who said making RBIs an official stat was going to ruin baseball. It didn't.

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