Examining Smoak and Franklin's July 7 Home Runs

In a response to Ellis' "39-49" summary post for the July 7th game, commenter paulcl asks a good question: were the pitches that Franklin and Smoak hit actually mistakes, or were they good pitches that those guys went out and turned into HRs anyway?

One approach to answering this question is to look at where the catcher sets up to receive the pitch vs. where the ball actually is when the batter makes contact. This isn't definitive, because catchers don't always present a target (and sometimes are actively trying to mislead the batter) but it's interesting to look at all the same.

First, Nick Franklin. The set:

And the contact:

This looks like a clear miss to me. Even if the catcher isn't exactly set up where the pitch is supposed to go, he's clearly expecting it inside and low. What Franklin got was right over the plate and high. And note that it's not as high as it looks in the Gameday graphic: that looks right in almost any hitter's wheelhouse. They were trying to jam Franklin, and they gave him a tater instead.

Aside: look how Franklin crowds the plate: his forward foot is right at the line. It's not surprising pitchers are trying to jam him inside: he looks a little jammed on this pitch which is right over the plate. But it clearly works for him, though I think he might be wise to invest in some elbow protection because he's going to get brushed back sooner or later.

Now Justin Smoak. This one is a little weird because the catcher does a strange flapping thing with his glove as the pitch is being delivered, and doesn't provide an obvious single set target, but this looks like the closest we get (at least based on where Bronson Arroyo is in his motion)
Key thing here: look at where the glove is relative to the plate. Just on the outside of the plate, but at Smoak's knees.

And here's the contact:

Uh-oh. It's on the outside of the plate, but not on the outside of the zone, and it's hanging higher than it should. As the summary noted, that's in Smoak's 64-68% zone. Smoak had to go down and get it, but he knows how to do that, and when he can get his arms extended like this he can tap into his full tree-felling power.

So, yeah, it looks to me like both of those pitches were mistakes. Which shouldn't take anything away from either Mariner batter: punishing mistakes is what good hitters do, and neither of those pitches was just a down-the-pipe HR Derby hanger. That's still some good hitting.

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