On Monday night, Bryce Harper sent fans in Washington, D.C. into pure, unadulterated elation by smashing the living crap out of baseballs for a couple of hours. The Washington Nationals outfielder is no stranger to that moment; standing at the plate at Nationals Park and lifting towering shots into the right field seats is to Harper what building a nest is to a bird, but we saw an absolutely unprecedented surge from the former National League Most Valuable Player late into the event.
Trailing the other finalist, Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber by a score of 18-9, Harper hit nine home runs in 47 seconds to level the final round of the 2018 Major League Baseball Home Run Derby at 18 before his 30-second bonus time began. In such a timeframe, Harper hit his 19th and final long ball of the round to win it all.
It was what sports should be; the home fans got to see the face of their favorite franchise torch his competition in the most dramatic way. But also, it was something we haven’t seen before.
As far as I can tell, there’s no accurate historical archive of Home Run Derby long balls and times. I can tell you the winners of every Derby and how many home runs they hit, but to compare Harper’s final-round outpouring of power to ones from the past is impossible. On account of that (and by virtue of the fact that nine home runs in 47 seconds still seems crazy to write down), I can pretty confidently say that’s the fastest nine-home run stretch ever completed.
So, this is going to seem silly, but: what if that stretch was the norm? What if he hit home runs at that rate throughout the event? How many home runs would he hit? This question came to me right after the Derby ended, because it’s super cool and fun to immediately be eager to know answers to hypothetical questions, and curious to learn the outcomes of inconceivable scenarios.Bryce Harper hit nine home runs in 47 seconds in the HR Derby on Monday night. What would happen if someone raked at that rate all Derby long? @TomDorsa set out to find the answer.Click To Tweet
What if there was a batter who hit a home run on every pitch he saw as fast as Harper hit his final nine in regulation time? I did the math, and it’s really simple, but comes with one rule: our batter has to go first in every round. In Harper’s case, he didn’t hit nearly as many home runs as he could have because he always went last; against Freddie Freeman in round one, Harper had 13 home runs with time to spare, and had the same amount against Max Muncy in round two, again, with time to spare.
It’s because the hitter who goes last finishes as soon as he passes the hitter who went first in home runs (if, of course, he’s able to, which Jesus Aguilar was not despite being the Derby’s number-one seed). In the Home Run Derby, the lower-seeded hitter goes first, so let’s imagine a player who just squeaks into the eight seed and participates just for the fun of it.
He just starts raking.
Harper’s nine home runs in 47 seconds gives him 0.19 home runs per second, which, again, is just odd to write down. The regulation time in each round is four minutes, so by this math, our hypothetical hitter would mash 46 home runs in four minutes (0.19 x 240 seconds = 46). Accounting for the 30-second bonus a hitter gets for knocking at least two home runs longer than 440 feet, we have a total of 52 home runs on Harper’s paces.
If you have 52 home runs in a full MLB season, you might win the MVP. 52 home runs is a mark reached just 32 times in major-league history, and our guy had 52 (granted, the HR Derby is glorified batting practice) in under five minutes. We’re already in pretty silly territory and we’re finished with just one round.
After rounds two and three, by the same math, our guy hits 156 home runs. So, that’s the number I was looking for: 156, the maximum amount of home runs hittable on Bryce Harper’s pace in the final minute of the Home Run Derby final. But, we need historical context.
Harper won the Derby, but Schwarber cleared the highest bar, hitting an insurmountable 55 home runs during the three-round event. This fall short of the single-derby record held by Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 61 in 2016. That’s right, the record is 61, and our guy lapped Stanton and then some.
156 home runs would place our made-up hitter in a tie for 494th on the all-time home run leaderboard, right there with Asdrubal Cabrera, Juan Encarnacion, Ken McMullen, and Bob Meusel. 494th doesn’t seem great at first, but to be 494th out of 19,328 all-time MLB players is to be in the 98th percentile of all players to ever play in the major leagues.
And our hitter did it in 13 minutes and 30 seconds. The average launch angle, exit velocity, and distance on his made-up home runs (based on Harper’s nine in 47 seconds) were 33°, 107 MPH, and 430 feet.
This hypothetical would not have happened without Bryce Harper going on an unbelievable tear and destroying what we thought home run-hitting could even be by knocking nine in 47 seconds. This is something we had never seen before and something we probably will never see again. Sports!