Atlanta Braves’ Kelly Johnson Got Short End of Measuring Stick


May 1, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Kelly Johnson (24) hits a home run against the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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During Monday night’s game against the Brewers, Kelly Johnson launched a long home run into the second deck of the right field seats at Miller Park.  During the TV broadcast of last night’s game, Joe Simpson was complaining that the recorded distance of that home run was underdone.  Let’s see who was right.

The generally accepted arbiter of home run distances is the website, a site run by ESPN and used for information provided to their broadcasts.  They record every homer with a complete set of metrics (angles, elevation, max height, speed of ball off the bat, etc… including enough figures to seemingly make it hard to dispute, though one has to wonder a bit about how they get all of this telemetry data in the first place), plus a video and graphic overlay of the ball’s path to the seats.

As such, from a fan’s perspective, the best way to size up their data is to find a comparable home run and make the comparisons ourselves.

Happily, there is such a comparison available:  this was a grand slam smacked by Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce on April 21st.  Here are the metrics on both his and Johnson’s home runs:

Jay Bruce (April 21):

  • Speed off Bat:  104.4 mph
  • Elevation Angle: 29.0 degrees
  • Horizontal Angle: 76.7 degrees (90.0° = directly to CF)
  • Apex: 102
  • Wind/Temp/Altitude impact: 0/-1/2
  • Standard Distance:  415
  • “True” distance: 416

Kelly Johnson (July 6):

  • Speed off Bat:  105.7
  • Elevation Angle: 29.4
  • Horizontal Angle: 74.5
  • Apex: 104
  • Wind/Temp/Altitude impact: 0/1/2
  • Standard Distance: 419
  • “True” distance: 422

On paper, these look amazing similar – 4 feet of difference at landing; 6 feet overall.  And no, I have no idea why Bruce gets an extra foot for an altitude adjustment over Johnson while they were both hit in the same ballpark.

I selected Bruce’s homer not just because of the similar data, but more specifically because of the Horizontal Angle figure – within 2.2 degrees of rotation.  In other words, both were hit in the same vicinity of right center field.

So given that, you’d pretty much expect that both balls would land within about 6-8 feet of one another, right?

That’s where you’d be mistaken – or perhaps ESPN was mistaken with their tape measures.

Let’s Go to the Video

Here is a link to the MLB video of Jay Bruce’s grand slam from April 21st.

Here is a link to Kelly Johnson’s two-run shot from Monday, July 6th.

You can use these to verify what I’m about to show you:  still shots of the moment each ball hit the stands.

First we have Jay Bruce’s:

Jay Bruce grand Slam, Miller Park, April 21, 2015… landing spot. Still frame from video.

Now Kelly Johnson’s bomb:

Kelly Johnson 2-run homer, Miller Park, July 6, 2015… landing spot. Still frame from MLB video.

In the first picture, I drew a red circle around the landing spot:  the second row of bleacher seats just above the Miller Lite ‘seal’ logo.

In the second picture – Johnson’s home run – the red circle shows Johnson’s landing spot at the 4th row from the top of that same section.  The additional yellow circle shows you the landing spot for Bruce’s ball as a direct comparison.

The differences?  The horizontal angle difference of 2.2 degrees can be seen straightaway:  Bruce’s homer is a little closer toward center field, which does buy him some extra distance.

However, there are 8 rows of seats between those two balls.  And it seems that the folks at ESPN believe there’s just 4 feet of space between Row 2 and Row 10 in that section of bleachers.

Wow, that’s a tight fit... I’m actually used to seeing somewhere around 28-30 inches of spacing between each row of seats, and that would be at least 18 feet… maybe 20.  I just don’t understand how Miller Park is able to cram 8 rows into a 4 foot space like that.  Must make it difficult for fans to walk along those seats.

So yeah – it is fairly obvious that one of those ‘standard distance’ figures are flawed… there should be roughly an extra 14-15 feet of separation between those two beyond the 4 feet suggested.

Which One is Correct?

To be able to answer this question, you need a third candidate to compare against.  The next best one I found was this home run from Curtis Granderson from June 23rd.  This shot landed nearly dead center of the section of seats to the right of those hit by Bruce and Johnson… toward to the RF foul pole.

The metrics reported for Granderson’s shot were as follows:

  • Speed off Bat:  105.5
  • Elevation Angle: 31
  • Horizontal Angle: 73.1
  • Apex: 114
  • Wind/Temp/Altitude impact: -5/1/2 (roof open – wind blowing out)
  • Standard Distance: 415
  • “True” distance: 412

Though he was penalized on the “true distance” for wind correction, check that ‘standard distance’ figure… equal to that of Jay Bruce’s homer.  That’s useful, for we can then draw a iso-line between the landing spots of Bruce’s and Granderson’s hits.  Anything hitting along that line is roughly the same distance from home plate:

Still shot from Curtis Granderson homer run at Miller Park on 6/23/2015 (landing spot – yellow circle on right). From video.

Now it’s easier to see with the line connecting the Bruce and Granderson home runs.  Given the horizontal angle differential, that looks reasonable (2nd row and 7th row) as roughly equal distances.  Thus I am judging that Johnson’s measurement is the anomaly of the three.

Correspondingly, I don’t think Kelly Johnson’s landing spot was only 4 feet further away from that line.  Probably closer to 11-13 feet further.  ESPN then added 3 feet for the odd atmospheric conditional adjustment, so add their 419+12+3 which would give you 434 feet.  That seems a lot more reasonable.

Based on the trajectory data, had the stands not been in the way, I would have to guess the ball would have traveled in the 460-470 foot range.

Proof is Left to the Reader

This is merely an academic exercise for the sake of things like bragging rights, but so long as ESPN is going to go through the motions, I figure they oughta do a sanity check and recognize that 422 feet was just too short for a clout like that.

But that’s just another service we’re willing to provide here.