Home Runs and Home Run Robberies

April 16, 2015

Following his quick and impressive run through the minors and an excellent 52-game debut in the majors in 2014, many expected Mookie Betts to have a breakout season in 2015. Monday, Betts demonstrated why he’s such an exciting player. In the first two innings of the Red Sox game against the Nationals, Betts stole two bases on a single play, hit a home run, and robbed Bryce Harper of a potential two-run home run in center field.

Bill James, Senior Baseball Operations Advisor for the Boston Red Sox, was wondering how often it happens that a player both hits a home run and robs a home run in the same game. It turns out that it happens more often than both Bill and I would have guessed.

The combination of a home run and a home run robbery is particularly compelling, in part because of the similar but opposite nature of those plays and in part because the combination of skills it takes to hit for power and to make that kind of athletic play is pretty rare. Baseball Info Solutions has been tracking home run robberies since 2004, and in the 11-plus seasons since, 42 players have both hit and robbed a home run in the same game. Eight of those players have managed the feat two times:

Players with HR and HR Robbery in a Game
Player Times
Mike Trout 2
Nick Markakis 2
Ryan Braun 2
Colby Rasmus 2
Aaron Hicks 2
Jermaine Dye 2
Jason Bay 2
Luke Scott 2
34 tied with 1


How about that? Mike Trout at the top of yet another leaderboard. He recorded his second game with both a home run and a home run robbery on Opening Day of this season against the Mariners.

An interesting note on this subject from 2002: Mike Cameron had a home run and a home run robbery on the same day, May 2nd. He also had three other home runs that day!


COMMENTS (22 Comments, most recent shown first)

I have yet to see any player rob a homer at Wrigley... The basket makes impossible.
8:02 AM May 3rd
So...shouldn't there be a park factor here? If an entire park had 20 foot fences, no game saving catches. If the fences were so far away that you'd have to be Babe Ruth to hit it out (or Gehrig, or Adcock, see CF Polo Grounds) then you'd have nothing on the other side of the equation. I guess there would be no way to ever mesh the distance and OF wall heights to figure...oh, wait, here it is: thumbnails.visually.netdna-cdn.com/baseballs-many-physical-dimensions_53344ca673751.png
7:10 PM Apr 20th
Frank: Thanks! I've ordered the book.
Even if it doesn't shed light on why we think this thing is rarer than it is, it looks like it's an excellent book anyway.
11:56 AM Apr 20th
Good book describing why/how we intuit things incorrectly: Thinkng, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman ........... many great examples where our quick intuition fails......
11:27 AM Apr 20th
I stand corrected on both the Kirby Game 6 catch and the timing of the Sam Rice catch. Although the really compelling thing about the Kirby story (especially for a self-described, "biggest Kirby hater in the world") is that he famously told his team to, "get on his back" for that game... and then he delivered. It's like the Babe telling a sick kid he will hit one out and then doing just that.

As for Sam Rice... yes, he DID leave a letter and it WAS opened after he died (some sixty or so years later) and he DID say in the letter that, "at no time did I lose possession of the ball." I didn't tell that part because I wanted to let others find out the end of the story on their own. Sort of like, prodding them to do the research. :-)

8:59 AM Apr 20th
(In the post below, the first link -- i.e. the video -- seems not to work as a direct link, but if you copy/paste it into the address bar, I think it will work.)
2:54 AM Apr 19th
BTW, here's a famous one that maybe challenges our judgment on whether it qualifies:
(Gionfriddo, against DiMaggio in the '47 World Series)

The famous still photo makes it look superficially like a HR robbery.

But of course that's not how the catch happened. No catch happens that way. You don't catch the ball in that posture and position on a ball that's hit to that spot.

He had caught the ball before that point and his momentum just carried him to that spot and position. When he caught it, the ball wasn't as deep yet, but it was higher. Was it headed over the fence? Is that a HR robbery? At least from this, I think we have to say we don't know; we can't tell.

With current and more-recent catches, we have more views and better views. But I have to believe there are still lots of plays where the call is a guess, especially when it's at some distance from a low wall or fence, as with that play, although such low barriers are now rare or nonexistent.
2:52 AM Apr 19th
(Shouldn't have called it a point, not even a non-point point. It's just another way to look at it.)​
11:26 PM Apr 18th
Bill: Thanks for the math. This is one of those things where for some reason our intuition seems to lead us way wrong -- way way wrong. Why does that happen? I don't know. I'd love for someone someday to give some insight on what are the characteristics of things we tend to intuit poorly.

In a way it reminds me of the "Monty Hall" problem (which we discussed a while ago). My intuition still says that the right answer is wrong, even though the rest of my brain sees that it's right. In this case as in that one, I had some feeling like I was seeing a 3-card Monty game. :-)
I had to read Bill's thing over and over to convince myself that there wasn't some unintentional sleight-of-hand in there.

Actually (small point....tiny point, non-point point) :-) .....the way I would present it is to stop after the part where you get to "750 game winning catches," and say that's about 5 full seasons of an outfielder's games, and.......in how many games per season do you think a good fielding outfielder hits a home run? Obviously it's a bunch of times a year, and whatever number you think it is, multiply it by 5.

And really I would have thought that the average number of HR saves per team per year is, if anything, more than 2.5. I remember that on Opening Day of my first 'full year' watching major league baseball (which I know makes the story perhaps a little suspect) :-) .....it almost happened on two batters in a row, by the same outfielder. Jackie Jensen jumped at the wall and just missed stealing a home run from Norm Siebern. Mantle was up next and hit it to a similar spot. Jensen did what looked to me like an identical leap, and this time got it.

9:38 PM Apr 18th
I was in the park when Mookie did this, and that was what kicked off this conversation. I also assumed, initially, that it would be very rare; my first guess was that it had happened 3 times in the last ten years. But when you think about it, you'll realize that can't be right. Let's say that an average team has 2 or 3 home-run saving catches in a season, which in fact they do; let's say it is 2.5. With 30 teams, that's 75 a year, which is about how many there are. Over a ten-year period that's 750 home run-saving catches. 750 catches; let's say each of those outfielders bats 4 times in the game, that's 3,000 plate appearances for outfielders with a Home Run Save in the game. So if an outfielder has 3,000 plate appearances, how many home runs will he hit? 54 is, if anything, low.
2:18 PM Apr 18th
I'm with Maris; this seems hard to believe. I would have guessed this happens maybe, oh, once every couple of years, which would have meant I was off by a factor of 10. Is it that home run saving catches are more common than most of us think? I'd be interested in reading more on the subject.
12:28 PM Apr 18th
I also wish the records went back....I remember seeing Winfield go ridiculously high over the left field wall to grab one, in New York. I want to say it was against the Orioles, in one of his first seasons with the Yanks, '82 or so. But that is my balky memory, and....drool....thud....
10:06 PM Apr 17th
I am really surprised Carlos Gomez is not high on the list considering his power and propensity to show up the highlight reels for his defensive play.
4:00 PM Apr 17th
Jimmy G,

Kirby didn't rob a homer in Game 6. It was going off the plexiglas part of the wall.

Sam Rice's catch didn't end the game. I believe, without checking, it was in the seventh inning.

I had always heard that Rice's letter DID reveal that he made the catch. ("At no time did I lose possession of the ball.") Unless I'm misunderstanding what you're saying....

I want to say Willie McGee robbed a homer in the 1982 World Series game where he hit two home runs.
1:30 PM Apr 17th
In the first game (I think) of the 1997 AL championship series, Brady Anderson ended the first inning by leaping above the fence in center field to take a home run away from ... I can't remember who, but it was probably Carlos Baerga or somebody like that. Maybe even Manny Ramirez. Then, on the first pitch in the bottom of the first, Anderson hit a home run. So on consecutive pitches he took away a homer and hit one of his own. I guess somebody could have matched that somewhere along the line, but nobody can ever beat it.

1:29 PM Apr 17th
Great story, Jim
10:57 AM Apr 17th
Can you say, Kirby Puckett, Game 6? :-)

Also, "robbing an HR" makes me think of the Sam Rice story: he made an "amazing" grab to close out a series game in 1925, falling into the stands; there was slight controversy about whether he held onto the ball or not; he NEVER said yes or no, but left a letter to be opened after he died; and the letter said... sorry not going to spoil it.

You can't make this stuff up!

10:55 AM Apr 17th
Neat article.

In a college summer league game, I once was the hitter when the opposing centerfielder robbed me of a home run. In the same game, I was the centerfielder when I robbed the opposing centerfielder of a home run.

Has that ever happened in the big leagues? (two guys robbing each other in the same game).

I used to like it in the old Yankee stadium when guys would go into the stands to rob home runs in right field. I think the fence was about four feet high. Frank Robinson once said the fans fought to knock the ball out of his glove after he landed in the stands on one catch.
10:17 AM Apr 17th
I think Eric Davis had 2 in one season...1987
11:10 PM Apr 16th
That's incredible that it's not more uncommon.
I mean "incredible" almost literally: I have trouble totally believing it.

It makes me wonder if they're too liberal in the criterion for robbing a home run.
11:09 PM Apr 16th
I wish we had them for Frank Robinson.
10:31 PM Apr 16th
Rich Dunstan
I wish we had those numbers for Willie Mays.
9:45 PM Apr 16th
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