One of the most well-recognized idioms in all of sports is the home run: the tater, the long ball, the big fly, the bomb, and the four-bagger. Everyone knows the great home run hitters, like Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols, and (if you're a Diamondbacks fan) Mark Reynolds. (Okay, so Mark doesn't exactly belong up there yet... but someday....)
Well, even though you might be familiar with the highlight reels of the best of the best - Reynolds long ball into Friday's Front Row at Chase Field, Hank Aaron's Opening Day #714, or the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" for example - what you might not know is just how far those baseballs traveled. It's very, very hard to judge a baseball's true distance, since you can't exactly run out onto the field with a (very long) tape measure and get an accurate distance. Or what about those that fly out of the stadium, or hit a wall and never go their full potential distance? Well, last year I found a website that, using mathematical calculations and taking into account various environmental factors, gives a "true" distance for every home run ball hit over the course of a season going back to 2005 (and a few notable homers from the past). That website is http://www.hittrackeronline.com/.
How does it work? Well, I'm no mathematician, but the website's owner uses factors like wind speed, temperature, and altitude (all of which contribute to the force of air slowing the ball down in flight or helping it along) combined with the exact (or very near exact) location of the ball's landing point and the time of flight to calculate the "true" distance of the baseball from home plate. The true distance, in this case, is the distance the ball would have traveled if it had not struck some other object (i.e. bleachers, light poles, foul poles, railings, what-have-you). The spreadsheet tool also calculates a "standard" distance for each home run - the distance the ball would have traveled if it had been hit in a zero-wind, 70-degree, sea-level altitude situation. This makes it nice and easy to compare home runs from different players on a level playing field (Albert Pujols to Augie Ojeda, for instance).
Then, using some fancy trigonometry and calculus math, one can calculate the height of the ball in flight, the speed at which it came off the bat, the angle of elevation of the ball as it flew, etc. Not that the average fan is going to care or need that info, but it is interesting. For example, the true distance of the homer that Mark Reynolds hit, which was the second-longest in the majors last year, into Friday's at Chase Field was 481 feet. If it had been 70-degrees out, at sea level, that distance would have actually been shortened by about four feet to 477'. That ball, while it would have still been a home run, got a boost of four feet from the conditions inside Chase Field with the roof and the heat of the day (it was a day game, and I was there!). The ball's speed off the bat was 118.6 miles per hour, about 10mph faster than Reynolds' average, and he hit it at an angle of 25 degrees reaching an apex of only 98 feet off the ground. That's what you call a line drive home run!
Anyway, while most people are only going to care about the true distance number, if you're a fan of the big fly, you need to check out http://www.hittrackeronline.com/. I know I check it on about a nightly basis because I write in the distances of each DBacks homer on my scorecards. (If you're looking for a specific homer, say, Jason Heyward's blast from last night, the website will usually have all of the info plugged in a day or two after the hit, as it takes time to do all the calculations and such, so be patient!)