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Stat stories: Daniel Camarena’s grand slam as statistically unlikely as you’d expect

Padres' Daniel Camarena (right) celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam Thursday at Petco Park.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The minor league journeyman, San Diego native, hit a grand slam against MLB’s best in second career at-bat

Daniel Camarena didn’t even own his own bat or batting gloves until the beginning of this season.

His minor league lockermate Gosuke Katoh loaned him some in the spring and Camarena took them with him from El Paso to San Diego when he got called up Thursday just in case he went to the plate.

Also before Thursday night, Camerena had never had a major league hit. He had never been up with the bases loaded. He only had one MLB at-bat.

Yet, the minor league journeyman pitcher from San Diego launched a grand slam against one of the best pitchers in baseball on his first day back in the major leagues, propelling a 9-8 comeback win that will go down as one of the more memorable in Padres lore.

Now add this to the list of improbabilities of Camarena’s feat as well: It was statistically one of the most unlikely home runs ever hit by a pitcher in MLB baseball. Certainly, it was one of the most unlikely things in Padres history, too.

Here are the nuts and bolts of Camarena’s home run from a statistical standpoint: He took a 96.5 mph four-seam fastball from Max Scherzer and propelled it 416 feet into the right field stands. The exit velocity off the bat was 107.2 mph (the 16th hardest-hit ball by a Padre this year).

Just hitting a four-seamer from Scherzer is hard enough for any hitter, much less a pitcher. This season, batters are hitting .211 off Scherzer’s four-seamers and he has allowed just nine homers when he throws it. The expected batting average on a pitch like that, according to Baseball Savant, is .195.

This pitch to Camarena was a particularly good Scherzer fastball, too. He typically averages 94 mph on his four-seam. This was two ticks above that.

It was the first homer Scherzer has given up to a pitcher in his career.

Then when you get deeper into the pitch, it becomes more unfathomable what Camarena did. The pitch was down and slightly in. No other Padres regular has hit a home run with that pitch location this season. Manny Machado hit one that was down and away, but down and in is not a ball that is usually hit for power.

Just making contact with down and in pitches has been an issue. The Padres’ contact batting average against that pitch location this season is .217. For reference, Fernando Tatis Jr. only makes contact with pitches down and in 26.7 percent of the time and has never hit for power.

The launch angle on Camarena’s bat, at 22 degrees, was also unlikely to produce a home run. Only 15 percent of the time does a ball leaving the bat at that angle go for a homer in MLB. It even took the Nationals by surprise. They were all playing about 100 feet away from the fence when the ball went out.

There are other statistics that would point to just how crazy the grand slam was. It was done with two outs, two strikes and at the point in the game where the Padres were down 8-2. The Nationals had a 94 percent chance to win the game before Camarena came to the plate. After, it dropped to 75 percent. By the end of the inning it was down to 64 percent.

The last pitcher to hit a grand slam for the Padres was in 1970. The last time, and only time, a pitcher’s first MLB hit was a grand slam occurred in 1898. The last Padres pitcher to hit a home run at all in their first five games was Calvin Schiraldi in 1989.

And while the Padres were all trying to make sense of it, so is Camarena. At least that part is normal.

“I blacked out. I hit first base and noticed the lights were flashing in the stadium,” Camarena said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God I just hit a home run. Not even that, a grand slam.’ ”


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