Christian Walker is unremarkable. Over 13 career major league appearances, he’s accrued 31 plate appearances, four hits, one homer, and 13 strikeouts. Over two Triple-A seasons, he’s put up a pedestrian .257/.327/.424 slash line with 24 homers in 182 games. Unremarkable.
However, on September 16, 2015, in the bottom of the 8th inning of a game in which his team (the Orioles) was losing 10-0, Christian Walker did something remarkable. He grounded out. Watch:
You’re probably wondering why the heck I think this play is so remarkable. What you wouldn’t know from watching this video, and what nobody would’ve known before the 2015 MLB season, is that this ball was hit 113 MPH. Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for balls hit at least this hard was .687 in 2015. This means it was highly unlikely Walker would get out on a ball hit this hard. But he was put out, and quite easily. But let’s look closer – the pitch walker hit was an 88 MPH Henry Owens fastball. On fastballs slower than 90 MPH, BABIP for balls hit this hard jumps to .717. This was one out of 13 total times in 2015 that player made an out when hitting a slow fastball in play this hard. If you look at just ground balls, that number shrinks to six. Six times, out of over 183,600 plate appearances. That’s amazing! Even more amazingly, is that every other player on this list (Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, Chris Johnson, Albert Pujols, and Mark Trumbo) saw over 1,000 pitches this past season. Christian Walker saw 48. That’s astounding.
After giving far too much thought to what appears to be a terribly mundane occurrence, I decided to look for more plays like this. Plays that flew under the radar, looked totally average, but were in fact statistically remarkable. I chose my top five (in no particular order), then put each of these plays into GIF form for your viewing pleasure.
#1: J.D. Martinez‘s deceptively long fly out
What we see here looks to be a relatively normal fly out. While we can see that the center fielder (Adam Eaton) covers a lot of ground, he has plenty of time to set his feet and more the catch shy of the warning track. However, what (again) the video won’t tell you is that this was the longest flyball out of 2015 at 427 feet, according to Statcast. That is, longest except for one – a 428 foot blast by none other than Giancarlo Stanton, which was a bit more remarkable to watch.
#2: Matt Kemp‘s outstandingly straight homer
Another interesting number that Statcast can give us is the horizontal angle a ball is hit at – 90 degrees being to dead-center. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, there were four homers hit at exactly 90 degrees in 2015 – two of which (Alex Guerrero and Joey Butler) were grand slams. This makes them pretty remarkable, and therefore not eligible for this examination. After reviewing the video of each of the remaining two (Travis Shaw and Matt Kemp), I’ve found what looks to be the “dead-centerest” home run of 2015, courtesy of Mr. Kemp.
#3: Daniel Castro‘s shortest no-doubter ever
At first glance, this is a pretty average home run. A little short, yes, but pretty unremarkable nonetheless. That is, until we take a look at the numbers using the ESPN Home Run Tracker, which shows us that this home run measured out to be 348 feet in distance. Not even close to the shortest homer of the year (317 feet, Caleb Joseph), but it was the shortest that would have been a home run in every single MLB park. That’s right – according to the HR Tracker, which employs Statcast in tracking HR trajectories and distances, this wall-scraper from September call-up Daniel Castro would’ve left the yard no matter what ballpark the Braves were playing in.
#4: Yadier Molina‘s 9-iron infield single
Infield singles are boring. Usually it’s just a slow roller that the batter can beat out or a grounder into the hole that takes the fielder a long time to collect and throw. This hit comes somewhere in between, a soft line drive that takes the second baseman behind the bag and doesn’t give the fielder a chance to throw out the runner. If the fielder’s weren’t in double-play depth, this probably would’ve just trickled into center field for a soft single. There’s nothing remarkable about the hit itself. However, as the commentators of this game noted, Yadi reached down quite a ways to make contact with this Mike Fiers cutter. When we consult the PITCHf/x numbers, we see that this was no ordinary low-ball hit. This was, in fact, the lowest ball put in play for a hit in all of 2015. According to PITCHf/x, this pitch was just 0.41 feet (4.92 inches) off the ground, just 0.12 inches higher than the next-lowest, hit by Dee Gordon. Molina’ hit was, however, almost two inches lower than the next-lowest infield hit in 2015, which was recorded at 6.82 inches off the ground by Jose Iglesias. Truly, this was one statistically remarkable infield single.
#5: Tyler Moore‘s curveball tracking triumph
Again, nothing special here. Fiers (again) hung a curveball, and Moore crushed it into the upper deck in left field. As implied by the term “hanger”, this wasn’t a good pitch from Fiers. It was slow. relatively loopy, and in a spot where the batter could (and did) turn on it. Again, PITCHf/x reveals something more interesting – this was, in fact, the “curviest” curveball to be taken out of the park in 2015. With a break length of a whopping 18.1 inches – over a foot and a half of movement. Even with the relative mediocrity of this pitch, Moore’s ability to track and put a charge into a pitch that moved this much was impressive. For reference, of the 247 curveballs that were hit for home runs this season (according to PITCHf/x), the average break length was 12.4 inches, and the pitch Moore hit was nearly three standard deviations above that average.
Thanks to new technology like PITCHf/x and Statcast, we can research and identify the spectacular statistical plays in baseball, even when they look completely mundane. Thankfully, the abilities and applications of these tools are only increasing, which hopefully will help reveal new exciting anomalies in the 2016 season and beyond.