Baseball is a fickle sport. A player can be rewarded with a double after hitting a pitch that bounces before it reaches the plate, but also be punished for hitting a ball perfectly, only for it to become a glove-seeking projectile.
Today, we’ll be checking out those on the fortunate side of the spectrum, listing the unlikeliest of hits for the Tampa Bay Rays in the Statcast era (2015-present).
In order to do this, I’ll search Baseball Savant for the lowest expected batting averages of balls put in play by the Rays over the past few years that resulted in base hits.
Corey Dickerson: .014 xBA
Dickerson is famous for some of the more bizarre looking hits in franchise history, so it only makes sense for him to make an appearance on this list. During a summer night’s contest against the Los Angeles Angels, Dickerson took a Tim Lincecum offering and sliced it through the air, deep down the left field line.
Daniel Nava gave chase to the pop fly, but was unable to wrangle the ball as it bounced directly on the foul line and it bounced easily over the low wall in the left field corner for a ground-rule double.
The ball left Dickerson’s bat with an exit velocity of 88.4 mph and had a launch angle of 39.9 degrees. In the statcast era, MLB has recorded 950 balls in play approximately matching this criteria with only four base hits being recorded, Dickerson’s included.
Wilson Ramos - .014 xBA
This is Wilson Ramos’ first entry on this list, and the fact that this ball in play was recorded as a single, rather than an error, was extremely generous on the part of Tropicana Field official scorekeeper.
In the bottom of the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays, Wilson Ramos skied a ball towards the infamous catwalks of Tropicana Field. However, the ball miraculously avoided the A and B rings and began it’s sharp descent back towards the playing surface. Blue Jays second baseman, Darin Barney, appeared to have a bead on the ball, but as the ball plummeted back to Earth, Barney began to backtrack and then gave a last ditch effort to reel it in. He failed, as it deflected off his glove and bounded into shallow right field.
Ramos was rewarded with a single, despite the deflection off of Barney’s glove. The ball left Ramos’ bat at 88.6 mph and had a launch angle of 66.3 degrees. During the Statcast era, there have only been 29 balls put in play matching that criteria and among those, only one base hit...belonging to Wilson Ramos.
Logan Forsythe - .011 xBA
It’s always nice when the quirks of other ballparks factor favorably for the Tampa Bay Rays. However, this may also just be another case of poor fielding leading to an extra base hit.
During the top of the seventh inning in Houston, Logan Forythe made solid contact on a pitch and sent it deep to left field. In most parks, this would just be a routine fly ball. The Astros left fielder, Teoscar Hernandez. ranged back to the Crawfish Boxes. Hernandez convinced himself that the ball’s trajectory would have it bound off the wall and he waited to play the carom.
Unfortunately for Hernandez, the ball landed wide right of the boxes, landing on the warning track and rolling to the wall. By the time he was able to get the ball back to the infield, Forsythe had dove into third with a triple.
Since 2015, there have been 3,453 balls put into play matching the exit velocity and launch angle of Forsythe’s deep, albeit, routine fly ball and only two of those have resulted in base hits.
Evan Longoria - .009 xBA
Perhaps forgetting he wasn’t at Tropicana Field, Evan Longoria attempted to hit the catwalks in Kansas City. However, the Royals infield seemed to think they were looking at the white domed canvas of the Trop as not one, not two, but three Royals fielders lost the ball in the sky, leaving the Kansas City catcher (Drew Butera) to make a mad dash across the infield, only to have the ball land just in front of him.
Longoria, being Evan Longoria, proceeded to lightly toss his bat down in disgust and jog with his head down toward first base and was standing on the bag as the ball landed on the infield grass.
The bizarre world of baseball score keeping indicates that if the ball doesn’t touch a fielder’s glove, no matter how routine or easy the play SHOULD have been, the hitter will be rewarded with a base hit.
Oddly enough, despite Longoria’s popup registering a .009 xBA, of the 94 instances of a ball being put into play with Longoria’s exit velocity and launch angle, a stunning 69 of those nicely landed for base hits.
Kevin Kiermaier - .009 xBA
On a cold, sloggy, and windy afternoon at Fenway, the Boston Red Sox were befuddled by a pop up off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier.
During the top of the fourth inning, Kiermaier sliced a pop up into shallow left field. Three Red Sox fielders were converging on the ball, with the third baseman Deven Marrero actually overrunning it. By the time he realized where it was, his last ditch effort to catch the ball was for naught. It made contact with the ground and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double.
Only 2 of the 86 balls in play, that matched Kiermaier’s double trajectory, have landed for base hits.
Corey Dickerson - .009 xBA
“I’ve got it!”
The following base hit from Corey Dickerson was so dumbfounding that the Detroit Tigers Manager, Brad Ausmus, became convinced there was foul play at work. Leading off the first inning, Dickerson hit one of the most routine fly balls you will ever see. It wasn’t overly deep and both the Tigers center fielder and right fielder appeared to have an easy play to make.
That’s where the problem began for Detroit as the two fielders couldn’t decide who would take the honor of snagging the flyball. The two fielders took too long and the ball landed embarrassingly directly in front of both them, easily allowing Dickerson to snag second base with an easy stand up double.
Dickerson’s gift a double is the only base hit off 111 balls put in play with an exit velocity of 86 mph and a launch angle of 46 degrees.
Mallex Smith - .007 xBA
Trey Mancini knew that the first hitter of the game, Mallex Smith, had hit the ball somewhere in the air and somewhere in his general direction. But, that’s where his knowledge of the ball’s whereabouts ended as he struggled to find the ball in the gloomy Baltimore sky.
By the time Mancini finally picked up its trajectory, it had landed at least a dozen feet away from him. Mancini quickly retrieved the ball, but Smith was already coasting into second with an easy double.
It was as routine of a fly ball as possible, with 115 other balls in play matching Smith’s, and Smith’s was the only one not to find a glove.
Wilson Ramos - .007 xBA
During the 2017 season, Kevin Pillar was among the best defenders in all of baseball, but that didn’t stop him from having the occasional fielding lapse. During a game at Rogers Centre, Ramos skied a ball to straightaway center field and Pillar just had no clue where it was.
He knew it was hit in his general direction, but that was the extent of his knowledge, as he looked up towards the sky helplessly before the ball finally reached the ground in front of him. Pillar fielded the hop and Ramos took his place at first base with a single.
There have been a total of 126 balls put into play with an exit velocity of 92 mph and 46 degree launch angle; Only two of those balls landed for base hits.
Tim Beckham - .004 xBA
At Tropicana Field, it can be very easy to blame a fielding miscue on the domed roof and catwalks well above the playing surface. However, in the case of this Tim Beckham double, Nolan Reimold only has himself to blame.
Beckham skied a pop fly down the right field line and the Orioles right fielder, Reimold, appeared to have a bead on it the entire way...until he overran it and it bounced just behind him. By the time Reimold was able to retrieve the ball, Beckham was coasting into second with a standup double.
Beckham’s is the only ball of 107 in play to land that had his approximate exit velocity and launch angle.
Cesar Puello - .000 xBA
A lot had to go wrong for the Baltimore Orioles for them to allow a base hit to Cesar Puello during this contest at Tropicana Field.
For one, there aren’t many balls that have been hit like this little dribble of a popup off the bat of Puello. It was a middle-middle cutter that Puello should have been all over; instead, he popped it up just in front of home plate.
That’s where the problems began for Baltimore as Wellington Castillo behind the plate initially didn’t see where the ball had gone. Meanwhile, Manny Machado knew where it was all along and desperately sprinted for it’s destination. It was for naught however, and by the time Castillo found the ball, it was too late.
Castillo gave a last ditch effort to catch the ball, just a few feet in front of the plate down the third base line, but the ball bounced off his glove and Puello reached safely. Based on the balls spin, if Puello had just let the ball land, it likely would have bounced into foul territory for a foul ball, but he made contact on the fair side of the base paths, making it a live ball.