Baseball is a silly game and it’s a wonder any of us like it at all.
Yesterday, in the bottom of the fifth inning, Steven Kwan hit a double that took the Guardians from 80% win probability, which is pretty good but no sure thing, to 93% win probability, which would take a special collapse to lose. Thing is, that double was poorly hit. You can watch the replay below and see that this was a poorly hit ball, but I’m not talking about the eye test, I’m talking about Statcast’s official definition.
It seems like Kwan has a knack for these kinds of hits. We know Kwan has excelled in spite of his abysmal exit velocity and bottom-of-the-barrel hard-hit rate, thanks in part to his ability to use the whole field to his advantage. His BABIP is also a robust .325, more proof that he is a bit fortunate at the plate. But turning poorly hit balls into extra-base hits seems like something more, and recent memory seems to support the idea this is something Kwan has a knack for, as seen in this RBI triple he hit on Aug. 19:
Fortunately, we don’t have to go on memory alone. Using the search tool on Baseball Savant we can see exactly how many times Kwan has turned a poorly hit ball (using the parameters “Pooly/topped,” “Poorly/under,” and “Poorly/weak”) into two or three bases. Sure enough, Kwan has managed to do so 10 times in 2022, which is tied for second most in MLB with Ketel Marte and Sean Murphy.
That guy in first must be a real lucky son-of-a-gun, though, right? Oh, it’s this guy:
José Ramírez’s hit in the video above was somehow even less likely than Kwan’s from August 30. Ramírez hit that ball 69.6 mph off the bat at a 50-degree angle and it just happened to fall between the fielders; Kwan hit his 74.2 mph off the bat at a 32-degree angle — not that it’s a competition.
Ramírez has 14 extra-base hits that count as poorly hit by Statcast’s metrics, putting him in first among all batters by a fair margin. That he and Kwan are at the top of this leaderboard seems like a very fortunate thing for Cleveland, but maybe it’s not just good fortune. In addition to Marte and Murphy (both great hitters), the top 10 also includes likely NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt, Jeff McNeil (both nine such hits), Ian Happ, Trea Turner, and Owen Miller (all with eight such hits).
Wait. Owen Miller? On a list with Ramírez, Kwan, Goldschmidt, Turner … is he the exception to the rule?
Since his unbelievable start to the year, Miller has looked very pedestrian, but, similar to Kwan, he’s used the entire field and put his 91st percentile sprint speed to good use, and it has helped him turn some poor contact into extra bases. Unlike Kwan, Miller’s BABIP is below average at .288, which tells us that hopefully there’s room for improvement in his offense. Until then, at least he’s creating a good number of moments like this hit.
I can’t say for sure if there’s a skill to creating extra-base hits from poor contact, but that leaderboard has a lot of very talented baseball players on it, so take what you will from that. After all, baseball is silly and we’re silly for loving it so much. Or maybe loving it because of how silly it is makes perfect sense.