In the ninth inning of last night’s Mets-Nationals game, Jeurys Familia took the mound with a 3-1 lead. What followed was a cluster of poor defense and some bad luck, and Familia walked back to the dugout with the score tied 3-3 and the game heading to extra innings despite generating weak contact on most of the batted balls he gave up.
By using the Statcast database, specifically exit velocity and launch angle, we can put some numbers behind the batted balls Familia gave up in the inning and how often we can generally expect them to be converted for outs.
Expected batting average on balls in play (xBABIP) formulas using exit velocity and launch angle are a little tricky because it doesn’t take into account hit placement, and some hitters are better at hitting the ball away from where defenders are playing than others. The sample sizes aren’t exactly huge, either, because data is only available dating back to the 2015 season. But it at least gives some measure for how often that type of contact has gone for a hit based on major league averages.
The first batter to reach base in the inning was Daniel Murphy, who singled on a ground ball to second baseman T.J. Rivera. The exit velocity of his batted ball was 98 mph, but it was hit with a poor launch angle of -16 degrees. The downward launch angle Familia generated with his 97 mph sinker caused the ball to slam into the ground and slow it down as it traveled through the infield, which allowed Rivera to glove it and throw it to first, but Murphy beat the throw out for an infield hit. Similar batted balls have resulted in batting averages of about .200 since Statcast debuted at the start of the 2015 season.
The second batter of the inning, Bryce Harper, hit a dink shot to third baseman Jose Reyes, which had an exit velocity of 52 mph and a launch angle of -38 degrees. Similar batted balls have gone for outs 89% of the time since the start of 2015, a .110 batting average against. But Reyes, a relatively new third baseman, had a difficult time reading how softly it was hit and didn’t charge aggressively enough, which forced him into a rushed throw that went wide of first base.
James Loney then did a poor job using his 6 foot 3 inch frame to stretch for it, as Steve Schreiber captured here:
The ball got past Loney, and Murphy and Harper advanced to second and third with no outs. The error was charged to Reyes for the wide throw, but a better defensive first baseman probably would have been able to save an error on the play.
Familia left a slider middle-middle to the third batter, Anthony Rendon, who singled past a diving Reyes with a batted ball that had an exit velocity of 77 mph and a launch angle of 7 degrees. It was one of the better struck balls in the inning. That type of contact has resulted in a batting average of about .370, and is about halfway between a line drive and a ground ball based on the trajectory.
The fourth batter of the inning, slow-footed Wilson Ramos, hit a weak grounder right back at Familia that left the bat at 91 mph with a very poor launch angle of -24 degrees. Similar batted balls have gone for hits only about 11% of the time, a .110 batting average against. But Familia had the ball bounce off his glove, making the play tough for Rivera, and Bryce Harper scored the tying run.
The great Howie Rose put it well in after the play: “they are chopping and grounding and worm burning Jeurys Familia to death!”
Ryan Zimmerman, the fifth batter, hit a weak flair to first base off a 97 mph sinker that ran in on his hands. It left the bat at 52 mph with a launch angle of 24 degrees, a batted ball that has resulted in a BA of about .190. This was the first out of the inning.
Clint Robinson was the sixth and final batter of the nightmare ninth inning. More below-average defense was on display when a high, foul pop up off his bat went uncaught as a hobbled Yoenis Cespedes could not get to the ball and Jose Reyes took a less than ideal route to it. The ball landed a few feet outside the left field line.
Robinson then lined out to second base for a double play on a batted ball that left his bat at 96 mph with a launch angle of 7 degrees. The double play actually had by far the highest xBABIP of all the batted balls at about .620, which is an ode to the randomness of the game.
The final xBABIP in the inning based on the type of contact Familia generated was .266 and the actual BABIP against him was .500. Familia did his job by generating weak contact, but largely fell victim to poor defense—by both his teammates and himself—and some randomness.