These 13 were baseball's luckiest in 2019
Even the best baseball players need to catch a break sometimes. These lucky 13 did just that in 2019.
As the year draws to a close, let's take a look back at the Major Leaguers who got especially nice stat-sheet-stuffing gifts during the season.
Whether it was thanks to a windswept home run or a ballpark quirk or a crazy hop, these hitters were some of the luckiest of the year.
Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick (Nationals)
The gift: Road games
The 2019 World Series made history as the first ever where the road team won all seven games. For the champion Nationals, two wins in Houston hinged on hits to be thankful for.
In Game 2, Washington catcher Kurt Suzuki had already hit a tiebreaking home run off Justin Verlander in the seventh inning. But it was still just a one-run game when Howie Kendrick stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded, just after the Astros issued their first and only intentional walk of the entire season to Juan Soto. Kendrick bounced a ground ball to the left side that had an expected batting average of just .081 -- but this was one of the eight times in 100 that it was a hit. Kendrick's grounder just eluded Alex Bregman's reach at third base, everybody ended up safe, and the Nats broke open the game with a six-run inning.
In Game 6, the Nationals were trying to hold onto a late one-run lead to force a Game 7. It was the seventh inning again, and Trea Turner had just been called out, controversially, for interference. With two outs and a runner on, up came Anthony Rendon, and he delivered a Crawford Boxes special -- a 91.7 mph, 43-degree home run that was the softest-hit homer of the 2019 postseason. Over 175 balls have been hit at that 92 mph/43-degree combination since Statcast started tracking; Rendon's is the only one to clear the fence.
Paul DeJong (Cardinals), Luis Arraez (Twins)
The gift: Physics magic
You have to see these hits to believe them. And maybe you still won't believe them.
DeJong's reality-warping cue shot against the Giants on Sept. 3 was a clear foul ball headed for the first-base dugout. Until it wasn't. Thanks to some crazy spin, the ball kicked back fair, as DeJong, the first to realize what was happening, chugged past for an infield single.
Arraez victimized White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada a few weeks later on Sept. 16 with similar spin. His ground ball down the third-base line took a hard right turn, leaving Moncada helpless in the dirt as the ball skidded past him into the outfield.
Avisaíl García (Rays)
The gift: The roof over his head
When García hit a sky-high popup at Tropicana Field on May 28, the last thing he was thinking was "home run." He barely even moved out of the box, sure it was an easy out. But Blue Jays right fielder Randal Grichuk lost the ball in the maze of catwalks under The Trop's dome, it dropped to the turf untouched, and García circled the bases for his first career inside-the-park home run. Balls like García's popup -- 97.2 mph off the bat, at a 51-degree launch angle -- are hits fewer than one in 100 times. And 51 degrees is the highest launch angle on any home run, inside the park or over the fence, since Statcast began tracking in 2015.
Daniel Palka (White Sox)
The gift: That elusive first hit
It just wasn't Palka's season in 2019. A year after slugging 27 home runs as a rookie, Palka struggled to buy a hit, let alone a homer. Entering the White Sox game on April 17, he was on an 0-for-32 hitless skid to start the season. Then he finally got hit No. 1 … on a 63.0 mph, broken-bat flare that plopped onto the infield dirt and trickled into the outfield only thanks to the Royals' shifted infield and vacant shortstop position. Palka hit the ball nearly 50 mph harder in his very next at-bat ... and grounded into a 110.3 mph double play.
Hanser Alberto (Orioles)
The gift: The shift
Shifts save plenty of outs for team defenses. But this one allowed a hit at the most painful time. On July 14, the Rays were working on what would have been the first combined perfect game in MLB history. They made it to the ninth inning without allowing a baserunner, but Alberto led off the final frame against Ryan Yarbrough with an 88.7 mph squibber through the right side of the infield -- right where the second baseman would have been playing, had the Rays not been shifted. Tampa Bay's perfect-game bid was foiled by a ball that had an expected batting average of .174.
Eduardo Escobar (D-backs), Mookie Betts (Red Sox)
The gift: Big bounces
Sometimes you just have to hit it in the perfect place. Betts and Escobar didn't need much luck to put up big offensive seasons in 2019, but they probably didn't mind these hits padding their stat sheets.
Way back on April 3, Betts helped the Red Sox snap a four-game losing streak with a tiebreaking two-run double off the A's Fernando Rodney with two outs in the ninth inning. Betts' ground ball was only hit 89.4 mph, and had an expected batting average of .155. But it smacked off the third-base bag, bouncing high over Matt Chapman's head and down the left-field line.
Fast-forward to the end of the season, Sept. 24, when the D-backs were getting no-hit by Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty into the seventh inning. Escobar led off with a 78.2 mph ground ball down the first-base line, which Paul Goldschmidt was ready to scoop up -- until it kicked off the lip of the grass and bounded past Goldschmidt's outstretched bare hand. No-no over.
Yadier Molina (Cardinals)
The gift: Friendly Confines
The Cardinals' memorable four-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field in September clinched them a playoff spot and all but buried their rivals. St. Louis' third win came thanks to back-to-back ninth-inning home runs off Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, and that started with Yadi. On the first pitch Kimbrel threw in the ninth, Molina lofted a fly ball to left-center, which just kept carrying, and carrying, and carrying, until it landed in the seats 6.2 seconds later for a game-tying homer. Even with the friendly wind, the ball Molina hit would only be a home run at one MLB park, per Statcast's hit tracking: Wrigley.
Manny Machado (Padres)
The gift: Bermuda Triangles
A game-winning Padres rally against the Brewers on June 19 started with Machado popping a ball nearly straight up in the infield. Pitcher Jeremy Jeffress wanted nothing to do with it, so three other infielders -- catcher Manny Pina, first baseman Yasmani Grandal and shortstop Orlando Arcia -- converged in front of the mound. The ball was in the air for 5.8 seconds. Nobody got it. It fell between everybody and Machado ended up with a single on a popup with a 77-degree launch angle, the highest on any base hit in MLB this year. Two batters later, Franmil Reyes hit a go-ahead three-run homer.
Andrew Benintendi (Red Sox)
The gift: Pesky's Pole
The shortest home run a hitter can hit is down the right-field line at Fenway Park, where Pesky's Pole sits a listed 302 feet from home plate. On July 27, Benintendi took full advantage of his home ballpark's dimensions against the rival Yankees with a 310-foot home run off the pole. Benintendi's homer came off the bat at just 87.7 mph (a hard-hit ball is 95-plus) at a high-arcing 38-degree launch angle. That combination had never resulted in a home run before. At the time it was the shortest home run of the season; it ended the year second-shortest, behind a Stephen Vogt 307-foot line drive also to Pesky's Pole.
Robinson Chirinos (Astros)
The gift: Nobody being home
Chirinos doesn't leg out many triples. He had just one in 2019. This is that one: a high fly ball to left field in Houston on Sept. 17 that somehow found a space between Rangers left fielder Willie Calhoun and shortstop Elvis Andrus. The fun part is how it turned into a triple. Chirinos was just sliding into second base when Calhoun's relay reached Rougned Odor. But Chirinos noticed something: nobody was covering third. Nick Solak had also gone into left field to chase the fly ball, and Odor was at second. Seeing the vacancy, Chirinos took off for third with Odor in hot pursuit. The slow-footed catcher won the footrace.
Chirinos only reached a top sprint speed of 24.9 feet per second on the triple, far below the Major League average of 27 ft/sec. His trip from home to third took a grand total of 14.44 seconds -- nearly four seconds slower than the fastest triple of 2019, Billy Hamilton's 10.61 seconds on April 20. But they count just the same in your scorecard.