Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Clutch As Clutch Can Be

This is an updated post of one I did at mid-season: the biggest 'clutch' hits of the Nats season as measured by WPA. WPA (Win Probability Added) is a pretty simple stat that measures each ABs impact upon the team's chances of winning or losing the game.

In a nutshell, it looks at the game state (who's on base, how many outs, what's the score) and figures out the percentage of times a team has won based upon how Major League teams have historically done in that SAME situation. Then it measures the same things afterwards. That percentage change is the WPA. So a grand slam when your team is down 3 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th is worth a hell of a lot more than when when your team is up 17-2 with nobody out in the top of the 5th. Pretty simple, eh?

10) Ryan Church's bases-clearing double, 5/16 (Box), 34.6%
Just days after ending that killer 8-game losing streak that dropped the team's record to 9-25, the Nats trailed the Braves 4-3 with 2 outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning. Kyle Davies had held the Nats in check, but started to struggle in the fifth. Ronnie Belliard hit a bases-loaded ground out to put the Nats on the board then Zimmerman walked. But with two outs, one pitch would be enough for the Braves to escape with the lead. Instead, Davies hung a curveball, and Church drilled it into the gap, turning around the score and giving the Nats the runs they'd need to hold onto the game as they tried to right the season.

9) Chris Snelling's 14th-inning single, 4/20 (Box), 34.7%
With just a 5-11 record, the Nationals held a three-run lead heading into the 8th inning, but it would not be the bullpen's night. Jon Rauch got hit hard, giving up a 2-run homer to Joe Borchard and back-to-back singles before Chad Cordero came in for the final out, preserving the lead. But Cordero couldn't the Marlins in the 9th, giving up the tying run on a solo homer by Cody Ross. The game would go on and on and on, including Robert Fick's infamous 13th-inning bunt double play (where he decided he didn't have to run to first).

In the 14th, Ryan Church singled and stole second. After Schneider struck out and Josh Wilson (hitting for Jesus Flores) popped up, it looked like another opportunity squandered. But Chris Snelling came through, ripping a hard grounder past Dan Uggla, giving the Nats a one-run lead they'd finally hold, thanks to Saul Rivera's first save.

8) Dmitri Young's Three-Run Homer, 7/16 (Box), 36.4%

Late June and July was another tough stretch for the Nats, including a brutal 2-9 stretch. After a tiny 3-game wining streak against the Brewers and Marlins gave them some hope, they scuffled some more as the injuries to the pitching staff continued to mount. When they faced the Astros, Mike Bacsik was on the mound, pitching his typical ugly-but-effective type of game. He held them scoreless through 5 before a Lopez error and some singles scored two runs. The ancient Woody Williams had yielded just two runs on three hits, and it looked like the Nats were about to go down for the count.

But the sweetest combo of small ball and big ball would save them on that night. After Belliard singled to lead off the inning, Zimmerman dropped one of those beautiful bunts down the third baseline for an easy single. Dmitri Young followed it up with a long homer deep to right, and Bob Carpenter had an exciting call of the game-changing moment. Up 4-2, the Nats would hold on despite another shaky outing by Rauch.

7)Dmitri Young's Solo Homer, 8/6 (Box), 37.5%
Not all big hits produce wins. In a game that many of us will remember for how John Lannan pitched to Barry Bonds (popout, walk, GIDP, K), the Nats and Giants traded solo runs in the first, and that was it, til Dmitri stepped to the plate in the 10th inning. On an 0-2 count, he hooked a ball down the RF line, just over the fence, giving the Nats their second lead of the game. With the lead, Manny brought in the defensive replacements (Fick and Lopez), but Cordero couldn't hold the lead. Two singles and a groundout by the terrible Benji Molina pushed the tying run across. After the defensive replacements made quick outs in the 11th inning, Ray King loaded the bases before Luis Ayala gave up Randy Winn's liner to RF that won the game.

6) Austin Kearns' Three-Run Homer, 7/22 (Box), 37.6%

Making his 4th start of the year, Tim Redding had one of his best against the would-be NL Champions. Unfortunately for the Nats, so did Josh Fogg. Fogg went 6. Redding went 6.2, and both teams were scoreless heading into the 8th. Jon Rauch put two on before getting Garrett Atkins to ground out. Jorge Julio inexplicably came on to pitch for the Rockies. A leadoff hit was erased by a Felipe Lopez double-play, and with two outs, it looked like he might escape. But a D'Angelo Jimenez single was followed by a passed ball, leading to an intentional walk of Ryan Zimmerman. Julio followed it up with a 1-0 hanging slider on the inside of the plate. Austin Kearns turned on it and destroyed it into the Mezzanine level, erasing a 2-month homerless drought. Cordero came in and brought the tying run to the plate with just one out, but held on, thankfully.

5) Jesus Flores' Two-run double, 7/25 (Box), 39.6%

The Nats trailed the Phillies 4-2 heading into the 9th inning, thanks to some dominant pitching by Cole Hamels. The ancient Antonio Alfonseca waddled to the mound to start the inning, and was ineffective. A double and a walk brought up pinch-hitter Tony Batista, who drove a ball deep the CF wall, scoring a run. With the tying run now at third base and the go-ahead run on second and left-handed Robert Fick at the plate, the Phillies went to left-hander Mike Zagurski. Acta immediately turned around and sent Jesus Flores to the plate. On a 3-2 pitch, he ripped one deep to right scoring both runs, turning around a 9th inning deficit into a lead.

But in the bottom of the 9th, the lead went away thanks to one of the all-time worst defensive plays in baseball history. (only a bit of an exaggeration). With 2 outs, Rollins ripped one deep to the LCF gap, a relatively easy flyout. But new CFer Ryan Langerhans and Ryan Church didn't communicate and they nearly collided, letting the ball drop and roll towards the CF wall. The throw came in quickly to shortstop as Rollins hit third, but it kicked off Lopez' glove just enough for an opening. Lopez picked it up, fired hard towards home, but Schneider couldn't corral the throw and make the tag and Rollins was safe with a generously scored triple and an error on the OF throw. The Nats would fight, kick, and claw, but by the time the Nats were forced to put Chris Booker on the mound in the 14th inning, the Ryan Howard walkoff was inevitable. (That's gotta be the Philly's fans favorite game of the year.)

4) Tie: Jesus Flores' Two-Run "Triple", 7/19 (Box), 39.6%
Felipe Lopez' Three-Run Triple, 6/13 (Box), 39.6%

In July, the Nats trailed the Rockies by 2 when Jesus Flores pinch hit for the terrible Ryan Langerhans in the 8th with two outs and runners on first and second. Flores took a pitch, then ripped a hard line-drive single to right field that Brad Hawpe butchered when he ran past the ball. Both runners were able to score, tying the game, and putting Flores on third. Logan couldn't drive him in, but D'Angelo Jimenez would later drive Kearns in in the 10th inning for a winner.

Lopez' big hit came against the dreaded Orioles, in the second game of an eventual three-game sweep. After Chad Cordero blew the save in the 9th, the Nats found themselves in extra innings, again. In the 11th, the Orioles put their closer Chris Ray on the mound, and he imploded after getting 2 quick outs. Despite facing Langerhans, Fick and Guzman, he couldn't get any of 'em out, bringing up Felipe Lopez. Despite MASN's attempts to erase history (there's not one video on mlb.com of this entire series!), Lopez came through, ripping a triple to right field and scoring all 3-runs -- a 9-6 lead big enough even for our bullpen to hold.

3) Nook Logan's Two-Run Single, 5/20 (Box), 49.6%
Same team, same outcome, different stadium. With the prospect of being swept at home by the lowly O's, the Nats entered the 8th inning down 3-1. Zimmerman would double and score on a Langerhans single off. With Danys Baez (never a good idea to give big money to a Tampa Reliever: also applies to Colome) on the mound Kearns was hit by a pitch, and then Belliard singled to load the bases. Now down 3-2, Jesus Flores dealt the Nats' chances of coming back a crippling blow with a fielder's choice grounder that killed a run at the plate. Now with two outs, it would take a hit, and Nook Logan was at the plate.

What followed was one of the most improbable events all season. Logan turned into Nick Johnson, working a 9-pitch AB, even after falling behind 0-2. A few fouls, and some close takes worked the count full before he ripped a hard grounder into right field for a 2-run single and a 4-3 lead.

2) Jesus Flores' Three-Run Homer, 7/26 (Box), 59.4%
This is another game overshadowed by what John Lannan did. Making his major-league debut, he'd be ejected after hitting Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with pitches, breaking Utley's hand, and almost costing the Phillies the division. The Nats would head into the late innings down 5-2. But two runs in the 7th (off a Felipe Lopez single) brought it to a one-run game. Zimmerman reached on an error and a walk put runners on first and second. In came old friend Mike Zagurski, who got Ryan Church to fly out. But Jesus Flores got him again, ripping a three-run homer deep to LF and giving the Nats a two-run lead. They'd need that extra run when Cordero gave up 2 singles and a walk in the bottom of the 9th. One run scored and he left two runners on, but he got the save.

1) Jesus Flores' Two-run double, 9/4 (Box), 79.4%
The Nats were beyond their last gasp when Jesus Flores strode to the plate in the 9th inning against the Marlins. Kevin Gregg, who had quietly been excellent as the Marlins closer, started off that inning with a walk. After Kearns struck out, Wily Mo Pena hit a liner to right for a hit. Ronnie Belliard tried for the surprise bunt, but missed badly, hitting a popup that crushed any hopes the Nats would have.

Flores had had a tough game, making 2 errors, allowing 2 popups to drop. Although neither error had an impact on the game's results, it had to have been a frustrating night. The Nats needed his bat to come through with a hit to tie the game, which he did. But for the icing on the cake, it was hit hard enough to rattle around a bit in the left-field corner, giving Wily Mo Pena just the right amount of time to zip all the way around from first base, scoring the winning run -- an improbable win at that moment!


  • Outsourcing to Flores' mom again, I see.

    By Blogger Sam, at 11/13/2007 11:46 AM  

  • "So a grand slam when your team is down 3 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th is worth a hell of a lot more than when when your team is up 17-2 with nobody on in the top of the 5th. Pretty simple, eh?"

    Well, no, actually. Indeed all of your subsequent pseudo-stats-slinging is cast into great doubt by this statement of yours. Hitting a grand slam with no one on is impossible by definition. Therefore, any player who could actually do such a thing would have to be considered as clutch as clutch can be, no matter what your WPA pseudo-statistic might say, wouldn't they?

    By Anonymous eggplant parmigiana guy, at 11/13/2007 12:00 PM  

  • Good catch! Wanna chip in and get me an editor for Christmas?

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 11/13/2007 12:04 PM  

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