2011 Tampa Bay Rays: Do You Believe In Miracles?

From Dirk Hayhurst‘s Twitter:

“You know what would be really cool…”

~Baseball Gods, right before THIS all happened.

They’re calling it “Wild Wednesday,” and it was, but it was also Wild Twenty-Aught-Eleven. The Tampa Bay Rays closed the books on their 2011 campaign with one of the craziest nights in baseball history and one of the most absurd paths to the postseason ever.

At 12:03 a.m. ET this morning, Robert Andino hit a sinking line drive to left field off Jonathon Papelbon. Carl Crawford charged the ball, but it popped off his glove and Nolan Reimold dove onto home plate, giving the Orioles a 4-3 win. The first Orioles player to reach Andino chest-bumped him to the ground — maybe knocking the wind out of him — as the cameras watched the Baltimore bench fall onto his seemingly-frightened and breathless face.

At 12:05 a.m., Evan Longoria reached out — almost into the other batter’s box — to foul off a slider from New York Yankees pitcher Scott Proctor, holding the count at two balls, two strikes. Longoria exhaled deeply, puffing his cheeks like a trombone player, as Scott Proctor wound for the next pitch. It was a fastball away that got lost and asked Longo for directions.

“Two-two and line SHOT! DOWN THE LEFT FIELD LIIIIINE! THAT BALL IS GONE!!!” Rays television announcer Dewayne Staats called, presumably leaning out of the booth to watch as Longoria’s 31st homer ricocheted around behind the Crawford Cutout — a low wall added so then-Ray Carl Crawford could rob a few extra home runs.

Last night’s (and this morning’s) Rays game was beyond spectacular (for non-Red Sox fans, that is; my condolences to the northeast). It was parts Spring Training game (with the parade of Yankees pitchers), parts Little League World Series (with the Rays using nearly the entirety of their bench in key roles), and all parts unbelievable.

The 2011 Rays season has shown that though baseball is about probabilities, it is probabilities with replacement — truly any event can occur with the very next pitch, even if it happened just a few innings ago — or if it has never happened before.

The Rays season began on November 1, 2010. That was the day the reigning AL East champions granted free agency to Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Randy Choate — among others. Their bullpen was gone. It was not missing a few players; it was gone. Andy Sonnanstine was suddenly sitting alone on a canister of bubble gum just beyond the right field foul line — and even he had his bags packed, ready for the demotion his 2010 stats had warranted.

So the Rays accepted 2011 will be a good-but-not-good-enough season. Calling it a “reloading” year, they traded Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, signing the nearly-leftovers of the free agent market, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. At the sake of waxing historical, I will repeat for posterity what we already know and still cannot yet process: Manny tested positive for PEDs, promptly retired, and the Rays started the season with an epicly bad 0-6 run.

Two of the players meant to play major roles in replacing Pena and Crawford’s production, Manny and journeyman Dan Johnson, were not producing. Manny was gone by game six and Johnson hit a wRC+ in the negatives (not sub-100, but negative) for the first two months before going Triple-A. Some projection systems had forecast 20 to even 25+ home runs for Dan “Pumpkin” Johnson in the offseason. Well, he finished the year with two. But those two meant a whole lot.

I was there for the first homer: A ninth inning, three-run homer off Matt Thornton, sailing into a chilly Chicago evening and sealing win number one for the Rays’ 2011 season. Home run number two, which Johnson hit last night in the bottom of the 9th (two outs, 2-2 count, naturally), kept that same season alive, tying the game 7-7.

Johnson, nicknamed Pumpkin by fans because — like the Great Pumpkin of Charlie Brown fame — DanJo arises from seemingly nowhere to do something magical only to disappear shortly thereafter, hit a crucial ninth inning homer off Jonathon Papelbon en route to the Rays’ 2008 World Series appearance. And just like that year, Johnson has played a small, yet pivotal role in helping this little $41M team find 91 wins and a playoff season.

Consider the fortuitously-timed hot streaks of marginal and defensive players. When Manny retired, Sam Fuld got hot; when Fuld went cold, Casey Kotchman hit an extended hot streak; when Kotch’s magic ran out, B.J. Upton caught fire:


Overlapped wOBAs from Fuld, Kotchman, and Upton.

Had Upton and Fuld both heated up in the same month — or the same games — maybe this team isn’t 9 games back, but 10 or 11 in the late going. If Kotchman gets cold in July instead of August, then maybe the the Rays are 12 or 13 back.

Yes, the team lived in the muscle-bound arms of Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, James Shields, and David Price. They also profited immensely from the blundering, unprecedented finish of the Boston Red Sox. But, much like how the Rays defied the probabilities last night, swinging a 99% certain loss into a 100% playoff ticket, employing odd role players like Elliot Johnson and John Jaso at opportune moments, the Rays managed to find just enough talent and luck to win big.

Last night, a utility man with a .284 career wOBA singled off an elite closer with a 1.53 FIP on the season. And at the same time Andino was defying the odds — being the 1 in 100-to-1 — the Rays were obliterating not just the odds of their base-states, but the expectations of their peers, the forecasts of the projections, and the musings of the gurus.

In yet another predictably phenomenal piece, Nate Silver did a little napkin math to find out what kind of crazy probabilities we encountered in the last 30 days and 24 hours:

The following is not mathematically rigorous, since the events of yesterday evening were contingent upon one another in various ways. But just for fun, let’s put all of them together in sequence:

    •The Red Sox had just a 0.3 percent chance of failing to make the playoffs on Sept. 3.
    •The Rays had just a 0.3 percent chance of coming back after trailing 7-0 with two innings to play.
    •The Red Sox had only about a 2 percent chance of losing their game against Baltimore, when the Orioles were down to their last strike.
    •The Rays had about a 2 percent chance of winning in the bottom of the 9th, with Johnson also down to his last strike.

Multiply those four probabilities together, and you get a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.

And so we rip back the red curtain to reveal Baseball, roaming free of a cage to the awe of the spectators. A 278,000,000-to-1 event transpired last night — and that was just in the AL. Fools say we suck the marrow from the game with a deluge of numbers, but without this, how can you really, truly appreciate the majesty of what just happened?

(If you’re not a Red Sox fan, naturally.)



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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Eric M. Van
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

This is probably the best place to point out the number of ballparks that Longoria’s walk-off shot is a HR in, according to HitTrackerOnline …

1, obviously.

(Johnson’s was a HR in just 9 parks. Every HR hit by the Yankees was a HR in all 30.)

Jross
Guest
Jross
4 years 8 months ago

What’s the probability of that ball hitting a fan in the balls?

Slartibartfast
Guest
Slartibartfast
4 years 8 months ago

THIS WAS THE BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE NIGHT OF THE BEST NIGHT IN BASEBALL EVER

Bill
Guest
Bill
4 years 8 months ago

And that he was a Red Sox Fan!?!?

Steve
Guest
Steve
4 years 8 months ago

Classic “Vanalysis”:

If you move the game to another ballpark, and exclude the HR, and then exclude all of the pathethic losses the Sox suffered to a terrible Orioles team, the Sox make the playoffs….

Eric M. Van
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

Analysis? If I meant that, I would have said it. I just pointed out a set of facts that I thought increased the ironic angst from the Sox P.O.V. I’m actually finding that the over-the-top unlikeliness of it all makes it a good deal easier to bear. With Johnson being the guy to tie the game, with Longoria’s shot finding the Crawford Cutout — it all makes it seem much more Fated to Happen.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
4 years 8 months ago

Is there a point to this, Eric?

Eric M. Van
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

No point, just another improbability to add to the mix. That the ball went over the “Crawford Cutout” about 3 minutes after Crawford failed to catch Andino’s single — really, if you saw the whole night in a movie, climaxing with that, it would be unsatisfying because it was so over-the-top, contrived, and unrealistic.

Red Line Trane
Guest
Red Line Trane
4 years 8 months ago

Even better, the left field fence is that low because Carl Crawford requested that they lower it back when he was a Ray.

Rob in CT
Guest
Rob in CT
4 years 8 months ago

This is utterly hilarious.

Waaah.

rcbuss
Guest
rcbuss
4 years 8 months ago

The odds are even longer than 278,000,000-to-1.

The odds that this would happen to both teams in Game 162 (as opposed to game 57, for example): 1/(162*162).

More like 7,295,832,000,000-to-1.

mcbrown
Member
mcbrown
4 years 8 months ago

No. See my comment below. Also, all sorts of crazy things happen in the middle of the season that we forget about because they didn’t happen in game 162. Are we sure there weren’t even more amazing simultaneous events during the season that were forgotten because we didn’t think they had playoff implications at the time?

Jonathan C. Mitchell
Member
4 years 8 months ago

I posted my own thought on last night and have been reading everyone’s elsewhere. It is amazing how many articles have been written and how different they all are, yet the same. Simply put, great post here Brad!

mcbrown
Member
mcbrown
4 years 8 months ago

Nice article, but Nate Silver’s probability calculation is wrong. These are not independent events and can’t be multiplied together. In fact the probability of the Red Sox not making the playoffs on September 3 (estimated at 0.3%) must necessarily include all possible outcomes for how they would fail to do so, including being tied on the final day and experiencing what we saw last night. Furthermore, by the time the final games rolled around the playoff probabilities were largely a function of the game probabilities – multiplying the game probabilities with playoff probabilities from some time in the past makes no more sense than multiplying them by the playoff probabilities from April 2, or April 2 AND April 3 AND April 4 AND…. Not to mention they have different time horizons, making this calculation something like multiplying the probability of winning the lottery in a single drawing by the probability of winning the lottery over 100 drawings (i.e. nonsensical).

I’m not trying to hate, just pointing it out. The amazing events of last night speak for themselves – there is no need to do bad/crazy math to exaggerate how amazing they were.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
4 years 8 months ago

Very well said, mcbrown. That “math,” whether intended to be vigorous or not, looks like something from Sports Illustrated that accidentally ended up in a FanGraphs article.

max
Member
max
4 years 8 months ago

Seriously? We know. He pointed it out in the article. We’re just having fun.

mcbrown
Member
mcbrown
4 years 8 months ago

I guess I just don’t see the fun in knowingly putting together a meaningless calculation that will be misinterpreted and badly used by 99% or more of readers. To me, “fun” would be trying to come up with a meaningful answer.

Steve
Guest
Steve
4 years 8 months ago

What exactly are people “using” the number for? Watercooler conversation?

Didn’t realize there was so much at stake.

mcbrown
Member
mcbrown
4 years 8 months ago

The stakes are no higher than any other example of innumeracy we see from major media in our daily lives. If you don’t think it’s an issue, fine, no problem.

mattg
Guest
mattg
4 years 8 months ago

The Nate Silver post in question recognizes this. Here’s the quote:

“The following is not mathematically rigorous, since the events of yesterday evening were contingent upon one another in various ways. But just for fun, let’s put all of them together in sequence:”

mcbrown
Member
mcbrown
4 years 8 months ago

“Not mathematically rigorous” does not begin to describe how bad a calculation it is. That he knows it is wrong only makes it worse.

yt
Guest
yt
4 years 8 months ago

20011?

Bill
Guest
Bill
4 years 8 months ago

That’s the year the Orioles are finally going to be competitive again.

kingoriole
Guest
kingoriole
4 years 8 months ago

not necessary!

we had a meaningful game/series in september and we WON. can’t you lay off?

yes the future is bleak, but the last week was awesome. boo to you.

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC
4 years 8 months ago

Please don’t call me a fool; I’m one of those who believes that excessive math sucks the joy from the game. Last night was an absolutely incredible baseball experience, one of the greatest of all time. And yes, it truly can be fully appreciated without the 278,000,000 to one calculation.

You may see it differently; from my perspective, last night was what being a baseball fan was all about, and moments like last night get detracted from when you try to look at them in a mathematical context rather than a lyric beauty context.

Jacob
Guest
Jacob
4 years 8 months ago

Then what in the world are you doing on this website?

That issue aside, I don’t calculate wOBPs in my head but it helps me better appreciate what I just witnessed

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC
4 years 8 months ago

I’m on this website because only a true fool would be ideologically opposed to something that he doesn’t understand or study. An old-school baseball fan has to know how advanced metrics are calculated, what they represent, and what the evolving trends are in statistical analysis in order to provide a cogent argument against their use.

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC
4 years 8 months ago

Especially because most people heavily into stastical analysis tend to believe that people who disagree with them MUST not understand the math. Most statheads I run into just assume that if you reject advanced metrics, it’s because you just don’t know how they work. It’s my goal to disprove that fallacy.

joel e
Guest
joel e
4 years 8 months ago

couldn’t agree more, jimnyc. if there was ever a nite where the numbers didn’t matter, it was wednesday. the only numbers anybody needed to appreciate how awesome it was were wins and losses. if dan johnson’s wRC+ says more to you than .108 avg meant to the casual fan, then great, you enhanced your appreciation of the moment. but, there isn’t a sabrmatician in the world who would/could have justified sending dan johnson to bat in that situation. kudos to joe maddon for putting the numbers aside and going with his gut. kudos to the rays for putting probability graphs aside and playing with their hearts. if you were more interested in sabrmetrics than the magnitude of the wins and losses, you really missed what last nite was about.

cwendt
Member
cwendt
4 years 8 months ago

In 2001, the A’s won 102 games, lost a bunch of players, and we asked “how can they recover?” In 2002, they won 103 games (and got the same result).

Last year, the Rays won 96 games, lost a bunch of players, and we asked “how can they recover?” The answer depends on your perspective.

They didn’t: The Rays only won 91 games…
They did: …but put up basically the same WAR as last season (batting a little worse, pitching a little better).

They did: The Rays made the playoffs after one of the great comebacks of all time…
They didn’t: …but only because the Red Sox underwent perhaps the greatest regular season collapse ever, and the team the Rays were playing wasn’t playing for anything.

So, the Rays season: Better than we thought, or worse than we thought? Damned if I know.

cwendt
Member
cwendt
4 years 8 months ago

Or exactly what we thought, but the context allowed them to succeed?

Black_Rose
Guest
Black_Rose
4 years 8 months ago

“the team the Rays were playing wasn’t playing for anything.”

No, the Orioles were playing for pride and dignity. They are obligated for the sake of their fans and the integrity of the game to play to the best of the ability (minus the strategic desires of management and the coaches to test prospective talent at the Major League level) on the last game of the season, at home.

TheGrandslamwich
Member
TheGrandslamwich
4 years 8 months ago

That was such an awesome night of watching baseball that I’m still hungover!

Eric W.
Guest
Eric W.
4 years 8 months ago

I personally am not a fan of statistical calculations such as this one. I realize it’s just a fun little thing but technically the odds of any situation playing out any night are the same as what happened tonight. There are likely billions of realistic outcomes on a given night of baseball when talking about all 30 teams, and this was one of those outcomes, statistically speaking. 5 days ago was another one of those outcomes with the same odds of occurring. Same with 20 days ago, etc.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, statistically it has been a ridiculous ride for Tampa. Overcoming the projected 0.3% that Boston was given to lose the wild card (from sept 4th I believe) is pretty unreal. There is also the Angels fighting almost the same battle for the WC as Tampa, which would lower Tampa’s odds to under that 0.3% as well.

Also, statistically, last night was just crazy. There was definitely a situation where I’m pretty sure Tampa was 0.3% to win and at the same time Bal was about 20% or so? At that moment, Tampa overcame the less-than-1/1000 chance of winning the wildcard without a one game playoff from that situation on.

Both are extremely impressive and jaw-dropping statistical comebacks. Also, they are both almost completely independent of each other, which is why doing a statistics calculation by simply multiplying the probabilities is a little flawed and misleading.

Eric W.
Guest
Eric W.
4 years 8 months ago

Also I realize it was just a fun calculation but I hear people quoting these types of independent event statistics all the time and it doesn’t make sense to me. I wasn’t shitting on your article as I thought it was a great piece and really recreated the incredible, improbable events from last night.

Robbie G.
Guest
Robbie G.
4 years 8 months ago

One result of this incredible Tampa Bay comeback will be that the legend of Johnny Damon is even further enhanced. Here is a guy who has a legit shot at reaching 3,000 career hits if he can stick around for another couple of years or so and get enough plate appearances (well, and hits, obviously). If he makes it to 3,000, then he will be by far the least accomplished player to ever reach the 3,000 hit plateau. He is kind of the position player equivalent of Jamie Moyer, if Moyer were to reach 300 career wins (seems highly unlikely at this point but you never know). Every other guy who has gotten to 3,000 hits has gotten in except Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro, and these are both for moral/ethical reasons, not baseball reasons. Craig Biggio got to 3,000 but isn’t eligible for the HOF yet; he’ll obviously get in on the second or third ballot, if not the first ballot.

Anyway, this Tampa Bay comeback further cements Damon as a HOFer (if he gets to 3,000, that is; he has no shot if he can’t get to 3,000), as Damon is presumably perceived to be the leader of this team (and who knows, maybe he is). He is perceived to be the leader (or one of the leaders) in the two biggest comeback stories in recent MLB history.

Oh, and I can’t help but point out once again that Damon is the highest paid player on this Tampa Bay team, at around $5.25 mil this season, if I’m not mistaken.

The owners of the other 29 MLB franchises all should be sitting down with their management teams, pointing to Tampa Bay and what it is able to accomplish on a small budget, and ask, “Why are we not doing this?”

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
4 years 8 months ago

Eh. I highly, highly doubt Johnny Damon will get in the Hall, even if he does get to 3000 hits. Things like this have happened before. Once upon a time everyone with 400 homers got in. Dave Kingman did away with that. It used to be that everyone with at least 2800 hits was in. Enter Harold Baines. Palmeiro’s exclusion means the 3000 hits criterion is already on shaky ground, and I think Damon, if he gets there, will be the final nail in the coffin.

Also, was anyone else really surprised to see Scott Proctor pitching for New York again? I’m not sure I realized the guy was still in baseball, much less back with the Yankees.

Joe Torre
Guest
Joe Torre
4 years 8 months ago

I know I was surprised. Thought I killed that guy 4 years ago.

Robbie G.
Guest
Robbie G.
4 years 8 months ago

In my view, Rafael Palmeiro gets in to the HOF if not for the steroids and for the infamous words spoken at that Senate hearing.

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
4 years 8 months ago

You may be right, but there are strong arguments against Palmeiro’s case even without invoking steroids. He was never the league MVP, never even the best first baseman/DH in any given season, and never really had a peak of sustained greatness. Sure, his counting numbers are awesome, but every sportswriter knows that he got those numbers by being a very good player for a long time. He’s like Damon in that regard, except with (much) more power.

Palmeiro probably would’ve gotten in on the strength of having BOTH 3000 hits and 500 homers, but I don’t think either number on its own would do it. Damon’s candidacy is questionable in many of the same ways, and he doesn’t have 500 (or 400 or even 300) homers. If he gets to 3000 hits, he’ll hang around on the ballot, probably for the full 15 years. But I don’t think he’ll get in.

David Carter
Guest
David Carter
4 years 8 months ago

Brad: Very nicely written piece. (from a Red Sox fan).

Black_Rose
Guest
Black_Rose
4 years 8 months ago

Wow, I felt like I won the Powerball, and all I got was nothing.

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