Desmond’s Big Game in Pseudo-Historical Perspective

Bryce Harper may have added to his legend with his game-winning hit in the Nationals’ 7-6 extra-innings victory over the Mets yesterday, but Ian Desmond‘s night at the plate was more remarkable, according to Win Probability Added (WPA). Not only was Desmond’s game-tying double earlier in the final inning worth more WPA than Harper’s game-winning hit (.380 to .349), but his total WPA for the game was 1.017.

That’s right — Desmond’s contributions were worth more than one “win” according to WPA. Of course, that’s a bit of a deceptive way of saying it. WPA is measuring the shift in “probability” or “certainty” of winning given the relative score, inning, base/out state, and run environment. In a game like yesterday’s, with many ties that were broken, plus extra innings (any one of which could have been the final inning), there are even more opportunities for big WPA events. Thus, Desmond got additional big boosts from his game-tying single in the bottom of the eighth as well as his run-scoring reached on error in the bottom of the tenth.

How often do hitters end up with a single-game WPA over 1? Not often, but according to our database, it has happened 42 times in the regular season since 1974. In fact, Desmond’s big game is only the 35th highest score on the list. Each has a story, but here are three that I have picked out semi-randomly.

24. Dave Kingman, May 14, 1978. Apparently, he had two nicknames: “Kong” and “Sky King.” Seriously, it’s Dave Kingman, why didn’t they shorten it to one: Sky Kong. Duh.

Kingman was not known as a pleasant man: he once mailed a live rat to a sportswriter. Nor did he have a broad range of baseball skills: once when an equipment manager came on to the field to take care of some problem with Kingman’s glove, color man Richie Ashburn quipped that “they should have called a welder.”

What Kingman could do was hit home runs. On this day, he hit three, and drove in eight. His second homer came in the top of the ninth with two outs and his Cubs down by two (.373 WPA). His jack tied the game up at seven. With the score still tied at in the top of the fifteenth, Kingman hit a three-run homer with two outs to put his team up for good (.463 WPA). Along with his other contributions at the plate, Kingman totaled 1.034 WPA for the game.

7. Ryan Langerhans, September 7, 2005. Before Ryan Langerhans became an “undervalued” darling of saber-nerds such as myself and “hit” himself into the Angels’ minor league system, he was actually part of a group of young players who revitalized the Braves. No doubt: with Langerhans and sure-thing superstar Jeff Francoeur flanking veteran Andruw Jones, the Braves’ outfield was set for years to come.

Langerhans actually managed this big game without any home runs. With the Braves down against the Mets 2-1, Langerhans doubled in Jeff Francoeur in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game (.414 WPA). The Mets regained the lead in the 10th when the legendary Chris Woodward drove in Carlos Beltran. In the bottom of the inning, down 3-2 the Braves managed to load the bases. With two outs, Langerhans played the hero again, singling in two runs and winning the game for the Braves (.723 WPA). Single game total: 1.115.

1. This one is for Laurila: Brian Daubach, August 21, 2000. Did anyone ever actually call him the Belleville Basher? All I really remember about Daubach from that time was that he always looked angry. I’m not saying he was angry — I have no idea. That was just how he seemed to me. He had some power and took some walks, but given that he was a first baseman, even at his best he was merely an average player.

Daubach will always have this incredible game, however. He had three hits, and two of them were WPA monsters. The first big one came in the bottom of the ninth with the Red Sox trailing the Angels 5-3. With two outs and Jason Varitek on first, Daubach launched a home run that tied the game and gave the Red Sox a chance in extras. In the top of the eleventh, Adam Kennedy mananged to sacrifice bunt Troy Glaus in from third to put the Angels up. Down to their last three outs, Boston got a walk from Nomar Garciaparra (an event in itself), then a single and another walk to load the bases. Cap’n Tek then grounded into a double play, including the runner at home. Down to their final out and behind 6-5, the Red Sox had Daubach come to the plate with runners on second and third. Daubach singled in two runs to win it for Boston (.749 WPA). Altogether, this was the biggest regular season game by a hitter in our database: 1.273 WPA.

Belleville Basher, indeed.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

8 Responses to “Desmond’s Big Game in Pseudo-Historical Perspective”

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  1. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    Now this was fun reading!

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  2. smb says:

    Hear, hear, like reading Stark but without the painfully unfunny jokes!

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  3. John C. says:

    Desmond’s game had a couple of other notable things. He made a great barehand-the-ball-gun-the-runner-out play on a chopper that took a wicked sideways hop just before it reached him in extra innings. I doubt that Kingman made a play like that in his life, much less in his >1 WPA game.

    That said, Desmond had a HUGE assist from the Mets, as his RBI in the 10th really should have ended the game with a Mets win. Desmond hit the ball very hard, but it was on one hop to the SS; if he picks it clean it’s a sure double play. But he muffed it, the run scored, and the game continued.

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  4. jacob says:

    .254 – that’s how much Desmond’s WPA went up from a defensive error. so it’s only slightly fair to give him credit for that play.

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  5. Infield Fly says:

    “Art Shamsky produced a WPA of 1.503, which is the highest amount of all time, ever and fo’ rilz. And somewhat amazingly, despite Shamsky’s efforts, his team lost that game. But that’s not all, Shamsky didn’t even start the game. He came into it in the eighth inning as part of a double switch and made three plate appearances, as first described to us by Sam Miller last year:
    With his team trailing 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth, Shamsky comes up for the first time. There’s a runner on base and his Reds are 31% likely to win the game. He homers to center field, and now the Reds are 85% likely to win.
    His team is now trailing 9-8 in the bottom of the 10th, and have only an 11% chance of winning. With one out, he homers again, tying the game and giving the Reds a 58% chance of winning. The Reds load the bases with one out but can’t score, and the game moves forward.
    His team now trailing 11-9 in the 11th inning, and Shamsky bats with two outs, a runner on and a 5% chance of winning. He homers and the Reds now 51% to win.
    He never got to hit again. In the 13th, Cincinnati’s seemingly awful bullpen allowed three runs and the batting order isn’t capable of bringing Shamsky up for one more at bat in the bottom half of the inning as the tema went on to lose 14-11. Nonetheless, Shamsky finished the game with that outstandingly remarkable 1.503 WPA”

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  6. Ivan Grushenko says:

    The most memorable one of these for me was Ryne Sandberg hitting 2 HR off the normally unhittable Bruce Sutter of the Cardinals on June 23, 1984 to tie the game each time, once in the 9th and again in the 10th. The Cubs won in 11 innings 12-11 when Dave Owen singled in Leon Durham. Sandberg’s WPA was 1.045.

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  7. Nick Doyle says:

    Joey votto had a game with a WPA over 1 earlier this year too!

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  8. Stew says:

    Thanks for this write-up, and HUGE thanks for shedding light on Daubach’s heroics! I’m a Twins fan in MN, and the 8/21/2000 Red Sox – Angels game represents my one and only trip to Fenway. I remember it vividly, particularly Daubach’s pair of htis, but hadn’t realized until now just how dramatic they were. Awesome.

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