Over the next couple of weeks, I will be taking a look at the biggest swings in win expectancy this season by discussing the top ten hitting and pitching plays via WPA, win probability added. Our first play, the tenth biggest swing amongst all hitting plays this season, occurred on July 12, in a slugfest between the Cardinals and Pirates. The Cardinals were still technically in the playoff race, while the Pirates, well, were not. The Buccos would go onto win this back and forth affair by the final score of 12-11, and the game graph can be seen below.
As you may have gathered, Michaels’ big play is that very steep final spike in the win probability. The former roommate of Pat Burrell at the University of Miami had started the season on the Cleveland Indians before being traded to the Pirates at around the beginning of May. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, Michaels had only hit .242/.299/.394 in pinch-hitting and spot-starting duty. Suffice it to say, he had not produced the way Neal Huntington hoped for when he was acquired.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Pirates trailed 10-6. Jason Isringhausen came in to close the door, but things did not go as planned. After Michaels walked and Jack Wilson singled, Nate McLouth launched a three-run homer to bring the Pirates within one run. Having seen enough, Tony La Russa lifted Isringhause and brought in Kyle McClellan. Luis Rivas greeted McClellan with a single. Ryan Doumit followed with a single of his own, advancing Rivas to third base. Jason Bay then hit into a fielders choice, knotting the game at ten runs apiece. Xavier Nady was retired to end the inning, but the Pirates had come back from a four-run deficit in the ninth inning.
The top of the tenth essentially erased that hard work, as Troy Glaus led the inning off with a home run served up by Denny Bautista. Bautista would then go onto retire the side, but the Cardinals had taken an 11-10 lead, setting up Michaels’ big play. When Bautista struck out Joe Mather to end the inning, the Pirates had a 20.6% chance of winning the game.
McClellan began the bottom of the tenth inning by giving up a single to Raul Chavez. He was then lifted in favor of Carlos Perez, with the Pirates’ win expectancy rising to 34%. Jose Bautista then flied out to shortstop, reducing their expectancy to 21.4%. Michaels stepped into the box. He took ball one from Perez, giving him a 1-0 count. The next pitch did not get the chance to register as a ball or strike because Michaels launched it into orbit, over the outfield wall, a two-run homer that gave the Pirates the 12-11 win.
After trailing 10-6 in the bottom of the ninth, they had scored six runs to come back with the walkoff victory. Michaels’ home run skyrocketed their expectancy to 100%, since they won, meaning the dinger was worth 78.6% of win expectancy, the tenth highest ranked batting play this past season. Following the home run, Michaels continued to struggle, putting up a .211/.292/.344 line the rest of the season. He may not have his option exercised this off-season, but hey, at least he finished in the top ten in some category!