Ronnie Belliard is not an all-star, a future MVP, or someone that will find himself enshrined in Cooperstown someday. He is not even that good of a player to begin with, coupling about average offense with below average defense. For his 11-year career, Ronnie has a WPA/LI of -1.23, making him a little over one win worse than an average player, offensively. He has always shown himself capable of some power, however, and this season, despite playing in just 96 games, he produced the best numbers of his career.
Overall, in those 96 games and 337 plate appearances, Belliard hit .284/.372/.473, an .845 OPS, and a 1.40 WPA/LI, the latter two of which are career bests. He also hit 22 doubles and managed to match last year’s home run total of 11 in a little more than half of the at-bats. One of those home runs came on June 29, in a game where Orioles visited the Nationals. This home run just so happens to be the runner-up to the biggest offensive play of the 2008 season.
While our third biggest play involved a pitching matchup of two hurlers who will be lucky to even have a job in 2009 (Kyle Kendrick and Patrick Misch), this game saw a beautiful pitching duel between Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Bergmann, both of which can be slotted in for 30+ starts next season. After Bergmann stranded a runner in the top of the first, Aaron Boone knocked in a run off of Guthrie on a fielder’s choice in the bottom half of the frame. The Nationals led 1-0 and literally nothing would happen until the top of the seventh inning.
With Bergmann absolutely cruising along, Luke Scott knotted the game up with a solo home run. He would get out of the inning without further damage. Guthrie pitched a scoreless bottom half of the seventh, before both starters departed. They had each pitched extremely well, and left with idential WPAs of .266. The bullpens were equally effective, however, as the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh innings came and went with nary a run crossing the plate.
Luis Ayala began the top of the twelfth by surrendering back to back singles to Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff. With runners on first and second, he retired Kevin Millar. Charlie Manning then entered the game and struck out Luke Scott, before himself being lifted in favor of Joel Hanrahan. In quite the crucial plate appearance—a leverage index of 4.47—Jones singled to rightfield, scoring Markakis and giving the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
George Sherrill came in, hoping to close the door, which, by my tone and the earlier text quite apparently did not happen. At the beginning of the frame, though, the Nationals had a 20.3% probability of winning. Pete Orr struck out to kick things off, reducing this probability to 11.4%. Their win probability was further reduced when Paul LoDuca followed with a groundout to third base. As Dmitri Young stepped up to bat, the Nationals had justs a 4.8% shot at winning this game.
Young showed patience and worked a walk, increasing the Nationals’ win expectancy to a whopping 9.95%. With a 2-2 count, Ronnie Belliard then harnessed his power, and belted a line drive home run over the wall to end the game. This game was rather meaningless in the grand scheme of the 2008 baseball season, but Belliard’s walkoff, which produced an expectancy swing of 90.05%, the second biggest offensive play of the year, just goes to show that even the worst of teams can produce some exciting action.
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