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WPA #6: Velez Tames the Lyon

For the most part, the clutchiest plays of 2008 came in the form of walkoff home runs, and why not? These are usually the most dramatic plays, and WPA is appropriately defined by Dave Studeman as “the story stat.” Thus far, we have seen Jason Michaels, Josh Hamilton, Nate McLouth, and Nick Swisher go deep to compile the seventh through tenth biggest offensive plays of the year, but spot number six belongs to Eugenio Velez of the Giants. Velez, the rookie second baseman with plenty of speed, broke the home run mold in his huge play. The graph for the game, which took place on September 10, is below. Notice how you can barely even see his name register:


Actually, this graph makes the big spike appear like it belongs to Chris Young, not Velez, since Eugenio’s play is hidden in the upper portion. The game saw a matchup of Brad Hennessey and Dan Haren, which remained scoreless through two innings. In the third, Stephen Drew smacked a solo home run to give the Snakes a 1-0 lead. In the bottom portion of the same inning, Velez hit a two-run double to give his Giants the 2-1 lead. Foreshadowing?

The score would remain 2-1 until the ninth inning, when things really went haywire. The Diamondbacks began the frame with a 16.1% probability of winning the game. Brian Wilson, the Giants closer, entered the game and began by issuing a free pass to Chris Snyder. Alexander Romero came in to pinch-run, and Augie Ojeda sacrificed him into scoring position. Tony Clark followed with a walk, before Jeff Salazar relieved him on baserunning duties. Stephen Drew then flew out, meaning the Diamondbacks had runners on first and second with two outs. Their win probability was a mere 14% at this point.

Chris Young delivered a two-run triple, blowing the save for Wilson, and putting the Snakes ahead 3-2. Adam Dunn flew out to end the frame, but the damage was done. DBacks closer Brandon Lyon then entered, hoping to avoid the same fate as Wilson. The Giants had just a 19.8% shot of winning the game at this juncture. Following a Pablo Sandoval groundout, Bengie Molina singled. He, of course, was pinch-run for. Travis Ishikawa then grounded out, advancing the runner to second. Lyon walked Aaron Rowand to literally set up the exact same scenario that Wilson found himself in during the top half of the inning.

Velez stepped in and, after taking two strikes to go behind in the count 0-2, hit a two-run triple of his own, winning the game for the Giants in the process. With just a 17% probability of winning as his plate appearance began, the sixth biggest play of the season saw an expectancy swing of 83%, just barely ahead of the 82.9% in the seventh play. This was definitely a wild game, as not only did both closers blow saves in the ninth inning, they did so by giving up two-run triples!