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WPA #7: Prelude to the Derby

One of my favorite moments in baseball this decade occurred when Bobby Abreu broke all home run derby records in Detroit, garnering thunderous applause from hordes of fans who, quite honestly, had probably never heard of him before. Watching Josh Hamilton‘s performance in the 2008 derby, however, seemed to dwarf that moment. Putting on that display at Yankee Stadium, complete with his overly discussed past personal issues, was definitely a highlighted moment of this past season. About a week prior to the derby, Hamilton put that beautiful swing to use to deliver the seventh biggest swing in win expectancy from an offensive standpoint.

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As you can see, the game took place on July 9, against the Angels. In case this moment has yet to click for you, this was the highly publicized game during which Josh Hamilton hit the walkoff home run against Francisco Rodriguez. Without exaggerating, I probably saw the highlight fifteen times from July 9 until the end of the month. Granted, the play itself was pretty amazing to watch develop.

The game was knotted at 2-2 until Juan Rivera hit a two run home run in the seventh inning. This put the Halos up 4-2, and the score would remain the same until the bottom of the ninth. Rodriguez entered the game and, at that juncture of the season, had posted a 1.88 ERA and .538 OPS against in 41 appearances. He had also recorded 35 saves out of his record-breaking saves total.

At the start of the frame, the Rangers had a 13.3% probability of winning. Ramon Vazquez led off with a walk, increasing the expectancy to 23.7%. K-Rod promptly fanned Ian Kinsler to bring it back down to 14.4%. Frank Catalanotto then grounded out, advancing Vazquez to second base. Despite having a runner in scoring position, in trailing by two runs, with two outs, the Rangers had a 6.4% probability of winning the game. Had Hamilton’s big play come next, it would have been, by far, the top play of the year. What actually followed was an RBI single to leftfield off the bat of Michael Young, increasing their chances to 12.6%.

Young then stole second base with Hamilton at the dish, which resulted in a jump to 17.1%. Then, on a 3-1 count, Hamilton demolished the ball, hitting a walkoff two-run homer. The play, which saw a swing in win expectancy of 82.9%, was the seventh biggest of the season. K-Rod didn’t necessarily have a breakdown afterwards, preventing a run from scoring in each of his next seven outings, but Hamilton’s home run definitely helped cap off an extremely impressive first half for a player with an extremely interesting story.