Tuesday, July 2, 2013

WPA Heroes: Biggest Postseason Homers by Inning

Win Probability Added measures how much every single play in a game swings the game toward a win or a loss. Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference go further in depth, but let's keep it simple. When the game begins both teams have a 50 percent probability of winning. At the end of the game the winner is at 100 while the loser is at 0. Each play brings one side or the other closer to a win.

Today let's look at the 2,311 home runs that have been hit during the postseason since 1903. Inning by inning, what were the biggest swings from one team to the other. Here are the biggest playoff home runs for each inning by WPA:

First Inning:
2011 NLDS Game Four - Milwaukee at Arizona
Ryan Roberts grand slam off Randy Wolf (0.33 WPA, 47% to 80%)

Trailing the Brewers two games to one, the D-Backs needed a home victory to stay alive. They already trailed 1-0 in the top of the first, but loaded the bases against Randy Wolf in the bottom half. Ryan Roberts belted a grand slam (video) to left that was worth 0.33 WPA. Arizona cruised to a 10-6 win, but the Brewers took the decisive fifth game in Milwaukee on Nyjer Morgan's game-winning single.

Second Inning:
1988 World Series Game One - Oakland at Los Angeles
Jose Canseco grand slam off Tim Belcher (0.38 WPA, 32% to 70%)

(45:09 mark of the video, seen here. The start time code is in there, but I've had problems embedding MLB's YouTube clips at a specific start time)

The underdog Dodgers hosted the A's to start this World Series, and jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Mickey Hatcher, who hit one home run in 202 PA's during the regular season, took Dave Stewart deep to put L.A. on the board. In the top of the second, Tim Belcher gave up a single and two walks to fill the bases and Jose Canseco stepped to the plate with two down. He unloaded with a laser beam of a grand slam to dead center to turn that 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead. The WPA swing was 0.38, giving the A's a 70 percent chance of winning the game. I think there will be an even bigger home run later in this game.

Third Inning
1980 World Series Game One - Kansas City at Philadelphia
Bake McBride three-run home run off Dennis Leonard (0.33 WPA, 31% to 64%)

The Royals led the opener 4-0 in the bottom of the third thanks to two-run shots from Amos Otis and Willie Aikens. Philly scratched for a couple of runs and had Mike Schmidt at first base and Pete Rose at second for Bake McBride. His three-run homer provided a 0.33 swing as the Phils would open up a 7-4 advantage. Another Aikens dinger cut it to 7-6, but Philly hung on to win en route to a five-game series victory.

Fourth Inning
2007 NLDS Game Two - Colorado at Philadelphia
Kazuo Matsui grand slam off Kyle Lohse (0.37 WPA, 41% to 78%)

The Rockies had won 14 of 15 to finish the regular season, including a 13-inning classic in a one-game Wild Card playoff against San Diego.

They kept up their hot streak with a road win in the NLDS opener in Philadelphia. Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday hit back-to-back homers in the first inning of Game Two, but Franklin Morales quickly gave up the lead. Colorado was down 3-2 with two outs and a man on second when Yorvit Torrealba was intentionally walked to get to the pitcher Morales. Clint Hurdle decided to yank his starter early by sending up Seth Smith to pinch hit. Smith's infield single loaded the bases for Kaz Matsui. Charlie Manuel also dipped into his bullpen early, calling on righty Kyle Lohse. Matsui sent his fourth pitch over the wall for a grand slam and a 6-3 Rockies lead. Colorado won 10-5 before coming home to complete the sweep two nights later.

Fifth Inning
1968 World Series Game Three - St. Louis at Detroit
Tim McCarver three-run home run off Pat Dobson (0.43 WPA, 34% to 77%)

After Bob Gibson struck out 17 in Game One to set a World Series record, Detroit blew out the Cards in the second game to even the set. The Tigers drew first blood in Game Three when Al Kaline hit a two-run homer. St. Louis rallied in the fifth, getting a tally on Curt Flood's RBI double. With two on and two out, Tim McCarver belted a three-run homer to put the Cards in front 4-2. They won 7-3, then won the fourth game 10-1 to go up three games to one. However, Detroit pulled off the comeback with three straight wins to take the title.

Sixth Inning
1997 NLDS Game Three - Florida at San Francisco
Devon White grand slam off Wilson Alvarez (0.47 WPA, 38% to 85%)

Two walk-off victories put the Marlins one win away from the upset. The third game was a good duel between Alex Fernandez and Wilson Alvarez. Jeff Kent broke the deadlock with a solo homer in the fourth inning and the Giants took that 1-0 lead into the sixth. Florida rallied with two outs against Alvarez with singles from Moises Alou and Jeff Conine. Charles Johnson walked to bring up the eighth-hitter, Devon White. White's grand slam was worth 0.47 WPA and it keyed a 6-2 series-clinching victory.

Seventh Inning
2005 World Series Game Two - Houston at Chicago
Paul Konerko grand slam off Chad Qualls (0.58 WPA, 28% to 86%)

(1:38 mark of video)

This was an underrated World Series. Yes it was a sweep, but all four games were tight, especially the last three. Houston led the second game 4-2 in the seventh. Juan Uribe doubled with one out and Tadahito Iguchi walked two batters later. Dan Wheeler "hit" Jermaine Dye with a 3-2 pitch and although the ball actually hit the bat, Dye was granted first base and they were loaded up. Chad Qualls threw one pitch to Paul Konerko and it was hammered into the left field seats.

The 0.58 WPA here is the highest WPA of any of the 54 grand slams in postseason history. The ChiSox led 6-4 with two outs in the ninth, but Jose Vizcaino singled off Bobby Jenks to tie the game. That merely set things up for Scott Podsednik, who hit one of the unlikeliest Fall Classic walk-off homers ever. Chicago pulled out a 14-inning win in Game Three and a 1-0 win in Game Four to claim their first championship since 1917.

Eighth Inning
1960 World Series Game Seven - New York at Pittsburgh
Hal Smith three-run home run off Jim Coates (0.64 WPA, 29% to 93%)

(6:18 mark of video, seen here)

From what might be the greatest game of all time, one of the most unheralded clutch home runs ever. The Pirates withstood three blowouts and eked out three close wins to force a seventh game against the Yankees. Pittsburgh led 4-0 after the fourth inning, but New York came back to take a 7-4 lead into the home half of the eighth.

The lead was trimmed to 7-6, but Jim Coates and the Yanks were still four outs away from the title. Hal Smith, who entered the game in the top of the eighth, came up with runners at the corners. He ripped a three-run shot that put the Bucs ahead 9-7.

Smith's homer provided 0.64 WPA, giving the Pirates a 93 percent chance of winning. He would have gone down in history as one of October's greatest heroes, but the Yankees scored twice in the top of the ninth. The tying run came in on an amazing baserunning maneuver by Mickey Mantle at first base that can be seen in the video above. That's another great play that was overshadowed by the one that won it.

Bill Mazeroski opened the bottom of the ninth with the only World Series Game Seven walk-off home run in MLB history.

Smith's homer has the eighth-highest WPA among playoff dingers. The others all came in the ninth inning, including our next entry.

Ninth Inning
1988 World Series Game One - Oakland at Los Angeles
Kirk Gibson two-run home run off Dennis Eckersley (0.87 WPA, 13% to 100%)

(2:28:00 mark of video, seen here)

What is there to say about this legendary moment? This home run has the highest WPA by far (87%). The Dodgers only had a nine percent chance of winning when Gibson came to the plate (it ticked up to 13 when Mike Davis stole second base). Going beyond the numbers, it was probably much lower considering he could barely walk and was just trying to run into one. It's one of baseball's most dramatic scenes and it sparked a major World Series upset.

Bonus Entries!
Extra Innings

Tenth Inning

2001 World Series Game Four - Arizona at New York
Derek Jeter off Byung-Hyun Kim (0.46 WPA, 54% to 100%)

(2:49:09 mark of video, seen here)

After Tino Martinez hit his game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth, October baseball became November baseball when the clock struck midnight in the last of the tenth. Derek Jeter served a liner over the right field wall to tie the series at two. Things would get worse for Kim the next night, but Arizona would still win the series in seven.

11th Inning
1995 ALCS Game Three - Seattle at Cleveland
Jay Buhner off Eric Plunk (0.48 WPA, 47% to 95%)

The 100-44 Indians split the first two with the upstart Mariners. The third game featured a great pitching matchup as Randy Johnson faced Charles Nagy. They both allowed one earned run and one unearned run in eight innings*. Cleveland tied the game in the bottom of the eighth thanks in part to an error by right fielder Jay Buhner.

* A note on both starters going 8+ innings while allowing one or no earned runs. It's happened 43 times in the postseason, but only four times since this game and only once since 2001.

It became a battle of the bullpens as the game went to the 11th. With two outs and first base open, righty Eric Plunk intentionally walked Tino Martinez to get to the right-handed hitter Buhner. Buhner made him pay and atoned for the error by socking a three-run homer to give Seattle a 5-2 lead. It's the highest WPA of any extra-inning homer in the postseason.

Norm Charlton finished his third scoreless inning of relief to put the M's halfway to the pennant. The Tribe roared back to win three straight by a combined score of 14-2 to earn a trip to the World Series.

12th Inning
1988 NLCS Game Four - Los Angeles at New York
Kirk Gibson off Roger McDowell (0.43 WPA, 41% to 84%)

(3:20:42 mark of video, seen here)

Much is made of Mike Scioscia's stunning game-tying shot of Dwight Gooden in the ninth inning, but what about the homer that won the game?

Gibby's blast put the Dodgers in front 5-4 and things heated up in the bottom half of the 12th. The Mets loaded the bases against Tim Leary and old friend Jesse Orosco. With two down and Jay Howell suspended for having pine tar in his glove, Tommy Lasorda called on Orel Hershiser to face Kevin McReynolds.

The ace induced a fly ball to shallow center, and John Shelby made a terrific running catch to end the game and tie the series 2-2. The Dodgers won in seven games and without this game, you probably don't get the Gibson homer off Eckersley in the World Series.

13th Inning
1995 ALDS Game One - Cleveland at Boston
Tony Pena off Zane Smith (0.46 WPA, 54% to 100%)


On October 3, 1995, the O.J. Simpson verdict came in that afternoon and the powerhouse Indians hosted the Red Sox in their playoff opener that night.

The score was tied 3-3 in the 11th before Tim Naehring and Albert Belle traded solo homers to keep the game going. Boston skipper Kevin Kennedy though there was cork in Belle's bat and had it confiscated by the umpires. Belle had a potty-mouth response for the Red Sox and flexed in the Cleveland dugout:

It was 4-4 with two outs in the bottom of the 13th when Tony Pena (75 OPS+) came up. He was swinging on 3-0 and sent everybody home.

14th Inning
1986 NLCS Game Six - New York at Houston
Billy Hatcher off Jesse Orosco (0.47 WPA, 10% to 57%)

The Mets won 108 games, but the Astros gave them a tough NLCS thanks to the brilliant pitching of Mike Scott. New York led 3-2, but with Scott set to go in Game Seven, the sixth game in Houston was almost as much of a must-win for them as it was for the home team.

Things looked bleak when the Astros led 3-0 in the ninth, but the Mets rallied to tie it. Wally Backman singled home Darryl Strawberry in the 14th to put New York three outs away from the N.L. crown. Jesse Orosco struck out Bill Doran to open the bottom of the 14th, but Billy Hatcher extended the game with this homer.

Orosco recovered and New York scored three runs in the top of the 16th. He was still in the game and gave back two of the runs in the home half. Clinging to a 7-6 lead, Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to end the game and win the pennant for the Mets. They had another comeback or two up their sleeve in the World Series as well as they knocked off the Red Sox.

15th Inning
1995 ALDS Game Two - Seattle at New York
Jim Leyritz off Tim Belcher (0.36 WPA, 64% to 100%)

Not much competition here as it's the only 15th-inning postseason homer, but it wasn't lacking for drama. The Yankees took the lead in the sixth on Don Mattingly's home run (like I need an excuse to link to this). The M's quickly took the lead back in the seventh, but Paul O'Neill tied it with a homer. It was 4-4 until Ken Griffey Jr. homered off John Wetteland in the 12th.

Down a run with two on and two out in the bottom of the 12th, Ruben Sierra doubled to score pinch-runner (!) Jorge Posada and tie the game*. Bernie Williams tried to score the winning run on the play, but shortstop Luis Sojo made a great relay to the plate to cut him down and keep Seattle alive.

* Posada wasn't the only longtime Yankee making his postseason debut. Mariano Rivera retired 10 of 12 with five strikeouts and picked up the win in relief.

In the bottom of the 15th with a hard rain falling, Tim Belcher walked to Pat Kelly and fell behind Jim Leyritz 3-1. The catcher went the other way for a two-run walk-off blast and after five hours and 13 minutes, the Yanks had a 2-0 series lead. The Mariners came back with three wins in Seattle to win one of the best playoff series ever.

18th Inning
2005 NLDS Game Four - Atlanta at Houston
Chris Burke off Joey Devine (0.42 WPA, 58% to 100%)

(4:48:12 mark of video, seen here)

The Braves and Astros played Games Four and Five of the NLDS in one game in 2005. Atlanta led 6-1 in the eighth inning and seemed headed back to Turner Field for a Game Five. Kyle Farnsworth served up a grand slam to Lance Berkman that made it 6-5.

The Astros could not get any closer and were down to their last out with light-hitting catcher Brad Ausmus coming up. He hit three homers in 2005 and never reached double digits in his 18-year career, but he delivered a game-tying shot that barely got over the line in left-center field. It is one of 12 down-to-your-last-out postseason home runs that tied the game or grabbed the lead:

Eight tying homers:

Cr# Gm# Date Series Gm# Batter Tm Opp Pitcher Score Inn RoB Out Pit(count) RBI WPA Play Description
1 1 1957-10-06 WS 4 Elston Howard NYY @MLN Warren Spahn down 4-1 t9 12- 2 3 0.37 Home Run (Deep LF); Berra Scores; McDougald Scores
2 1 1964-10-12 WS 5 Tom Tresh NYY STL Bob Gibson down 2-0 b9 -2- 2 2 0.49 Home Run (Deep CF-RF); Mantle Scores/unER; Tresh Scores/unER
3 1 1998-10-01 NLDS 2 Jim Leyritz SDP @HOU Billy Wagner down 4-2 t9 1-- 2 8 (3-2) 2 0.36 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF Line); Caminiti Scores
4 1 2001-10-31 WS 4 Tino Martinez NYY ARI Byung-Hyun Kim down 3-1 b9 1-- 2 1 (0-0) 2 0.49 Home Run (CF-RF); O'Neill Scores
5 1 2001-11-01 WS 5 Scott Brosius NYY ARI Byung-Hyun Kim down 2-0 b9 -2- 2 2 (1-0) 2 0.49 Home Run; Posada Scores
6 1 2003-10-07 NLCS 1 Sammy Sosa CHC FLA Ugueth Urbina down 8-6 b9 -2- 2 3 (1-1) 2 0.49 Home Run (Line Drive); Lofton Scores
7 1 2005-10-09 NLDS 4 Brad Ausmus HOU ATL Kyle Farnsworth down 6-5 b9 --- 2 3 (2-0) 1 0.49 Home Run (Fly Ball to LF-CF)
8 1 2012-10-13 ALCS 1 Raul Ibanez NYY DET Jose Valverde down 4-2 b9 -2- 2 2 (0-1) 2 0.49 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF); Teixeira Scores
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/2/2013.

And four go-ahead homers:

Cr# Gm# Date Series Gm# Batter Tm Opp Pitcher Score Inn RoB Out Pit(count) RBI WPA Play Description
1 1 1985-10-16 NLCS 6 Jack Clark STL @LAD Tom Niedenfuer down 5-4 t9 -23 2 1 (0-0) 3 0.73 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep LF); McGee Scores; Smith Scores
2 1 1986-10-12 ALCS 5 Dave Henderson BOS @CAL Donnie Moore down 5-4 t9 1-- 2 7 (2-2) 2 0.73 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep LF); Gedman Scores
3 1 1988-10-15 WS 1 Kirk Gibson LAD OAK Dennis Eckersley down 4-3 b9 -2- 2 7 (3-2) 2 0.87 *WALK-OFF*:*ENDED GAME*:Home Run (Line Drive to Deep RF); Davis Scores
4 1 2005-10-17 NLCS 5 Albert Pujols STL @HOU Brad Lidge down 4-2 t9 12- 2 2 (0-1) 3 0.73 Home Run (Deep LF); Eckstein Scores; Edmonds Scores
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/2/2013.

It was 6-6 and it would stay that way for a while. Chris Reitsma, John Thomson and Jim Brower turned in seven shutout innings of one-hit ball for the Braves. Chad Qualls, Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler allowed one hit apiece over seven scoreless frames for Houston. Roger Clemens posted zeroes in the 16th, 17th and 18th innings as the contest became the longest in playoff history. With one out and the bases empty in the bottom of the 18th inning, Chris Burke ended the game and the series with a home run.

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