Ten teams in the American League are still realistically vying for a spot in the postseason. The Yankees and Rangers lead by more than five games in their divisions. The White Sox lead only by a game an and a half in theirs. But seven teams are within five games of the the two wild-card spots. Only the Mariners, Royals, Twins — and after a disastrous 0-9 road trip, the Indians — are eight or more games out with just over 50 games to play.
The Tigers are the team chasing the White Sox in the AL Central. At the same time, they are tied with the A’s for one of the two wild cards. The Blue Jays (as many readers of this site undoubtedly know), are five games behind the Tigers in the wild-card race. At 53-55, the Blue Jays are one of only two teams (the Red Sox are the other) with a losing record, but still a realistic chance at the postseason.
Two sets of teammates — one on the Tigers and one on the Blue Jays — did something pretty unusual in the last week to either really help or really hurt their team. It’s the kind of thing we like to highlight here at the Impact Index.
There have been 19,609 player appearances so far this season for winning teams. What does that mean? 19,609 players have either had one or more at bats, or pinch run, in a game in which their team won. Of all of those player appearances, the highest Win Probability Added on offense belongs to Joey Votto from a May 13 game between the Reds and the Nationals. Votto hit two solo home runs in the early innings, a double in the 8th inning as the Reds scored two to cut the Nationals’ lead to 6-5, and a walk-off three-run home run in the bottom of the 9th. Votto’s WPA for that game was 1.027.
To give you a sense of scale, the top 100 offensive performances for a winning team as measured by WPA this season start with Votto’s 1.027 and go to .464. The next 100 range from .464 to .386. The next 100 range from .385-.340. So the range is widest at the top, and bunches together as you move toward zero WPA.
In Sunday’s game against the Indians, three Tigers players recorded WPAs for that game in the top 115 for the season. Miguel Cabrera posted a .615 WPA; newly-acquired Omar Infante had a .604 WPA; and Austin Jackson came in at .451. For his .451, Jackson hit one single, one double, two triples, one strikeout and three runs scored. For his .604, Infante hit two singles, one double, and a game-tying home run, along with a popout and a strikeout. He scored three runs. Cabrera had a slow start to the game, but gained his .615 WPA (good for 37th best this season) with two early-inning groundouts, two walks, a single, and the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 10th.
As WPA measures a player’s contribution to his team’s victory, or loss, and is tied to Leverage Index, those kinds of numbers, from three different players on a team, only occur in games with big lead swings late in the game. Infante’s home run tied the game at 4 in the 5th inning. After the Indians re-took the lead at 5-4, Infante scored another tying in the 7th to make it 5-5. The Indians then scored three in the top of the 10th, giving them what looked like an 8-5 lead. With with runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Jackson hit a double, Infante singled, and Cabrera hit the walk-off homer.
The WPA graph for the game looks like this:
In the same week, two Blue Jays recorded two of the Top 200 Negative WPAs of the season in the same game. A mirror image of what Cabrera, Jackson and Infante pulled off for the Tigers. Not good.
There have been 20,159 appearances (at bats or pinch run) by players in games where their team lost. The Top 100 Negative WPAs this season range from -.546 to -.290; the next 100 range from -.289 to -.243. So, like positive WPAs for winning teams, the range is biggest at the top, and bunches as you move toward zero.
A player posts a negative WPA when he makes it harder for his team to win the game. Failure late in games with the score close will lead to the highest negative WPAs.
On Friday night, the Blue Jays and A’s played 15 innings. Kelly Johnson and Yan Gomes failed a lot for the Blue Jays in the game, particularly in extra innings. Here’s how they did it.
With runners on first and second and one out in the top of the 10th, Johnson flew out. In the 12th, with the bases loaded and two outs, he grounded out to end the inning. In the 15th, with one out and a runner on second base, he struck out.
Gomes struck out to lead off the 11th inning. Popped out with a runner on first and no outs in the 13th. And he struck out to end the top of the 15th with runners on first and second. The A’s scored in the bottom of the 15th and won the game.
Here’s the WPA chart for the game.
The Tigers needed every point of WPA they got from Cabrera, Jackson and Infante yesterday, and got it. Just one hit from Johnson or Gomes in extra inning for the Blue Jays Friday night could have meant victory instead of Toronto’s fifth-straight defeat.