Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The ten most high-WPA games by batters

Something special was needed to celebrate Derek Jeter's 38th birthday. So the idea was created to list his top 38 regular season games by WPA. Since WPA stands for Win Probability Added and Jeter is all about the team winning, it seemed the perfect vehicle. Writing that post led to wondering who had the most high WPA games in a career. And that led to this post here. There are a lot of great statistics, but WPA is sort of neat because it tries to quantify how much a batter adds to (or subracts from) his team's chances of winning the game.

High WPA games are easier to record by pitchers because their job is to prevent runs. If they do so, then they will record a high WPA. Nolan Ryan leads all pitchers since the stat began being recorded with 108. The statistic cannot be used for the old timers. Play by play data was spotty until 1946 and even from 1946 to 1973, the data is incomplete with some 20 percent of the games missing. Even so, Baseball-reference.com records the stat from 1946 to the present.

The frame of reference point used for a batter was a WPA score of .400 or higher for the game. With a WPA of .400 or higher, the batter had a significant hand in winning the game for his team. Derek Jeter has had 12 such games. Alex Rodriguez has had 32. Chipper Jones has had 24. And those three are Hall of Fame kinds of careers. Hitting a huge home run is the easiest way to score highly. So who are the top ten? Only one name will surprise you.

- 1. Willie Mays - 56 of them. His last was in 1973 at the age of 42 when he pinch hit and drove in two runs with a single to change a 7-6 loss into an 8-7 win. As mentioned, his total could be higher if some data wasn't missing. He hit 53 homers in these 56 games and added 18 doubles and 8 triples. Yeah, that will get it done.

- 2. Barry Bonds - 55 games with a WPA at or over .400. These 55 games included 57 homers, 28 doubles, 5 triples and 160 runs batted in. Woof.

- 3. Harmon Killebrew - 51 games. He hit 51 homers in these games and knocked in 137.

- 3. Hank Aaron - 51 games with 52 homers and 144 ribbies. Yeah, that will win some games.

- 5. Willie McCovey - 49 games. The Giants had two of the greatest clutch hitters of all time. What a combination.

- 6. Frank Robinson - 46 games. The Triple Crown winner and MVP winner in both leagues was one of the greatest players this writer ever got to watch. 

- 7. Eddie Murray - 43 times. Is he the most underrated Hall of Famer of all time? Seems so.

- 8. Bobby Murcer - 42 times. This is the surprise. Doesn't this blow your mind? And he did it with the fewest homers in the top ten and is the only one in the top ten that should not be in the Hall of Fame.

- 9. Mickey Mantle - 41 times. It makes sense that Mantle is here. It makes less sense that he had one less than Murcer.

- 10. Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson and Mike Piazza are all tied with 40 times each. Three more who are or should be in the Hall of Fame.

So Bobby Murcer is the anomaly and one of the most under-appreciated clutch hitters of his times. Injuries and Shea Stadium derailed his career a bit. But he sure helped his teams win.

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