Unlike other sports, it can be difficult for a single MLB player to have much control over the outcome of a game. In the NBA, a star player can typically get the ball in the biggest moments. In the NFL, a QB can elevate the performance of an entire team, and skill position players can potentially make a big play at any moment.
In baseball it’s different. Sure a starting pitcher can dramatically influence a team’s chances of winning, but this typically isn’t the case for players in the lineup. A player gets an opportunity to produce in the biggest moments basically by chance. If a team is lucky enough to have one of their best hitters at the plate with a game on the line, the opposing team can easily walk them, and neutralize their ability to influence the outcome.
Even though the situation can be somewhat random, there are those moments throughout the baseball season when one player seems to single handedly swing his team’s chances of winning a game. We can recognize those moments when we see them, but we also have stats to help us understand which moments disproportionately impacted the outcome of a game.
WPA is one such statistic. Bryan Grosnick has a helpful introduction to the stat over at Beyond the Box Score. Here is a quick definition from that piece:
Win Probability Added, or WPA, tells us how a particular player affects a team's win expectancy with his play. WPA is a measure of how much his actions changed the likelihood of his team winning that particular game.
FanGraphs offers this brief summary of what WPA is attempting to measure:
Win Probability Added (WPA) captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning.
If you want to know how this stat is calculated, then you can find that information at either link. The list that follows highlights the five games (usually one at bat) in which one player put the team on his shoulders, and made a significant change to the expected outcome.
Here are the five individual performances that stand out by this metric:
A few of these games feature more than one hit by an individual player, so it’s not really the “five biggest hits of the season.” But as I’ve been told, don’t let facts get in the way of a good headline.
5. Adam Duvall, May 28, Reds vs. Brewers
This game featured an impressive comeback, and Adam Duvall was in the middle of all of it. Cincinnati entered the 7th inning of this game trailing 6-1. It looked like the Reds might get something going when Tucker Barnhart hit a leadoff double. Unfortunately the next two hitters (De Jesus and Cozart) produced outs. However, Joey Votto singled to score Barnhart, and Brandon Phillips singled to give the Reds runners on first and second. A third straight single off the bat of Jay Bruce made it 6-3, and brought Adam Duvall to the plate with two runners on.
Duvall smacked a three run homer to tie the game at six, and cap a five run inning for the Reds offense. That HR swung the Reds chances of winning this game by 33%. Duvall was also involved in the go ahead run when he plated Joey Votto on a bases loaded groundout.
The Reds used a team effort to rally back in this one, and in the games biggest moments Adam Duvall produced.
4. Adam Duvall, August 2, Reds vs. Cardinals
It won’t surprise many Reds to discover that Adam Duvall had more than one significant moment at the plate in 2016. Cincinnati’s game against St. Louis on August 2 might be their most exciting win of the season. This isn’t the last time this game will show up on this list, and it required several clutch moments to get the win.
Duvall’s big hit came in the 7th inning off of Kevin Siegrist. Cincinnati was trailing 3-2, and Duvall hit a two-run home run to give the Reds the lead. Blake Wood entered the game in the 8th to try and preserve the lead, but the Cardinals promptly took it back thanks to solo shots by Brandon Moss and Tommy Pham.
Duvall did what he could, but escaping this one with a win would require another key hit.
3. Brandon Phillips, August 17, Reds vs. Marlins
Brandon Phillips made several important contributions at the plate in this game, but it was his heroics in the 7th that made the biggest impact. Cincinnati was trailing Miami 2-1, and there were two on and two out for Phillips. The Reds second baseman fell behind in the count 1-2 before smacking a double and driving in two. This hit added 43% to the Reds win probability.
Earlier in the game, Phillips scored Cincinnati’s lone other run.
2. Scott Schebler, May 1, Reds vs. Pirates
One of the most significant swings in win expectancy the Reds experienced this season was due to the contributions of a pinch hitter. Schebler entered the game as a defensive replacement in the 8th, and he came up to bat in the 9th with a chance to give the Reds the lead. With the game tied at four, Schebler doubled to bring home Adam Duvall. This looked like it was going to be a feel good moment early in the season for one of Cincinnati’s newest faces.
However, the Reds bullpen wasn’t content to let that be the end of it. You might not remember this, but Cincinnati’s relievers struggled early in the season. In the bottom of the 9th, Ross Ohlendorf served up a two-out HR to John Jaso that tied the game. Schebler’s efforts were squandered, and fans were left expecting the worst.
However, young Schebler wasn’t done. In the top of the 11th he hit his second double of the game, this time driving in Eugenio Suarez. Blake Wood shut down the Pirates offense to close it out and give the Reds a win. Those doubles swung the Reds chances of winning by 35% and 22%.
1. Scott Schebler, August 2, Reds vs. Cardinals
I still have vivid memories of watching this game. Jay Bruce had been traded the day before, and fans were lamenting his absence. Scott Schebler was given the task of taking over in right field for the night, and he didn’t disappoint.
The Reds entered the 9th inning trailing St. Louis 5-4. The Cardinals had Seung-hwan Oh on the mound, and things looked bleak for the Reds. However, Votto and Duvall led off the 9th with back to back singles. Brandon Phillips popped out to stall the rally for a brief second.
And then Scott Schebler stepped to the plate. With one home run he hit his way right in to my heart.