This particular idea would probably be a little more interesting in a 162 game season, where you might sit down and be all, “Oh, I totally forgot about that!” Instead, I’m choosing to run it for the first time after a 60 game season that finished in just over two months, where I’m sure you’re still intimately aware of the great hits that happened.
Still, in light of the Reds making the playoffs for the first time in seven years, I thought it’d be interesting to go back and look at the hits that made the biggest differences for wins in 2020.
This wasn’t a particularly scientific endeavor; I just really wanted to see some big hits. But, I did want to see which of these hits caused the biggest swings, so I used WPA (win probability added) from Baseball Reference to do it. I thought I’d be able to use
Play Index StatHead to do that, but it became a little more difficult than I thought.
Apparently, as far as I can tell, StatHead gives me the WPA total for an offensive player for a particular game, but not actually the biggest plays from the games. Which, generally speaking, is fine; if you’re adding a ton of WPA with one play, you’re probably going to end up toward the top of that particular leaderboard.
Still, I did look through each of the Reds wins on B-Ref and checked the Top Plays. I’m only concerned with Reds wins because, well, hitting big hits in losses is cool and all, but at the end of the day, an L is an L. I wanted to highlight those that got them to the playoffs.
So, following are what I found to be the big swings of the season, based on my very quick perusal of 31 winning box scores and my very, very important feelings.
T-1) Mike Moustakas, three run dong, B5 vs. Pirates; 50% WPA (Game 2; 9/14/2020)
T-1) Tyler Stephenson, two run tater, B7 vs. Pirates; 43% WPA (Game 1, 9/14/2020)
These two plays go hand-and-hand for me, because it really felt like these were season savers.
If you had to, I guess, you’d probably point to the September 13, 10-5, several time comeback against the Cardinals as the point where the Reds actually made their definitive playoff push. Or even two nights before, where they won and ended up taking the final series against the Cardinals.
But even after taking two of three from St. Louis, it seemed like they had to sweep the awful Pirates if they were going to make a run, with the AL leading White Sox and Twins looming in two of the final three series.
Well, you can’t sweep a team without taking the first game, and Tyler Stephenson did that with an explanation point. Then, just as things weren’t looking so hot in the second game, one of the big money free agent signees smashed the biggest hit of his Reds career. And, from there, the Reds never really looked back. They swept the Pirates, gained two spots in the playoff race in one day, won all of their next series, and landed the 7th playoff spot.
It was the run we’d yearned for all season, and it started right here. Just huge, game changing swings.
3) Matt Davidson, grand slam, T6 vs. Cardinals; 49% WPA (8/21/2020)
Matt Davidson is... pretty forgettable, really. I thought he’d be better than he was, doing... well, exactly this. Instead, he received 47 plate appearances, batting in the middle of the order or being the first pinch hitter off the bench, and slashed .163/.234/.395 before somewhat mercifully being DFA’d.
But, this piece isn’t about that. This piece is about the good things, and what is better than bashing in the brains of the Cardinals? Very few things, and that’s what Davidson did here. When Jesse Winker struck out swinging for the second out of the inning, the Reds had a 13% win expectancy for the game.
After Davidson’s mighty crack of the bat, the Reds were well on their way to victory, with a 75% win expectancy. That’s quite a swing (figuratively and literally, I suppose).
4) Aristides Aquino, game tying one-out single, B7 vs. Cubs; 37% WPA (8/29/2020)
Our first non-dinger.
This was a pretty big hit for Aquino. After bursting onto the scene last August, his following month and the addition of other outfielders kind of cast Aquino away. He made nine place appearances prior to this game, and this was only his second PA since August 2nd of this year.
The team decided to give him some opportunities for the final month. He... still didn’t do a ton with them, but he certainly did enough in this AB. Craig Kimbrel had plenty of struggles this season. and this had to have been one of his worst appearances.
I’ll have more on that in a second, but this single turned a 35% win expectancy into a 71%.
5) Joey Votto, walk off one-out single, B9 vs. Cardinals; 29% WPA (9/2/2020)
Of course it’s Joey Votto.
This hit came shortly after he was benched just a couple of weeks earlier, sitting out from August 26th until August 29th. This was six games later. On an 0-2 count with runners at first and second, Joey just... Joey’d this one to right center, scoring Akiyama.
Votto hit .258/.385/.557 after the benching, by the way.
He still bangs, folks.
BONUS: Jose Garcia and Nick Castellanos in that aforementioned Cubs, Kimbrel game
This is innocuously titled “Craig Kimbrel Swinging Strike to Jose Garcia” on MLB Video, which is pretty funny to me.
I highlight it because, I said the biggest “hits” of the Reds season, so this doesn’t technically qualify. However, Nick Castellanos had the highest WPA for any player in any game in 2020, and it was for this game and, primarily this play. On the night, Castellanos had a hit, two walks, and this big run scored, putting up a .560 WPA all by himself on this night.
BONUS x2: Nick Castellanos ruins Thom Brennaman’s apology
Lord knows we’ve said our piece here at Red Reporter about the Thom Brennaman horrific utterance of a slur on live television, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t add this, as there’s a drive into deep left field by Castellanos and that’ll be a homerun. And so that’ll make it a 4-0 ballgame.