Best Pitching Performances #5-#1

This morning, our topic of discussion involved the bottom half of the top ten pitching performances of 2008, as determined by single-game WPA. As mentioned then, no pitcher accrued an individual game WPA above +1.0 this season, but there were still some absolutely fantastic outings. For posterity’s sake, numbers ten through six were:

10) Bronson Arroyo, 8/26 @ Hou:   0.660 WPA, 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
9)  Roy Oswalt,     9/6 @ Col:    0.676 WPA, 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
8)  James Shields,  5/9 vs. LAA:  0.685 WPA, 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K
7)  Jeff Karstens,  8/6 @ Ari:    0.695 WPA, 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
6)  Matt Cain,      7/24 vs. Was: 0.707 WPA, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

And here are the top five:

#5: Cliff Lee, 5/12 vs. Toronto
Cliff Lee had a remarkable season. After having to fight for his job in Spring Training, Lee went onto win the 2008 AL Cy Young Award. Without attempting to stir any discussions about Lee/Halladay, his top performance of the year, via WPA, occurred on May 12, against Doc’s team. Lee pitched a complete game shutout, scattering seven hits and two walks over nine innings, striking out five in the process. At the end of the day, Lee was putting the finishing touches on an incredible streak to start the season, earning a 0.715 WPA.

#4: Josh Banks, 5/25 vs. Cincinnati
Jeff Karstens seemed a tad out of place on this list, but at least there are plenty of people who have heard of him. Banks, however, is not well-known, and did not have a very solid 2008 season, yet he somehow managed to harness everything he has into the fourth best performance of the season. For those that do not remember, this 5/25 Padres/Reds game was the one that went 18 innings. Banks pitched six fantastic relief innings, surrendering five hits and no runs to go with two walks and four strikeouts. His work earned him a 0.718 WPA.

#3: Jesse Carlson, 4/16 vs. Texas
Keeping with the theme of relievers earning high WPA marks, Jesse Carlson of the Blue Jays found himself in quite the predicament against the Rangers early in the season. BJ Ryan had blown the save in the ninth inning, and the Rangers were again threatening in the tenth. Brian Wolfe allowed the first three batters to reach base safely, and was lifted in favor of Carlson. Jesse entered into a bases loaded, no outs, situation, and managed to get out of it, recording a “Houdini” in the process. He would pitch two more scoreless innings, limiting the baserunners to one hit and two walks, while striking out four. The Rangers would win the game, but Carlson recorded a 0.721 WPA for his stellar work.

#2: Ben Sheets, 9/6 vs. San Diego
Ben Sheets has always been the guy with the ridiculous “stuff” and potential to be fantastic if he could stay healthy. We got to see a lot of him this year, and he didn’t disappoint, but none of his games were better than the one on September 6. Against the Padres, home at Miller Park, Sheets tossed a five-hit, complete game shutout, walking one and fanning seven. His 0.729 WPA for the day placed him second on our list, though quite the distant second behind the best performance of the season.

#1: CC Sabathia, 6/10 vs. Minnesota
How could a list like this not have Sabathia? An eventual teammate of second-place Sheets, Sabathia’s game on June 10 actually occurred before he was sent to Milwaukee. Back when he was a member of the Indians, CC tossed a five-hit, complete game shutout, with no walks and five strikeouts. His single-game WPA, the best of any game for a pitcher this year, was 0.775, significantly better than everyone else on this list.

Nobody may have produced single-game WPAs above +1.0, but it is tough to imagine, after seeing these games, what someone would have to do to accomplish such a feat.

Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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Although I’m fairly clued up on most advanced metris – I’m not fully knowledgable on the exact workings of WPA. I know its a score based on individual events within a game but maybe it would be helpful to explain how the order of these performances work out in a basic sense as opposed to a statistical one? For example there were two no-hitters this year and neither are mentioned here. Also there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of correlation between baserunners allowed and position on this list. I can see how the relief efforts are different cases but to an untrained eye the Shields game looks like the best performance, without wishing to seem like I’m trying to judge performance just on box scores I’m must be missing something?