Brandon Crawford Had One of the Greatest Games In History

In an extra-inning affair last night, Brandon Crawford recorded eight at-bats, and seven hits. One thing that means is that Crawford recorded an out. Another thing that means is that Crawford recorded seven hits. A game in which a player finishes with seven hits is very obviously outstanding. Crawford became the first player to get there since Rennie Stennett went 7-for-7 in 1975. It’s unusual to get at least seven opportunities to knock a hit. It’s especially unusual to successfully knock a hit in pretty much all of them.

Based just on hits, Crawford has equaled Stennett’s accomplishment. But there’s another layer here. Yesterday, the Giants just barely edged out the Marlins, 8-7. When Stennett had his big day, the Pirates beat the Cubs 22-0. That was a nine-run game as early as the first inning, so in the end, Stennett registered a Win Probability Added — WPA — of +0.082. Crawford registered a WPA of +1.438. He was essentially worth about a win and a half on his own. By regular numbers, Crawford had an impressive game. When you take context into account, Crawford had one of the very greatest days in baseball history.

The research that follows was made possible by the Baseball-Reference Play Index. Let’s just get right to it. The Play Index allows us to search for game-by-game WPA figures stretching back to 1913. Here are the 10 highest single-game WPA marks for position players over the last century (and a little more):

Top 10 WPA Games (Hitters)
Batter Date Team Opponent WPA
Art Shamsky 8/12/1966 CIN PIT 1.503
Kiki Cuyler 8/31/1932 CHC NYG 1.447
Brandon Crawford 8/8/2016 SFG MIA 1.438
Dolph Camilli 9/1/1941 BRO BSN 1.398
Jimmie Foxx 7/10/1932 PHA CLE 1.307
Jim Pagliaroni 9/21/1965 PIT NYM 1.287
Brian Daubach 8/21/2000 BOS ANA 1.253
Nelson Cruz 9/7/2014 BAL TBR 1.220
Bobby Grich 7/15/1979 CAL NYY 1.211
Mel Hall 6/27/1984 CLE MIN 1.206
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Covers 1913 – 2016.

Brandon Crawford achieved third place, and he wound up just a hair shy of second. In terms of improving his own team’s chances of winning, just about no player has exceeded what Crawford pulled off. Now, this is just for position players, and not pitchers, but the two have very different responsibilities. Every pitcher game with a higher WPA had the pitcher in question throwing at least 11 innings. This list isn’t made up of just Hall-of-Famers — you see both Jimmie Foxx and Brian Daubach. WPA also looks only at offensive performance and doesn’t try to include defense. Defense matters! And at last, on Monday, Crawford was once thrown out at home by Giancarlo Stanton. That doesn’t factor into the math. Maybe it should, although realistically it was the third-base coach’s decision.

There’s all that, and there’s Crawford in third. No matter what you do with the numbers, you can’t move Crawford around too much. And there’s something extra weird about Crawford’s game. Out of the 24 highest single-game WPA efforts by hitters, Crawford’s was the only performance without a home run. And Crawford wound up with just two RBI. Everyone else in the top 25 had at least three. Crawford’s game wasn’t necessarily so emphatic. In first there is Art Shamsky with one of the more memorable single-game performances in history. Crawford’s game won’t be remembered the same way, but almost everything he did was important, and it all added up.

Here, specifically, is how it added up:

Brandon Crawford’s Big Day
Inning Outs Base Score Play LI WPA
2 0 ___ 0-0 Single 0.93 0.038
4 0 ___ 0-0 Double 1.08 0.076
5 2 _2_ 1-2 Strikeout 1.66 -0.046
7 0 1__ 4-5 Single 2.89 0.177
7 1 _23 5-5 Score on WP 2.72 0.112
8 2 12_ 6-7 Single, RBI 4.12 0.272
8 2 1_3 7-7 Steal second base 3.89 0.012
11 0 1__ 7-7 Single 3.46 0.234
13 1 ___ 7-7 Triple 1.74 0.233
14 2 12_ 7-7 Single, RBI, out at second 4.41 0.331

The table includes 10 events. Crawford did something positive in nine of them, including the seven with the highest leverage. There are eight at-bats, and then on top of those, we have Crawford stealing second base, and Crawford scoring on a wild pitch. Perhaps you don’t want to give Crawford the credit for scoring on a pitch that got away. It’s not like you can’t argue the finer points of WPA. He scored pretty easily, and maybe that was just all on the Marlins. Interpret the game how you want. Crawford’s game was still amazing. And look at that last line — on Crawford’s go-ahead single in the 14th, he got thrown out stretching for second. Had Crawford just stayed put at first, content with his base knock, that would’ve added about +0.035 WPA points. Enough to bump Crawford past Cuyler.

There’s another little lesson in here. It’s nothing we have to be reminded of, but when we talk about baseball — when we’ve always talked about baseball — we’ve focused on the results. Crawford had one of the very greatest games, on account of his results. And Crawford was certainly good. But this was a game where Crawford whiffed with six of his 20 swings. More notably, here’s a screenshot from Crawford’s first hit:


Here’s a screenshot from Crawford’s second hit:


Here’s a screenshot from Crawford’s third hit:


Here’s a screenshot from Crawford’s fourth hit:


Infield single, grounder down the line, high chopper, flare into shallow right-center. Brandon Crawford finished 7-for-8, with an average exit velocity of 87.8 miles per hour. The game before, Crawford finished 0-for-4, with an average exit velocity of 88.8 miles per hour. It’s not about fairness. It’s not really about anything. I guess it’s just about the nature of baseball. Based on the way we’ve always seen the game, Crawford put together something amazing. Based on one possible future of the game, Crawford might be given less credit, though ultimately it will always be a game about short-term results. That might get to be weird, but baseball’s been some kind of weird for as long as I can remember. It works for it.

In any case, Monday night, Brandon Crawford improved the Giants’ win expectancy by about a combined 144 percentage points, considering what he did at the plate and on the bases. If wins could be credited to anyone, instead of being limited to pitchers, Crawford would be easily the most deserving. By raw hit total, Crawford had one of the more remarkable games in baseball history. By WPA, Crawford had one of the more valuable games in baseball history. He didn’t quite do what Art Shamsky did, but then, Art Shamsky’s team lost.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Curacao LL
7 years ago

4/5 with a dinger and they would have won “for sure”.