Last night, the Houston Astros defeated the Washington Nationals in an 8-7 extra innings thriller. The hero for the Astros was first baseman Lance Berkman, who was 3-5 with 5 RBIs, including the walk-off two run single. As a result of that and other minor heroics, Berkman had an astronomical +.912 WPA. That WPA is the second highest mark this season from a hitter, only behind Jason Heyward’s +1.032 WPA performance on April 18th.
Berkman’s performance certainly wasn’t the best hitting performance of the season. He didn’t hit any home runs and made two outs. He still managed to put up, in terms of value to his team at the time of his plate appearances, one of the most valuable performances we’ve seen this season. Let’s break it down.
1st PA: 0-0, First inning, 0 out, 1_3. LI: 1.61
Berkman doubled off Nationals starter Craig Stammen, plating Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger. The run expectancy at this point in the inning was 1.81. Berkman plated two runs and the resulting run expectancy – 0 outs, runner on second – was still above one run at 1.08. This contribution started Berkman off at a +.110 WPA.
2nd PA: 3-0, Second inning, 1 out, 1__. LI: 0.59
In the second, Berkman flied out against Stammen. With the Astros up by three runs and an out already made in the inning, this at-bat did not have much of an impact on the Astros chances. Berkman received -0.14 WPA for this at bat, leaving him at +.096 after two PAs.
3rd PA: 4-0, Fourth inning, 2 out, ___. LI: 0.13
The game is looking like a yawner. The Astros have a comfortable lead in the fourth, and Berkman struck out to end a 1-2-3 inning. Any result other than a home run would have had a minimal impact on the game. Berkman’s strikeout only resulted in a -.003 WPA, leaving him with a total of +.093 after three PAs.
4th PA: 5-4, Sixth inning, 1 out, __3. LI: 1.43
The Nationals got to the Astros defense and starter Brett Myers in the top of the 5th inning, as they plated four runs behind a walk, two errors, a double, a fielder’s choice, and a sacrifice fly. Hunter Pence put the Astros ahead 5-4 in the fifth, but the Astros were looking for insurance runs in the sixth when Berkman came up for the fourth time. The speedy Michael Bourn was on third base, meaning that most balls in play would successfully drive in a run. Berkman did one better, grounding a single to left field, scoring Bourn and giving the Astros a late two-run lead. Berkman received a +.056 WPA credit for the hit, and would later take second on a wild pitch for a +.011 WPA credit, bringing his four PA total to +.160 for the game.
5th PA: 6-5, 8th inning, 1 out, 1__, LI: 0.67
The Astros continued to find creative ways to allow runs, as the Nationals scored a run on a HBP in the top of the 8th inning. Still, with one out, the lead, and nobody in scoring position, Berkman’s 5th plate appearance was a low leverage situation. He walked, but would be stranded at second base. The Astros were scoreless in the inning. His walk was worth a meager +.018 WPA, pushing his total to +.178.
Final PA: 6-7, 9th inning, 2 outs, 123, LI: 10.78
Here it is. Nothing else matters. If Berkman doesn’t come through here, the game ends. An extra base hit or a well placed single wins the game. A walk or a one-run hit gives the Astros another chance to win it in the 9th or at least sends the game to extras. The Nationals managed to take the lead in the top of the inning, thanks to back to back singles by Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina. The Astros managed to load the bases after an error, a double, and an intentional walk. After a fielder’s choice resulted in the second out at home, Berkman came to the plate. He rapped a line drive to left field, and Cory Sullivan and Michael Bourn scored to end the game. Given that the situation was 10 times more important the the average situation, Berkman’s contribution here was huge. He received a +.734 WPA for the play, pushing his total up to +.912. Notably, it was only Nationals’ closer Matt Capps’s second blown save of the season in 19 chances. He had been pitching excellently, and his FIP still sits at a solid 3.15.
Berkman is one of the few bright spots on the Astros roster. His presence in the lineup means that days like this are possible, as he can carry this team on his shoulders. Last night’s game was fantastic for Berkman and the Astros alike, and it could wind up being the moment of the season for player and team alike.
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