Desmond’s Big Game in Pseudo-Historical Perspective

Bryce Harper may have added to his legend with his game-winning hit in the Nationals’ 7-6 extra-innings victory over the Mets yesterday, but Ian Desmond’s night at the plate was more remarkable, according to Win Probability Added (WPA). Not only was Desmond’s game-tying double earlier in the final inning worth more WPA than Harper’s game-winning hit (.380 to .349), but his total WPA for the game was 1.017.

That’s right — Desmond’s contributions were worth more than one “win” according to WPA. Of course, that’s a bit of a deceptive way of saying it. WPA is measuring the shift in “probability” or “certainty” of winning given the relative score, inning, base/out state, and run environment. In a game like yesterday’s, with many ties that were broken, plus extra innings (any one of which could have been the final inning), there are even more opportunities for big WPA events. Thus, Desmond got additional big boosts from his game-tying single in the bottom of the eighth as well as his run-scoring reached on error in the bottom of the tenth.

How often do hitters end up with a single-game WPA over 1? Not often, but according to our database, it has happened 42 times in the regular season since 1974. In fact, Desmond’s big game is only the 35th highest score on the list. Each has a story, but here are three that I have picked out semi-randomly.

24. Dave Kingman, May 14, 1978. Apparently, he had two nicknames: “Kong” and “Sky King.” Seriously, it’s Dave Kingman, why didn’t they shorten it to one: Sky Kong. Duh.

Kingman was not known as a pleasant man: he once mailed a live rat to a sportswriter. Nor did he have a broad range of baseball skills: once when an equipment manager came on to the field to take care of some problem with Kingman’s glove, color man Richie Ashburn quipped that “they should have called a welder.”

What Kingman could do was hit home runs. On this day, he hit three, and drove in eight. His second homer came in the top of the ninth with two outs and his Cubs down by two (.373 WPA). His jack tied the game up at seven. With the score still tied at in the top of the fifteenth, Kingman hit a three-run homer with two outs to put his team up for good (.463 WPA). Along with his other contributions at the plate, Kingman totaled 1.034 WPA for the game.

7. Ryan Langerhans, September 7, 2005. Before Ryan Langerhans became an “undervalued” darling of saber-nerds such as myself and “hit” himself into the Angels’ minor league system, he was actually part of a group of young players who revitalized the Braves. No doubt: with Langerhans and sure-thing superstar Jeff Francoeur flanking veteran Andruw Jones, the Braves’ outfield was set for years to come.

Langerhans actually managed this big game without any home runs. With the Braves down against the Mets 2-1, Langerhans doubled in Jeff Francoeur in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game (.414 WPA). The Mets regained the lead in the 10th when the legendary Chris Woodward drove in Carlos Beltran. In the bottom of the inning, down 3-2 the Braves managed to load the bases. With two outs, Langerhans played the hero again, singling in two runs and winning the game for the Braves (.723 WPA). Single game total: 1.115.

1. This one is for Laurila: Brian Daubach, August 21, 2000. Did anyone ever actually call him the Belleville Basher? All I really remember about Daubach from that time was that he always looked angry. I’m not saying he was angry — I have no idea. That was just how he seemed to me. He had some power and took some walks, but given that he was a first baseman, even at his best he was merely an average player.

Daubach will always have this incredible game, however. He had three hits, and two of them were WPA monsters. The first big one came in the bottom of the ninth with the Red Sox trailing the Angels 5-3. With two outs and Jason Varitek on first, Daubach launched a home run that tied the game and gave the Red Sox a chance in extras. In the top of the eleventh, Adam Kennedy mananged to sacrifice bunt Troy Glaus in from third to put the Angels up. Down to their last three outs, Boston got a walk from Nomar Garciaparra (an event in itself), then a single and another walk to load the bases. Cap’n Tek then grounded into a double play, including the runner at home. Down to their final out and behind 6-5, the Red Sox had Daubach come to the plate with runners on second and third. Daubach singled in two runs to win it for Boston (.749 WPA). Altogether, this was the biggest regular season game by a hitter in our database: 1.273 WPA.

Belleville Basher, indeed.

We hoped you liked reading Desmond’s Big Game in Pseudo-Historical Perspective by Matt Klaassen!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

newest oldest most voted
Mario Mendoza of commenters
Mario Mendoza of commenters

Now this was fun reading!