Noble Failures: 2014’s Best Hitting Performances in a Loss

Last time, I looked at 2014’s five best pitching performances, by WPA, in a losing effort. This time we take a gander at the five best offensive performances that came in a loss. Just like the pitching performances we looked at earlier, there is one very specific way to appear on this list: have a career day during a close game, and then watch your bullpen mess the whole thing up.

It should be noted that the single greatest individual game in baseball history — which would be a whopping 1.503 WPA, or more than Ben Zobrist, Salvador Perez, or Yan Gomes provided all of last season — came from a hitter in a loss. The date was August 12, 1966, and the man was Art Shamsky, who would ultimately contribute 6.8 WAR during his eight seasons as a utility outfielder. On August 12, 1966, Shamsky did not even receive the start, but was allowed to chill in the dugout for the first seven innings before being brought in on a double-switch as a defensive substitution in the top of the eighth.

In the bottom of the eighth, Shamsky cranked a two-run homer to give his Cincinnati Reds a one-run lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates would tie the game in the top of the ninth, sending the contest to extra innings. The Pirates scored one run in the top of the tenth, which Shamsky answered with a solo homer. The Pirates then scored two runs in the top of the eleventh, which Shamsky answered with — duh — a two-run homer. In the top of the thirteenth, the Pirates scored three runs off of the impeccably named Billy McCool, and the other hapless Reds went down in order in the bottom of the 13th, leaving Shamsky in the hole on the game’s concluding pitch. We recognize you and mourn with you, Art Shamsky.

On to 2014:

5. Carlos Santana / June 26 / WPA: .631 / Diamondbacks 9, Indians 8 (14) / Box
Santana got on base during six of his seven plate appearances this day. Most of them were humble singles, except for a laser of a home run in the top of the eleventh to give Cleveland a two-run lead, and dropping the Diamondbacks to a gaunt 8.1% Win Expectancy.

In the bottom of the eleventh, first Bryan Shaw and then John Axford proceeded to muck everything up, re-tying the game and putting things back at an even 50-50 Win Expectancy. Down to the bottom of their bullpen, the Indians put in Mark Lowe in the 14th, only to watch him give up the walk-off victory, which was followed by Lowe’s banishment to the Columbus Clippers for the rest of the season. Talk about agony of defeat. Yeesh.

Also, Corey Kluber was used in this game. As a pinch-hitter. Cool.

4. Jose Altuve / May 10 / WPA: .663 / Orioles 5, Astros 4 (10) / Box
Virtually all of Altuve’s value from this game came from his two-RBI knock that came with two outs in the ninth — scoring the tying and go-ahead runs when he ostensibly could have been the Astros’ final batter of the game. In the most beautifully Altuvian fashion, his phenomenally valuable hit was a slapped single to center field.

The second runner to score off of Altuve’s hit was Dallas Keuchel — which, this isn’t an interleague game, so that’s bizarre. The Astros used Keuchel as a pinch-runner for Chris Carter which, uh, is a bit weird. Paul Clemens proceeded to give up the walk-off winner in the tenth.

3. Mike Trout / April 15 / WPA: .691 / A’s 10, Angels 9 (11) / Box
By WPA, this is the second-best game of Trout’s career. The very best game came exactly a month later against the Rays, when Trout strode to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the Angels down 5-3 and then golfed a walk-off three-run homer. For me, the fact that this is Trout’s second-best-ever game goes to show just how monumental the following two performances were.

In this contest against the A’s, Trout had a double, a single, and an RBI — pretty good day right there — and then hit a two-run, game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth. In the top of the eleventh, Yoslan Herrera — pitching in his second game in the majors since 2008 (check the player page and marvel) — gave up a go-ahead double to Josh Donaldson that would ultimately win the game.

Shout-out to Raul Ibanez, who went 0-for-6 while batting cleanup as the DH.

2. J.D. Martinez / September 16 / WPA: .744 / Twins 4, Tigers 3 / Box
Look, Martinez certainly tried his best to get the Tigers to win this game. Alongside Torii Hunter (WPA: .039) and starter Rick Porcello (.109), Martinez was the only other Tiger to contribute a positive WPA in this game. The Twins took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning, and were down to the last out when Martinez hit a three-run homer to give Detroit the lead. It really pumped up Miguel Cabrera, who intensely screamed in solitude:
Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 8.01.43 PM

Joe Nathan was unable to get through the ninth inning, giving up the world’s saddest bloop double, followed up by the rather unorthodox walk-off bang-bang play at first.

1. Justin Turner / September 3 / WPA: .853 / Nationals 8, Dodgers 5 (14) / Box
Unlike all of these other performances, Turner’s big day probably didn’t feel totally awesome. His biggest play, in terms of win probability, came off a fielding error by Jason Werth, and Turner also made an error of his own in the top of the 14th, when the Nationals scored three runs.

But still: people sometimes make errors when Mike Trout hits the ball, and Trout has never registered a single day with this much WPA. Turner had three hits that each contributed at least .1 of WPA, none of them more crucial than his homer in the seventh to break a 0-0 tie.

Would it be a relief or an agony to learn that one of your performances was the year’s best offensive performance in a loss? Whatever the case, Turner contributed the ninth-best individual game performance in all of 2014 — eclipsing anything that Mr. Trout has personally done in these major leagues — and we salute his beautiful losing effort.

Miles Wray contributes sports commentary to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ploughshares, The Classical and Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him on Twitter @mileswray or email him here.

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7 years ago

This may be my favorite article ever. It’s interesting in its own right, and the shout outs to Raul IbaƱez and the Miguel Cabrera screaming in solitude and the all the rest of your wit make this a super fun read. Sometimes off season (which this kind of still is) articles are the best because you can get creative and don’t have the obvious “let’s talk about the game that just happened” stuff. Great work!