Thanks for Nothing: 2014’s Worst Hitting Performances in a Win

My previous investigation of 2014’s best hitting and pitching performances in a loss was motivated by years of wondering what the vibe/conversation/protocol is in a professional locker room after such an extreme, heart-wrenching performance.

Contributing an excellent performance in a loss is far from the only for emotional dissonance to work its way into the clubhouse. Like: what about players who perform very badly on a given day — but on days when their team manages to pull a victory out of the rubble? Baseball orthodoxy declares that players who perform exceptionally in a loss must still mumble about how it was all for not, what with that L in the standings. The player who performs dreadfully in a win, though: he can’t really take any satisfaction about the W his teammates put together, right? But: surely there is some relief in everybody being in a good mood and perhaps being willing to overlook a golden sombrero.

Here are 2014’s five worst individual hitting performances in a win, as listed by WPA. The key to appearing on this list is to get lots of plate appearances in leverage-laden extra innings, and then to make a mess of all of those plate appearances. Magnificently, a player who is renowned for adding some WPA for his team in the most crucial of moments is responsible for two of these five performances. The list:

5. Pablo Sandoval / 9/22 / WPA: -.481 / Giants 5, Dodgers 2 (13) / Box
Hitting in front of Sandoval, Joe Panik and Buster Posey got on base a combined five times and scored zero runs between them. Sandoval’s only positive contribution this day was getting hit by a pitch in the first inning, which added a robust .011 in WPA to the Giants’ cause. It was downhill from there on out. In the top of the 10th, the Giants had one out and a runner on third, only to have Sandoval ground into a double play — a worst-case outcome, good for -.316 WPA. An ironic footnote, this is, in Sandoval’s season that will be remembered for some time for his October clutchiness.

4. David Freese / 6/10 / WPA: -.485 / Angels 2, A’s 1 (14) / Box
Of all the big-money players on that Angels’ roster, the hero of this game was minimum-salary man Collin Cowgill, who homered in the bottom of the 14th. On this day, Freese went 0-for-6, including this double-play groundout in the sixth. What’s kind of amazing about that groundout, though, is it only counted for -.045 WPA, which is somewhere as damaging as a second-inning flyout with a runner on second. Where Freese really put in his negative value was in the 11th, when he wiped out a runner on second with a fielder’s choice (-.131 WPA), and then in the 13th, when he swung on 2-0 to ground into yet another double play (-.2 WPA).

3. Juan Francisco / 8/10 / WPA: -.499 / Blue Jays 6, Tigers 5 (19) / Box
This was one of only two games to go 19 innings in the 2014 season, meaning Francisco got six plate appearances even though he was on the bench until the eighth inning. Even Francisco’s 12th-inning walk hardly moved the needle: it only changed the outcome by .01 WPA since the Blue Jays already had a runner at second. No double plays here — instead, Francisco had the unlikely achievement of having two plate appearances end with the exact same -.158 WPA. The first came the bottom of the ninth with two outs, bases loaded, a full count…and then he struck out, and was not pleased about striking out:
Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 1.58.36 PM
And then, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 15th, Francisco sent a dribbler to second.

2. David Freese / 7/20 / WPA: -.510 / Angels 6, Mariners 5 / Box
Ah, there he is again. A little more than a month after his aforementioned performance, Freese managed his way back onto this list in a plain ol’ nine-inning game. Freese had a relatively normal 0-for-5 day until he came up in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game with no outs and the bases full. The result was a pretty thrilling 6-2-3 double play from the composed Mariners defense, good for -.305 WPA. Two batters later, Grant Green came through with the walk-off. Video evidence shows that, despite (or perhaps because of?) his failure minutes earlier, Freese joyously celebrates at the center of the dogpile:
Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 2.16.41 PM

1. Matt Dominguez / 6/11 / WPA: -.521 / Astros 5, Diamondbacks 4 (10) / Box
Even though this game went into extra innings, the Diamondbacks never once had the WPA advantage in this game, only managing to re-tilt the table back to even by tying the game up in the ninth. So here’s how to put together 2014’s worst hitting performance in a win: strike out three times early in the game, then come to the plate with the bases loaded in the late innings — and ground into a double play not once but twice.

This list of poor performances in a win is actually pretty darn close to a list of 2014’s worst performances, no matter the team’s outcome. Matt Kemp‘s dud on August 13 would go between Sandoval’s game and Freese’s June game on this list. And there is only one game in 2014 that was worse than this Dominguez performance: that would be Jackie Bradley Jr.’s May 4th, in a 3-2 Red Sox loss to the A’s in 10 innings. On that day, Bradley’s 0-for-4 included a bases-loaded 1-2-3 double play, and also a thrilling fielder’s choice that was even more destructive in terms of WPA.

Bradley, Dominguez, Freese, and the rest should keep their heads up. Bradley’s disastrous game, despite being the worst of 2014, is only the 70th-worst since 1914. What’s more, worse games have come from such luminaries as Jeff Bagwell (box), Omar Vizquel (box), Manny Ramirez (box), and Keith Hernandez, who has not one but two top-20 worst games.

Let us hope, for the sanity of present and future players, that nobody approaches the day had by Juan Rivera on June 1, 2003, a 17-inning slog in which Rivera hit into three double plays. But it should be noted: his team won.

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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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Mike C.
Mike C.

Freese came up small all year. No surprise he’s on the list twice, as the Angels won most games in spite of his poor play.