Oh, Say Can You cWPA?

August 4, 2019
Intro
 
As I sit down to write this article, we’re about 2 weeks removed from the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It was another large class, although it was an off year for everyday field position players as the induction class featured 2 DH’s (Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez), 2 starting pitchers (Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay), and 2 closers (Lee Smith and Mariano Rivera).   The highlight was Rivera’s historic induction as the first player ever to be unanimously selected by the BBWAA.
 
As a brief side note, I’ll have to admit I was a little surprised that Rivera was the first to achieve unanimous selection by the writers. Not that he didn’t deserve it….I’m just a little surprised that it was achieved by a closer, even one who is clearly the consensus best closer of all time (well, unless you ask Goose Gossage, who would probably choose himself). There are those folks out there, after all, who think that closers are overrated, that they don’t accumulate enough innings to warrant comparison to starting pitchers, and that they’re nowhere near worth what an outstanding position player is. So, I was just a little surprised that there weren’t at least a couple of holdouts among the voters to keep Rivera from being the first to break through. In any case, I’m kind of glad that that unwritten barrier has been removed.
 
Rivera, of course, rates well across several metrics. As you undoubtedly know, he’s the all time saves leader. He also is record holder for games finished, and he has the highest ERA+ (205) for any pitcher with 1,000 or more innings, holding a substantial lead over the current #2, Clayton Kershaw, who’s currently sitting at 158 (if you raise the bar to 2,500 innings, the highest mark is Pedro Martinez at 154). Sure, he’s a reliever, but a 205 ERA+ is still a remarkable figure.
 
One other stat in which Rivera rates as #1 that you may not be aware of is something called cWPA (Championship Win Probability Added). That stat is the focus of this article.
 
Metric Alphabet Soup  - "W" Section
 
We have no shortages of "W" stats in baseball these days. There good old plain "W" (pitcher wins), which of course has been taking a beating for several years now. There are ongoing efforts to "kill" it, and it’s certainly lost a bit of its luster (Jacob deGrom’s 10-win Cy Young award in 2018 dealt the win a significant blow), and with the dwindling number of innings that starting pitchers post these days it’s becoming less significant, but it’s still part of the lexicon (not to mention that it’s still part of my fantasy league’s scoring system, and probably always will be).
 
Then you have the "Wins Above" duo – Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and its less well known cousin, Wins Above Average (WAA), which are similar but compare to different reference points (replacement vs. average). As I’ve noted in the past, these aren’t really "Win" metrics so much as they are "run" metrics, but then adjusted to a win framework. As baseball-reference.com calls out in its definition of WAR, "the basic currency of WAR is runs". Then, runs are converted to "wins" (with roughly every 10 runs representing a "win"). In any case, these are very popular for establishing player "value".
 
Then, you have Bill James’ contribution to the W’s, Win Shares. Win Shares do relate to actual wins in that a player’s Win Shares figure is calculated in the context of his team’s wins.
 
Finally, we get to the "win probability" metrics. Simple Win Probability Added (WPA) measures a player's contribution by how much each individual play altered the probability of winning a game, based on the before and after game states. 
 
WPA captures the shifting of the percentages, comparing the probability of winning the game after the play to the probability of winning the game before the play, and capturing the difference. Positive plays push WPA up, negative plays push it down, each by various degrees depending on things like what inning it is, how many outs there are, how many runners are on base, and the score of the game. It’s important to understand that WPA represents the net sum of all of those positives and negative changes.
 
For example, hitting a 2-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win results in a much higher WPA than hitting that same 2-run home run when your team is already up 10-0 in the fifth inning, because the first instance significantly increased the probability of winning that game (from a likely loss into a certain win), where as the second one really has minimal impact on the probability of winning the game at that point, because a team that is already up 10-0 is virtually certain to win anyway.   Each 2-run home run looks the same in the player’s seasonal stats, but one is much more impactful than the other because of the game situation.
 
Championship Win Probability Added (cWPA) extends that same logic of WPA, but instead of measuring the impact of the outcome of plays in the probability of winning individual games, it measures the impact on the probability of winning the World Series. As you might imagine, this places a premium on big plays and big games. It’s not a "fair" metric in that not all players get the same opportunities (or even anywhere close to the same opportunities), but it does have a knack of capturing successful players and successful moments of great historical and championship importance.
 
Per Baseball Gauge, here are the biggest single postseason plays in terms of cWPA (note for those of you wondering – Bobby Thomson’s "Shot Heard Around the World" is not considered a postseason event, and therefore not listed here).
 
cWPA
Play Description
Game
Inn
Outs
Score Before
Score After
.628
H. Smith: 3-Run Home Run
(Groat / Clemente score)
1960 World Series Gm 7
↓8
2
6-7
9-7
.491
Speaker: Single to RF
(Engle scores), Yerkes to 3B
1912 World Series Gm 8
↓10
1
1-2
2-2
.491
Womack: Double to RF
(Cummings scores), Bell to 3B
2001 World Series Gm 7
↓9
1
1-2
2-2
.416
R. Davis: 2-Run Home Run
(Guyer scores)
2016 World Series Gm 7
↓8
2
4-6
6-6
.381
Northrup: Triple to CF
(Cash / Horton score)
1968 World Series Gm 7
↑7
2
0-0
2-0
.371
B. Harris: Single to LF
(Leibold / Ruel score), Shirley to 2B
1924 World Series Gm 7
↓8
2
1-3
3-3
.357
F. Cabrera: Single to LF
(Justice / Bream score)
1992 NLCS Gm 7
↓9
2
1-2
3-2
.356
J. Morgan: Single to CF
(Griffey scores), Rose to 3B
1975 World Series Gm 7
↑9
2
3-3
4-3
.348
Berra: 3-Run Home Run
(Kubek / Mantle score)
1960 World Series Gm 7
↑6
1
2-4
5-4
.340
Mazeroski: Solo Home Run
1960 World Series Gm 7
↓9
0
9-9
10-9
 
As you can see, they’re all World Series games except for the Francisco Cabrera single in the 1992 NLCS game 7.  If that play had occurred in game 7 of the World Series, it would have topped the list at .714 (because it would have resulted in a World Series championship rather than merely allowing the Braves to advance to the World Series).  
 
You may have also noticed that not all high cWPA plays necessarily result in wins (such as the Davis and Berra home runs). Some plays improve the probability of winning significantly, but they don’t necessarily result in victory.
 
Here’s the way it works, using the Hal Smith event at the top of the list as an example. When Smith came to bat in game 7 of the 1960 World Series, the Series was tied 3 games to 3, it was the bottom of the 8th inning, 2 men were out, Dick Groat was on 3rd base, Roberto Clemente was on 1st base, and the Pirates trailed the Yankees 7-6. Game probability calculates that, given that situation, the Pirates had a 31.4% chance to win the game (and, by extension, the Series, since it was the final game).   In other words, they still had a decent chance, but it also implied that the Yankees had an almost 70% chance to win, as the Yankees had the lead and time was running short. Not a certainty by any means for the Yankees, but roughly twice as likely to win as not. 
 
When Smith hit his home run to put the Pirates up 9-7, it increased the Pirates’ probability from 31.4% all the way up to 94.2%, an increase of 62.8 percentage points (hence .628). Because it took them from one run down late in the game (where they were likely to lose) to two runs ahead late in the game (since the Yankees would be down to their last time at bat in the top of the 9th), that play stands as the single highest biggest shift in championship probability added in the game’s history (even though the Pirates didn’t maintain that lead, as the Yanks tied it in the top of the 9th prior to Mazeroski’s eventual heroics).
 
Incidentally, Mazeroski’s home run, though it ended the game, increased the Pirates’ chances from 66% to 100% (.340 cWPA). Still pretty large, but not as big a shift as Smith’s homer since the game was tied and the Pirates had a half-inning batting advantage on their side.
 
You’re probably familiar with most of those plays listed above, and I’m willing to bet that something else specific caught your attention. Smith’s home run, significant as it was, is probably is only the second most remembered moment of that game. Mazeroski’s game ending home run in the bottom of the 9th, which broke a tie game, was ultimately more famous since it ended the season, but Smith’s home run (even though it didn’t hold up) was a bigger shift in the win probabilities.    In addition, a third top 10 event occurred in that same game - Yogi Berra’s 3-run homer in the top of the 6th, which took the Yankees from a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead. The fact that all 3 of those took place in the same game is one of the reasons that many people still consider that game to be the wildest World Series game ever, a roller coaster of game shifts.
 
OK…so that’s individual plays. How about players? What if you accumulate all of the individual cWPA’s and total them?
 
Per Baseball Gauge, here are the top 10 career totals for cWPA. Although the biggest single cWPA plays tend to be postseason events, career cWPA encompasses both regular season and postseason plays, as even plays that occur during the regular season ultimately have some impact on championship probabilities. "Plays", incidentally, refers to plate appearances, all pitching plays, and base running plays in which the player was the lead runner.
 
Top 10 cWPA, Career (combined regular season and postseason)
 
Rk
Player
Year Span
Yrs
Pos
cWPA
Plays
1
Mickey Mantle
1951 - 1968
18
CF
3.099
10,505
2
Babe Ruth
1915 - 1935
18
LF
2.887
8,149
3
Lou Gehrig
1923 - 1939
17
1B
2.217
8,731
4
Mariano Rivera
1995 - 2013
19
RP
2.133
5,847
5
Willie Mays
1951 - 1973
22
CF
1.916
13,281
6
Stan Musial
1941 - 1963
22
LF
1.814
13,106
7
Duke Snider
1947 - 1964
18
CF
1.779
8,647
8
Mel Ott
1926 - 1947
22
RF
1.698
10,654
9
Hank Aaron
1954 - 1976
23
RF
1.651
14,504
10
Yogi Berra
1946 - 1965
19
C
1.552
8,800
 
As you might expect, nothing but legends there, and the top 4 (and 5 of the top 10) were Yankees. No huge surprises there. Also, note that you don’t have to have won a lot of titles to make the top of the list, Mays, Aaron, and Ott each just had one ring, but they had sufficient positive contributions to make titles more likely. Also note that the top 10 is all position players except for Rivera.
 
Why does Rivera make that list despite so many fewer plays? The answer is leverage. Because Rivera’s a closer and pitching at the end of games, he pitches in higher leverage situations, where the impact of each play (positive and negative) is higher. He was also obviously in a lot of championship and near-championship situations.
 
Anyway, that was combined regular and postseason totals. Let’s isolate regular season only and postseason only, one at a time:
 
Top 10 cWPA, Regular Season Only:
 
Rk
Player
Year Span
Yrs
Pos
cWPA
Plays
1
Mickey Mantle
1951 - 1968
18
CF
2.305
10,218
2
Babe Ruth
1921 - 1935
15
RF
1.982
7,852
3
Willie Mays
1951 - 1973
22
CF
1.922
13,178
4
Stan Musial
1941 - 1963
22
LF
1.652
13,004
5
Lou Gehrig
1923 - 1939
17
1B
1.570
8,578
6
Mel Ott
1926 - 1947
22
RF
1.440
10,584
7
Ted Williams
1939 - 1960
19
LF
1.383
9,953
8
Hank Aaron
1954 - 1976
23
RF
1.315
14,427
9
Duke Snider
1947 - 1964
18
CF
1.303
8,497
10
Joe DiMaggio
1936 - 1951
13
CF
1.248
7,698
 
Pretty much the same list as the first one except Rivera and Berra dropped out, while Williams and DiMaggio emerge. The top 10 is now exclusively position players.
 
Now, let’s do cWPA leaders, but only using postseason results. This is where it gets interesting, and you start to see non-Hall of Famers emerge. I’m actually going to post the top 20 this time, because there will be some interesting results to explore and comment on.
 
Top 20 cWPA, Postseason Only:
Rk
Player
Year Span
Yrs
Pos
cWPA
Plays
1
Mariano Rivera
1995 - 2011
16
RP
1.792
550
2
Madison Bumgarner
2010 - 2016
4
SP
1.230
432
3
Rollie Fingers
1971 - 1981
6
RP
1.150
249
4
Jack Morris
1984 - 1992
4
SP
0.909
410
5
Babe Ruth
1915 - 1932
10
LF
0.905
297
6
Art Nehf
1921 - 1929
5
SP
0.873
351
7
David Freese
2011 - 2018
5
3B
0.859
227
8
Pete Rose
1970 - 1983
8
LF
0.834
311
9
Lance Berkman
2001 - 2011
5
RF
0.823
229
10
Mickey Mantle
1951 - 1964
12
CF
0.795
287
11
Mike Stanton
1991 - 2002
11
RP
0.770
233
12
Johnny Podres
1953 - 1963
4
SP
0.763
176
13
Allie Reynolds
1947 - 1953
6
SP
0.741
351
14
Sandy Koufax
1959 - 1966
4
SP
0.741
235
15
John Smoltz
1991 - 2009
14
SP
0.736
945
16
Herb Pennock
1914 - 1932
5
SP
0.708
241
17
Tris Speaker
1912 - 1920
3
CF
0.666
87
18
Pete Alexander
1915 - 1928
3
SP
0.655
195
19
Hal Smith
1960
1
C
0.648
8
20
Lou Gehrig
1926 - 1938
7
1B
0.647
153
 
I stopped at #20, but if you go just a little further down, you’ll encounter other names you’d expect to see such as Reggie Jackson, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Curt Schilling, and Bob Gibson. A notable active player is currently at #23 – George Springer of the Astros, who was the 2017 World Series MVP. He has a good chance to move up the list.
 
Except for the Yankee titans of Mantle, Ruth, and Gehrig, it’s a completely different list than the regular season leaders. There are still a good number of Hall of Famers, as 11 of the 20 are in Cooperstown (and Rose was certainly of that caliber despite not being a member), but there are 8 others who aren’t, at least not yet (Bumgarner might, eventually, although he’s got a ways to go).
 
Note the number of plays involved. We’re talking much smaller sample size, of course, so a few well-timed plays (case in point, Hal Smith) can go a long ways towards finishing high on the list. Fewer plays….but the plays that are made have higher individual championship impact. It’s a similar effect to being late in the game for regular WPA…..being in the postseason has a similar effect for cWPA.
 
It’s notable to examine some of the splits. For Mantle, Ruth, and Gehrig, even though they made all of the top lists, about 70% of their career cWPA’s wereaccumulated during the regular season.   Rivera, on the other hand, has about 84% of his figure represented by his postseason results. The figure for Rollie Fingers is even higher….about 90% of his career cWPA total is represented by his postseason figure. Jack Morris is about 88%.
 
Also, note the big shift in representation of positions. As opposed to the regular season leaders, the postseason list is 60% pitchers, with 3 relief pitchers making the list. And, with this group it’s easy to spot why most of these players are here. 
 
Digging Deeper
 
Let’s explore the postseason list a little closer. I’m going to skip over a few of the names like Ruth, Mantle, Koufax, Alexander, Smoltz, and Speaker, as I figure you are probably familiar with their postseason exploits and know why they are here.
 
Our man Mariano Rivera is #1 by quite a bit, and in his case, it’s easy to see why. He pitched in a whopping 16 postseasons (only missing 3 seasons out of his 19 years), 96 postseason appearances (including 78 games finished), 42 postseason saves, appearing in the World Series in 7 separate seasons, and winning 5 titles, all while pitching in high leverage situations, and pitching unbelievably well (0.70 ERA across 141 innings). 
 
Madison Bumgarner, despite his relative youth, has already achieved legendary status for his postseason (and in particular, World Series) exploits, including 3 different championship seasons. Even with much of his career still ahead of him, he’s already one of the great postseason hurlers in history (8-3 2.11 ERA, including 4-0 with a miniscule 0.25 ERA in the World Series (not to mention the most famous save in history). 
 
The next 2 are Rollie Fingers and Jack Morris, and I think they share something in common, so I’m going to spin off into a little commentary. I feel like they’ve both been a little maligned over the years, and there’s some sentiment out there that they are undeserving Hall of Famers.  I definitely heard it more regarding Morris than Fingers, as Morris was one of the more contentious candidates over his 15 years on the BBWAA ballot and subsequent Veterans Committee selection, where as Fingers went in fairly quickly on his 2nd ballot, but I have heard it fairly often with Fingers as well.
 
It’s been common to hear Fingers characterized as a product of a low scoring era who benefitted from pitching in great pitching environments and having good luck in teammates, particularly on the A’s. It’s true that his career ERA+ of 120 isn’t outstanding for a top notch closer – Rivera’s figure was 205, Billy Wagner was at 187, Trevor Hoffman, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Dan Quisenberry were all over 140, Bruce Sutter and Les Smith were over 130, and Goose Gossage was at 126. Fingers was the first closer to 300 saves, and he got some notoriety for that, but he’s now well down the list (temporarily tied for 13th with Craig Kimbrel). I’ve heard many people provide an opinion that Fingers was terribly overrated.
 
Perhaps. However, he was certainly a big part of the 3 A’s World Series champions. The A’s played 19 games in those 3 World Series (7 against the Reds, 7 against the Mets, and 5 against the Dodgers), and Fingers appeared in a whopping 16 of them. Seems like every time you looked up, they were bringing him in again.
 
In each of those 3 World Series, he saved 2 games (6 total), and also picked up a couple of wins. His Series ERA’s from ’72 to ’74 were 1.74, 0.66, and 1.93, respectively, yielding only 5 earned runs in 33 innings across those 16 games.   That’s some damn good pitching in some high profile moments, and it’s easy to see why he’s so high up on the postseason cWPA list. cWPA reflects his highly effective, high leverage pitching.
 
Similarly, Morris had big moments, especially in the World Series. Everyone recalls the 7th game shutout in 1991, but he had other good moments. His 1992 World Series appearances with the Blue Jays dragged his career Series World Series totals down, but during the 1984 and 1991 World Series he made 5 starts and went 4-0 with a 1.54 ERA across 41 innings, and the one no-decision he got was in a 3-2 loss to the Braves in ’91 in game 4. He had some less than stellar postseason moments, for sure, but it’s easy to see why he gained such a good reputation as a big game pitcher.
 
So, cWPA is something that fans of Fingers and Morris can point to, even with the following reservations:
 
  • Was it a small sample size? Yes. 
  • Did they have good taste in teammates? Absolutely. 
  • Were there many others who were more dominant pitchers over the course of their careers and who rate better when considering the full spectrum of performance analysis? For sure
 
But, they were pitchers who had big moments on the biggest stage, and they came through in championship style. World Series titles live forever, and they were a big part of why those happened. Each one has 3 rings, and in 5 of the 6 cases (’92 Toronto for Morris being an exception), they played key roles in winning those titles. That has to count for something.
 
If you’re a student of the game’s history, Art Nehf is probably a name familiar to you. Not a great pitcher, but a good one who had some big moments. Nehf was a key starting pitcher on the great New York Giants teams of the early 1920’s that appeared in 4 straight World Series from 1921 to 1924 (the first 3 against the Yankees). Nehf started 9 games in those 4 World Series, and even though his W-L record was only 4-4, he pitched exceptionally well with a 1.98 ERA in those games, including hurling 2 shutouts, the first of which was kind 1921’s version of the 1991 Morris vs. Smoltz game 7 matchup, as Nehf bested Waite Hoyt and the Yankees 1-0 in the final game of that Series.
 
#7 is David Freese, and you’re probably familiar with his story. Freese will forever live in Cardinals lore for his 2011 postseason performance, wining not only the NLCS MVP, but the World Series MVP as well, and had several big, key plays, highlighted by his game 6 performance for the ages (game tying 2-run triple in the bottom of the 9th, and walkoff home run in the bottom of the 11th). He’s had a bit of a nomadic career since then, but he packed a lifetime of highlights into that postseason.
 
Pete Rose is #8. One of the things in his career that doesn’t get a lot of attention is his postseason play, and in particular the NLCS. He’s a .321 lifetime postseason hitter in 14 series across 8 years, and in 7 NLCS series he hit .381. A lot of big postseason moments for him.
 
Lance Berkman is #9 on the list. I was a little surprised to see him, but he’s there in part for some of his big moments from game 6 in 2011 as well. They aren’t quite as well remembered or as impactful as Freese’s were from that same game, but he had a couple of big moments as well.
 
Skipping over Mantle at #10, we hit 3 more interesting cases in #11-13.
 
Mike Stanton wasn’t a great pitcher, but he did find himself on great teams, primarily with the Braves of the early ‘90’s, and again with the Yankees of the late ‘90’s to early 2000’s. He was a postseason regular, pitching in 18 different series across 11 postseasons in his 19 year career, including 6 World Series teams, earning 3 rings. Most of the time he was a setup man (really just had one year as a closer), but he pitched so often (and so well) in so many big games, that he finished well up this list. In 20 World Series games, he pitched 23 innings, had a 20:4 K:BB ratio, and a sparkling 1.54 ERA.
 
#12 Johnny Podres is another interesting case. I remember reading a lot about Podres as a young fan, as he had several big moments that have lived on in baseball lore, highlighted by his 2-0 shutout of the Yankees in game 7 of the ’55 series, which gave Brooklyn their lone World Series title (with a little help from Sandy Amoros, of course). Podres also pitched another complete game victory earlier in that series, as well as another strong start to beat the Yankees in game 2 of the ’63 series years later. In all, Podres had a 4-1 mark with a 2.11 ERA across 6 World Series starts, picking up 3 rings along the way.
 
At #13 is one of my favorite "almost Hall of Famer" who’s not in the non-Hall of Fame cases, Allie Reynolds
 
I know, he doesn’t look like much now when you see his lifetime WAR of only 25.3 and a 182-107, 3.30 lifetime mark, and a pretty mediocre 1.1:1 K:BB ratio.  However, Reynolds was this close to already being a Hall of Famer.  In 2009, Reynolds finished just one vote shy of being elected by the Veterans Committee that year in a vote that considered players whose careers began before 1943. 9 votes were needed to be elected, and Reynolds received 8. In a bit of irony, the one player who was elected that year through that vote was Joe Gordon, for whom Reynolds had once been traded for straight up for more than 60 years prior in one of the more intriguing one-for-one deals in history.
 
Gordon was a star for the Yankees, of course, a power-hitting second baseman with outstanding defensive skills who won the MVP in 1942. He missed a couple of years due to military service, struggled in his return in 1946, and the Yankees traded him to Cleveland, where he finished out his career with 3 All Star seasons out of 4.
 
In return, the Yankees received Reynolds, 3 years younger than Gordon and a quality pitcher for Cleveland, but not really a star yet. Reynolds finished out his career with 8 pretty good seasons for the Yankees, with ERA+’s of 100 or more each year, 5 All Star teams, and 6 World Series rings.
 
Reynolds’ World Series record is fascinating to me. The first thing you notice are the basic stats, a 7-2 record, 2.79 ERA. But there’s more to it than that.
 
The second thing that you notice is the saves. Reynolds was mostly a starting pitcher for the Yankees, but he also pitched a fair amount in relief. During his 8 years with the Yankees, he averaged 26 starts, but also 11 relief appearances per season, although some of that is skewed by his final 2 seasons when he was about half-starter and half-reliever. In addition to his 7-2 record, Reyonlds also picked up 4 saves – one each in ’49, ’50, ’52, and ’53. Of course, no one was really talking "saves" at that time, but the important thing is that they were using him to finish games off and to pitch in key moments.
 
So, if you look at his full ledger, you get this – 15 appearances, 9 games started, 6 relief games. In those 9 starts, he went 5-2 with 2 no decisions. In his 6 relief games, he was 2-0 with 4 saves. He was the finisher in 5 of the 6 relief games, and in the other one he pitched 3 middle innings (4 through 6) and picked up the win.   In other words…..he was right in the middle of everything. He had either the win, the loss, or a save in 13 of the 15 games. 
 
One other thing….he had a distinctly better K:BB ratio in his World Series appearances than in the regular season. His career mark was just a little over 1:1, striking out 5.1 per 9 innings vs. walking 4.6. But, in the World Series, he improved his K rate to 7.2 per 9, and shaved his walks to only 3.7 per 9, so that his World Series K:BB ratio was nearly 2 to 1.
 
Below is his World Series game log. If you walk through it, you’ll probably get the same sense I got, that Reynolds was a player that was right in the thick of things, and was a versatile weapon that the Yankees deployed very successfully in a variety of ways while winning all 6 of those World Series.
 
Year
Series
Tm
 
Opp
Rslt
Inngs
Decision
Start or Relief
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
1947
WS g2
NYY
 
BRO
W10-3
CG
W
S
9
9
3
3
2
6
1947
WS g6
NYY
 
BRO
L6-8
GS-3
 
S
2.1
6
4
3
1
0
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1949
WS g1
NYY
 
BRO
W1-0
SHO
W
S
9
2
0
0
4
9
1949
WS g4
NYY
@
BRO
W6-4
6-GF
S
R
3.1
0
0
0
0
5
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1950
WS g2
NYY
@
PHI
W2-1
CG(10)
W
S
10
7
1
1
4
6
1950
WS g4
NYY
 
PHI
W5-2
9-GF
S
R
0.1
0
0
0
0
1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1951
WS g1
NYY
 
NYG
L1-5
GS-6
L
S
6
8
5
5
7
1
1951
WS g4
NYY
@
NYG
W6-2
CG
W
S
9
8
2
2
4
7
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1952
WS g1
NYY
@
BRO
L2-4
GS-7
L
S
7
5
3
3
2
4
1952
WS g4
NYY
 
BRO
W2-0
SHO
W
S
9
4
0
0
3
10
1952
WS g6
NYY
@
BRO
W3-2
8-GF
S
R
1.1
0
0
0
1
2
1952
WS g7
NYY
@
BRO
W4-2
4-6
W
R
3
3
1
1
0
2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1953
WS g1
NYY
 
BRO
W9-5
GS-6
 
S
5.1
7
4
4
3
6
1953
WS g5
NYY
@
BRO
W11-7
9-GF
S
R
0.2
0
0
0
0
0
1953
WS g6
NYY
 
BRO
W4-3
8-GF
W
R
2
2
2
2
1
3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There were a lot of big names on those great Yankees teams of the late ‘40’s to early ‘50’s – DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Rizzuto, Bauer, Henrich, Woodling, McDougald, Lopat, Raschi – but Reynolds, in his own way, was a helluva asset for those great teams, especially in the big games.
 
Another Yankee hurler with a somewhat similar postseason experience is #16, Herb Pennock. Unlike Reynolds, Pennock is in the Hall of Fame, although he is often cited these days as a marginal selection based on current analysis. However, his postseason record is impressive.
 
Pennock appeared in 5 different World Series, mostly with the Yankees (he also had a brief appearance in the 1914 Series for the A’s). For his career, in 10 World Series games, he went 5-0 with a 1.95 ERA and 3 saves. In the only 2 games in which he did not get the win or a save, Pennock pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief (both times). 
 
So, like Reynolds, Pennock was basically in the thick of things in every game he pitched, regardless of whether it was a start or a relief appearance. He really didn’t ever have a truly bad postseason game. His worst game was probably game 6 in 1923 when he gave up 4 runs in 7 innings, and even then he still got the win in what was the Series clinching victory. All in all, a rather impressive postseason record.
 
One last table of interest. These are the highest single-season cWPA figures.
 
Rk
Player
Year
Team
Lg
Pos
cWPA
Plays
1
Ralph Terry
1962
NYY
AL
SP
0.994
104
2
Jack Morris
1991
MIN
AL
SP
0.935
160
3
Madison Bumgarner
2014
SFG
NL
SP
0.917
211
4
David Freese
2011
STL
NL
3B
0.837
73
5
Pete Alexander
1926
STL
NL
SP
0.705
87
6
Sandy Koufax
1965
LAD
NL
SP
0.664
98
7
Hal Smith
1960
PIT
NL
C
0.648
8
8
Lew Burdette
1957
MIL
NL
SP
0.634
116
9
Johnny Podres
1955
BRO
NL
SP
0.617
78
10
Rollie Fingers
1972
OAK
AL
RP
0.600
68
 
Most of these players also made the top list for career postseason cWPA, as a really good postseason goes a long way towards achieving a good career number.
 
However….what happened to the #1 guy – Ralph Terry, 1962?  He was the MVP of the Series that year, starting 3 games, pitching well all 3 times, including the decisive 1-0 shutout of the Giants that ended with Willie McCovey lining to Bobby Richardson. If Terry’s figure was .994 just for that one year, which by itself would have placed him as high as 4th on the career list, why didn’t he ultimately make the career leaders list?
 
You can blame Bill Mazeroski. Terry is the unfortunate soul who gave up that home run to Maz in 1960, costing Terry .340 off his career figure just for that one play. Absent that play, Terry would have been in the top 10 postseason cWPA list. As it stands now, he’s #47.
 
WPA and cWPA giveth…..and they also taketh away.
 
Hope you enjoyed reading.
 
Dan
 
 

COMMENTS (28 Comments, most recent shown first)

Brock Hanke
DMBBHF - Thanks for the info! Just looking things over, it appears that a lot of weight is placed on it being Game 7 or Inning 9. This makes sense, now that I think about it. I'm assuming that your computations are essentially a Markov Chain analysis, and, for things like this, I don't think there is any better way to do it. The main feature of my analysis of the Boyer hit that your analysis does not seem to address was the low score of the game. I give a much higher weight to a grand slam that wins a game 4-3 than I would to the same slam in the same inning that changed a 9-7 game to an 11-9. If it's harder to score runs in one game than in another (low-scoring times, pitchers' parks, great opposing pitcher, etc.), I think a higher weight should be placed on each run scored. A slam that wins a 4-3 game combines the high run factor of a Grand Slam with the difficulty of scoring runs of any sort in the environment of the game at hand. However, trying to add that to a Markov Chain analysis strikes me as very hard to do, so I'm happy to go with you.

Also, since you mentioned the Clark homer of 1985, I have a non-analytical tidbit to tell. When Clark came up in that inning, the announcers just sort of assumed that Tommy Lasorda would intentionally walk him. He didn't, and he got burned. But, being able to see many many replays, I focused on trying to read Tommy's lips. I believe I've done that. What Tommy said, in the dugout, was "I'm not pitching to that F**king Van Slyke." If he had walked Clark, Niedenfuer would have lost the platoon advantage, since Andy Van Slyke was a lefty hitter. And Van Slyke was widely known as a hitter with a real platoon difference; he was MUCH harder for a righty to get out than for a lefty. Tommy did have a point.
2:54 AM Aug 13th
 
DMBBHF
That last post should have been addressed to MWeddell, not "Mark". Not sure if that's what the "M" stands for or not, but my brain made me type "Mark" instead of your screen name. Maybe it's subliminal because I get called "Mark" instead of "Dan" all the time.... :)

Sorry about that.....

Thanks,
Dan
11:16 PM Aug 10th
 
DMBBHF
Mark,

Interesting point on whether postseason cWPA would tend to favor more recent players. Since cWPA involves both positive and negative plays, I wasn't sure if that would be true or not.

I took a look at the top 100 postseason cWPA players. Here's a distribution based on the mid-points of the postseason years that the various players accumulated (basically I took their first postseeason year and their last postseason year and averaged them).

1980's 13
1970's 13
2000's 11
1930's 11
1990's 10
2010's 9
1920's 9
1950's 7
1960's 6
1940's 6
1910's 4
1900's 1

So, while this is not a rigorous study of the effects, there does seem to be a pattern favoring more recent years, but I'm not sure if it's that strong an effect. There does seem to be at least pretty fair representation except for the first 20 years of the 1900's.

Thanks,
Dan
10:53 PM Aug 10th
 
DMBBHF
Brock,

The Boyer grand slam in the 6th inning of game 4 of the 1964 World Series has a cWPA of .155, which is #147 on the list. Which, when you think of the total # of individual plays that have been recorded, is pretty high.

Simple WPA (for that one game) of that play was about .41, as the Cardinals entered that at bat with a 24% chance of winning the game, and that jumped up to 65% after the Boyer homer.

According to cWPA, the largest single POSITIVE play in Cardinals history was the David Freese triple off Neftali Feliz in the 9th inning of game 6 of the 2011 WS. That one's at .306.

If I counted correctly, Boyer's play is the 15th highest positive play in Cardinals history by this measure. I think you hit on one of the main things, that it occurred fairly early in the series (game 4) with the Cardinals down 2 games to 1, so while certainly a big hit, and maybe deserves to be higher, it comes in a bit down the list.

Some of the more famous higher Cardinals cWPA figures include (not comprehensive):

.298 - Harry Walker's hit in 1946 game 7 that scored Enos Slaughter
.270 - Keith Hernandez 2-run single in the 6th inning of 1982 game 7 that tied the score
.225 - Yadier Molina home run in the top of the 9th in 2006 NLCS game 7
.216 - Terry Pendleton 3-run double in top of the 9th in game 2 of the 1985 WS.

.199 - Jack Clark home run 1985 NLCS game 6 off Tom Niedenfuer
.169 - Pete Alexander's strkeout with the bases loaded in the 7th inning of the 1926 game 7.

Thanks,
Dan




10:42 PM Aug 10th
 
MWeddell
Regarding players that I would have predicted to be in the leaders of cWPA but weren't, I thought of Curt Schilling right away. I figured the cWPA leaders would be more weighted to current players with more rounds of playoffs. Of course, you anticipated this, Dan, and already mentioned Schilling in passing.
11:57 AM Aug 9th
 
Brock Hanke
A couple of notes, just because. One of the oddities of the 1950s and 60s was that there were two catchers named Hal Smith, playing at essentially the same time. The one you ranked was Hal Smith the hitter. A respectable hitter with an ordinary glove. The other Hal Smith was the opposite kind of player - a Gold Glove quality catcher who couldn't hit a lick. Sometimes, you will see a mention of a Hal Smith from that time, and it's apparent that the writer has the wrong one.

The next note has to do with the Cardinals, because I'm lifelong Cards fan. I've long held that the Most Important Hit Ever was Ken Boyer's Grand Slam in the 6th inning of Game 4 of the 1964 World Series. When Boyer came to bat in the 6th, the Cards were down 3-0; the Yankees had scored three in the first. Boyer hit his Slam, and that was how the game ended - 4-3 Cards. My criteria for Greatest Hit have a lot of factors. A Grand Slam, all of which was needed to win a 4-3 game in the Series, in a Series that went 4-3 in games, won by the team with the Big Hit. The Ultimate Hit would be a Grand Slam with two outs, winning both Game 7 and the series in the bottom of the ninth, against a 3-0 lead. The only factors Boyer's hit does not have are the 9th inning and the 7th game. So, just for curiosity's sake, how does that one rank in your list? It seems like it would be similar to the Berra homer of 1960, which was also hit in the 6th inning. Berra changed a 2-4 deficit to a 5-4 lead, but Boyer changed a 0-3 deficit into a 4-3 lead.
1:34 AM Aug 8th
 
arnewcs
Thanks, Daniel, for the input on Mathewson. The three losing World Series are there, yes, and he allowed 11 unearned runs, most of those in 1912. I'd forgotten about him losing game 8 in 1912.
6:45 PM Aug 6th
 
villageelliott
With all due respect, which is mighty, for few hold Madison Bumgarner in higher esteem, but when it comes down to the most famous save in World Series history, I think Grover Cleveland Alexander's save in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series remains the standard.
3:37 PM Aug 6th
 
MarisFan61
.....and then on the next play -- not evident on the video but said by Mel Allen -- [b[Mazeroski[/b] somewhat messes up the chance for a double play. :ha:
12:03 AM Aug 6th
 
MarisFan61
If I were watching that game for the first time now -- knowing the game how we know it now -- one of my top memorable moments would be the second at-bat in that video:
-- The pitcher, "little Bobby Shantz" (as Mel Allen put it) due up, in the 7th inning, with his team up 1 run; they let him hit.
-- He gets a hit. :-)
11:59 PM Aug 5th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks for all the comments, guys....

David,

Thanks for the Youtube link. Good stuff. Interesting that the Youtube caption mentions that it was found in the personal archives of Bing Crosby, who was a part-owner of the Pirates.

Definitely lots of memorable moments, including the ones Les and Maris pointed out.

BBF25,

Absolutely. One nice thing about the Baseball Gauge tool is that it allows the ability to select cWPA by playoff round, so that would make it easier to dig into that.

Bruce,

Wait, you're implying that defense is part of championship baseball? What kind of lame idea is that? :) I guess we'll have to chalk that up as a real limitation of the metric.

arnewcs,

Really good question about Mathewson. That would actually make a good follow-up article, analyzing players who you would have expected to do well in cWPA but, for one reason or another, didn't.

Here's what I was able to uncover about Mathewson.....

As you mentioned, his World Series ERA was under 1.00 in over 100 innings pitched (0.97), and he's famous for his 3 complete game shutouts in 1905 (and 4 shutouts overall in 11 starts, with 10 complete games). He only had one start in which he allowed more than 2 earned runs (he once allowed 4). Surely, a guy like that would rate better....

However, there are some clues...

1) First of all, despite the 0.97 ERA, his W-L record was only 5-5, certainly not the kind of record you would expect, even given the scarce run environment of the times. That record implies that he may have given up runs at inopportune times. Again, cWPA isn't necessarily indicative of how well someone played or pitched, but whether or not they succeeded at key moments.

2) You know that table in the article where I listed the single biggest individual cWPA plays of all time? The #2 was Speaker's single in game 8 in 1912 in the bottom of the 10th which tied the game 2-2, and sent the potential winning run to third base, where he eventually scored to end the World Series. The pitcher on the mound during all of this was Mathewson. So, even though he pitched a good game, he was on the mound when a likely win (since they were ahead 2-1 with one out in the 10th) turned into a loss, and he bore the brunt of that. That Speaker single applied a negative .491 to Mathewson's cWPA figure.

When the 10th inning began with Mathewson and the Giants leading 2-1, the Giants were 79% likely to win. They ended up losing. He gets dinged for that, as the 10th inning essentially took .79 away from him.

His career postseason cWPA, as it stands now, is .242, which is #193. Had he made it through the 10th inning in order, I believe his cWPA would have been 1.242, because he wouldn't have lost the .79, and he would have gained the remaining .21. And, that would have put him #2 all-time. Even if you just give him back the .491 he lost on just that one play, he'd be right on the cusp of the top 15. That's how sensitive cWPA is....a few ill-timed big plays that go against you can make a huge difference.

Thanks,
Dan
10:44 PM Aug 5th
 
FrankD
Loved the article. Perhaps this stat should be added to the HOF predictor. The game is about winning the WS. As many have said, you can't take the Championship away. Now we can argue ad infinitum that producing all year is more important than producing during the playoffs. Of course it is not in the public's eye, you don't get rings for years of almost winning, nor you do get the press or the adulation.
10:03 PM Aug 5th
 
MarisFan61
Who knows, but I think that was the 2nd most famous play until the film of that game came out a few years ago and the Mantle play started getting discussed and dissected so much.
Maybe we can say it's close to a 3-way tie for 2nd.....
9:27 PM Aug 5th
 
LesLein
I’ve long had the impression that the second most famous play in Game 7 of the 1960 series was Bill Virdon’s double play grounder in the bottom of the eighth. It took a bad hop off a pebble and hit Tony Kubek on the throat. Instead of two outs with none on the Pirates were on their way. It would come up in conversations about the game.
7:50 PM Aug 5th
 
Gfletch
Dan, enjoyed the article.

I don't pay a whole lot of attention to detail and what follows will prove it. I was...well, not shocked, not really...but I was shocked to discover that Allie Reynolds is not in the Hall of Fame.

Remember that Bill James once wrote about some player that he had 'all of the chrome, but none of the leather?' You have reminded me of that as your article is all about the chrome. It might go a long way to explaining why some players are or are not in the Hall of Fame, a Chrome to Leather ratio.
5:52 PM Aug 5th
 
DavidTodd
lets see if this works
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MtnU4yno4o

probably not,
game 7, 1960, last three innings
5:02 PM Aug 5th
 
arnewcs
It's a little surprising to not see Christy Mathewson in here, if not in a top 10, then at least mentioned somewhere in the article. The three shutouts in 1905, and an overall World Series ERA under 1 in more than 100 innings pitched
1:49 PM Aug 5th
 
BarryBondsFan25
Nice article as usual. It would be interesting to analyze the correlation between playoff series leaders in WPA or cWPA and actual playoff series (LCS or WS) MVPs.
1:40 PM Aug 5th
 
MarisFan61
CORRECTION: (sorry, folks -- I know that I lead the league in these)

I checked on that "1958 World Series MVP" thing because I had a vague memory that this came up before and it wasn't Howard.
I see that the MVP actually was Bob Turley; Howard won an alternate award that was sort of MVP, the "Babe Ruth Award," which was and I think still is a separate thing for most outstanding post-season player.

At that time, the World Series was the whole post-season, and so the two awards were for the same thing, but didn't always coincide.

I think SPORT Magazine also did a separate World Series award and I think they picked Howard.
1:29 PM Aug 5th
 
MarisFan61
Evanecurb: Good point.

BTW, one of my fave little known facts:
Elston Howard got MVP for the '58 World Series very much on the strength of his fielding -- in left field.
1:22 PM Aug 5th
 
evanecurb
Dan,

Thanks. Excellent article. Brooks Robinson and Graig Nettles would like to point out that cWPA should include fielding, but apparently doesn't. Tony Fernandez and Bill Buckner are OK with that.
12:14 PM Aug 5th
 
MarisFan61
Thanks for all that, including the calculation.

BTW, I see that you actually did SAY before presenting that first chart that it's post-season only. I didn't see that before (even though I did look for it).
11:20 PM Aug 4th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Maris,

Thanks for all the observations and comments.

I looked up Thomson's home run, and it turns out that the Giants had a 29% chance to win the game before the home run. It scores simple WPA at .714, and cWPA at .357. So, at .357 cWPA, it would have made the list, right about where Cabrera's hit was.

Fun fact.....Thomson's highest simple WPA came on June 16, 1952, when he hit a one-out, bottom of the 9th grand slam off Willard Schmidt to bring the Giants back from a 7-4 deficit to beat the Cardinals. That one scored at .812 on simple WPA (it was a mere .020 on the cWPA scale).

My observation about Smith's HR being the 2nd most memorable moment was based on my own experience. The game was played before I was born, and so I only experienced it through reading about it, and Smith's home run gets a lot of mention, at least based on what I've personally read. I'll have to defer to you on things like Mantle's dive or other individual plays.

Re: Fantasy Baseball.....well, I've been doing it for 25 years, and I suppose I'll keep doing it as long as the old gang keeps the league going. It's tradition that's hard for me to give up at this point. I agree it can distort one's experience with the game, but I like the idea of running my own team and scouting my own players. I think sabermetrics and being able to analyze players helps a great deal.

Thanks!
Dan
10:49 PM Aug 4th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. Correction on a piece of my math:
I said, "In order for Thomson's hit to have a cWPA of at least .340, I think the team's general chance of winning the game from that kind of place would have had to be .16 or less -- and I doubt it was."

Thinking closer about it, I see that that's wrong.
Converting a .16 chance of winning such a game to 100% would raise the chance of winning the World Series from about .08 to .5, which would give a cWPA of .420.

I think the correct version of what I said up there would be:
"In order for Thomson's hit to have a cWPA of at least .340, I think the team's general chance of winning the game from that kind of place would have had to be .32 or less" -- and I can't swear it wasn't.
I think it's real, real close. I'd still guess that the cWPA of Thomson's home run is less than .340, but -- I think it's close.​
9:55 PM Aug 4th
 
MarisFan61
Great and interesting work -- which I don't hesitate to already say even though I'm just halfway through.
The reason I'm posting now is that I already have enough stray things to mention that I won't remember them if I wait till I read further. :-)

-- I don't know if this is a substantive thing, a mere linguistic thing, or a misunderstanding on my part.....
About a fourth of the way down, where you say Per Baseball Gauge, here are the biggest single postseason plays in terms of cWPA (note for those of you wondering – Bobby Thomson’s "Shot Heard Around the World" is not considered a postseason event, and therefore not listed here) -- it looks to me like you're misstating it.
Yes indeed, all the plays that are listed there are from the post-season. BUT, unless you really were restricting that listing to post-season only, which I don't think you really were, I think the actual reason that play isn't listed isn't that it wasn't post-season; it's simply that it doesn't score high enough.

In order to make that list, the play would need a "cWPA" of at least .340 -- and I can easily see that it might well just miss.
I see it this way: Even if it converted a 0% chance of winning the game (which it didn't; the 'starting percent' was higher than 0) to 100%, the cWPA would be only about .5; maybe exactly .5, not sure exactly how that would work, but it would be about .5.
And actually the Giants already had a decent chance of winning the game. They were behind 2 runs, but they runners at 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. What is a home team's chance in general of winning the game in that situation?? Surely less than 50-50, but not severely less, and I'd guess it's a bit closer to 50% than to 0%.
In order for Thomson's hit to have a cWPA of at least .340, I think the team's general chance of winning the game from that kind of place would have had to be .16 or less -- and I doubt it was.

-- Minor point, but I think Hal Smith's home run, about which you say, "significant as it was, is probably is only the second most remembered moment of that game," actually isn't even the 2nd most, and probably well behind the first two; and maybe even not 3rd, not that I have any idea what other play would have been ahead of it but I don't think Smith's HR is really that much remembered.
I'd guess that the 2nd most remembered moment, by a pretty big margin, was Mantle diving back to 1st base to avoid the double play in the top of the 9th.

-- Y'know, even though I was at the HOF induction and was very steeped in that whole thing, it never occurred to me that there were no honest-to-goodness "position players." But you're right, there sort of weren't, even though Baines early in his career was a good enough right fielder that it was sometimes remarked on. (Bill did.)

-- I agree that it was surprising Rivera would be unanimous, even if it was going to be just a couple of holdouts. I remember that every time I looked at the "Tracker" of announced ballots, I was in trepidation and indeed expectation that I'd see a number other than 100.

-- Another side issue, but, I'm surprised that you have an interest in fantasy baseball. Stuff like that, IMO, distorts one's way of seeing the game. I know it hasn't distorted yours yet, but please stay on the lookout! :-)

-- This work does a good job of showing objectively a big part of why Rivera is seen subjectively in the way that he is. That's amazing how he totally laps the field in the chart of "Top 20 cWPA, Postseason Only." His post-season record, of course, is ridiculously outstanding, despite his couple of famous failures, and I think his performance in the post-season is the main single thing that elevated his image to the stratospheric level and what made it even POSSIBLE that he'd be unanimous, which I still can't believe he was, based on the same thinking as yours. His showing on that chart is totally in line with how awesomely his post-season pitching is generally seen.
9:45 PM Aug 4th
 
DMBBHF
Follow up....

In my prior reply, when I stated that if McCovey's hit goes through it would have ended the game, what I really meant to say is that it also would have ended the Series, which is what cWPA is all about, and why that one play would be so heavily weighted.

Thanks,
Dan
9:44 PM Aug 4th
 
DMBBHF
Danjeffers,

Good question. If I'm reading the percentages correctly, I believe if McCovey's batted ball had gone through and scored two runs would have resulted in a cWPA on that one play of .742. It would have been the biggest cWPA play of all time. Here's how I'm arriving at that....

When I look at the game probability graph on Baseball Gauge, it scores the McCovey lineout at a .258, meaning that the Giants had a 25.8% chance to win prior to the play. Since that play ended the game, the Giants' chance went from 25.8% to zero. Terry got a positive .258 added to his cWPA ledger for getting that out.

If McCovey's hit goes through, it ends the game, meaning that the Giants' probability increased from 25.8% to 100%, or a positive 74.2% (.742). So, Terry would have not only lost the +.258 he got, he would have incurred a negative .742 (in essence, it would have lowered his cWPA by a full point). His career postseason cWPA would have dropped from a positive .474 (#47 all time) to a dismal negative .526. Which, if I'm looking at it right, would have been one of the worst figures ever. That's how much that one play was worth.

Thanks for asking!
Dan
9:41 PM Aug 4th
 
danjeffers
How much more would Terry have dropped and what would it have done for McCovey if the ball Richardson caught had gone tbrough and scored two?
9:16 PM Aug 4th
 
 
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