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WPA: Cubs v. Cardinals, 4/9/06


Our second game of the week was ESPN's second Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. I'm going to try to use ESPN games for these, but I'd also like to cover every team, if possible.

Anyway, this was a fantastic, back-and-forth game. The graph shows it, but we can also learn a lot about the dynamics of baseball through some of the things that happened in this game.

Here's the graph.

Credits: I stole the code, originally, from Eric Simon at Amazin' Avenue (that's to do the enlarged image in the link), and Dave Studeman from The Hardball Times made the spreadsheet.

The blue line is the win probability; the pink line represents "P," which is a measure of criticality.

PLAYER Off Pitch Field WPA
J. Jones .281 .000 .001 .282
M. Barrett .261 .000 .008 .269
A. Pujols .215 .000 .000 .215
S. Rolen .198 .000 .013 .211
A. Ramirez .124 .000 .009 .133
T. Walker .113 .000 .012 .124
H. Luna .108 .000 .004 .113
R. Cedeno .129 .000 -.023 .106
J. Williams .000 .102 .000 .102
S. Taguchi .097 .000 .001 .098
A. Wainwright .000 .087 .000 .087
J. Mabry .055 .000 .000 .055
S. Williamson .000 .048 .000 .048
D. Eckstein .016 .000 .000 .016
R. Dempster .000 .014 .000 .015
R. Rincon .000 .013 .000 .013
S. Schumaker -.001 .000 .000 -.001
S. Spiezio -.004 .000 .000 -.004
A. Pagan -.004 .000 .000 -.004
J. Hancock .000 -.007 .000 -.007
A. Miles -.010 .000 .000 -.010
F. Bynum -.049 .000 .000 -.049
M. Wuertz .000 -.070 .000 -.070
M. Murton -.078 .000 .001 -.077
J. Rodriguez -.095 .000 .000 -.095
J. Edmonds -.118 .000 .007 -.110
Y. Molina -.074 .000 -.041 -.115
D. Lee -.124 .000 .009 -.115
S. Ponson -.062 -.111 .000 -.173
J. Pierre -.196 .000 .001 -.195
J. Encarnacion -.208 .000 .004 -.204
S. Marshall -.040 -.181 .004 -.216
J. Isringhausen .000 -.532 .000 -.532

I saw three different things that I felt were worth mentioning.

  • The impact of double plays v. strikeouts: they're huge.
  • Baserunners v. power
  • Leverage
In the 4th inning, the Cubs got the leadoff man on as Todd Walker singled to left. Derrek Lee followed with a 5-4-3 GIDP, though, which lowered the Cubs' Win Expectancy by .094! This was in the fourth inning, and that is FAR more than a strikeout would have cost them. It's a good argument against the fact that slow guys who make contact have a distinct advantage against the slow guys with a lot of Ks. Sure, there are more good things that can happen (and I think that TangoTiger and Co. have mentioned that with errors in mind, strikeouts are slightly worse than "other outs"), but things like this are worth keeping in mind.

Skipping ahead to the 8th inning, if you look back at the graph, you'll notice that the Cubs' Win Expectancy had already topped 70% before Barrett had hit the home run. It's a good idea to look at WPA in conjunction with a run expectancy table, like that of statistician Carl Morris. His table uses Markov chains, and the expected runs scored in that situation (bases loaded, 0 outs) is close to 2.4. The thing is, from a standpoint of Win Expectancy, the odds are certainly in favor of the Cubs taking the lead. If you think that 2 runs is the most probable outcome there, the Cards will be down by 1 going into the 9th inning. (Actually, according to Prospectus' 2005 Inning Scoring probabilities, one run is most likely there, but there's an 85.6% chance of scoring 1 or more runs.) Hence why the numbers change so much. It's one of the beautiful things about Win Expectancy; you look at things entirely through a standpoint of what is most likely to happen and how likely it is to happen, rather than through the fan's perspective of "we need a clutch hit from Michael Barrett here." Nothing wrong with the fan's perspective, but it's an interesting challenge to it.

Finally, going back to the fifth inning, it is necessary to applaud Dusty Baker's move to bring in Michael Wuertz in the fifth, rather than doing something more traditional or expected and going right to a guy like Jerome Williams. Look back at the P-line in the graph. That is a VERY high value for the fifth inning, and, in most games, you'll rarely see a P-value that high at ANY point in the game. Essentially, you can look at it like the game is on the line there. Wuertz, who struck out 90 batters in 75 innings last year, is one of the Cubs' best relievers. Kudos to Baker for bringing him in so early in the game, even if it didn't quite work. If Pujols' ball was three feet to the right of where it was hit, Baker looks like a genius. He deserves a lot of credit for going to a big gun out there so early.

Jacque Jones was the game's MVP because of his crucial (but not decisive) home run early in the ballgame. He beat out Michael Barrett by a few points, but both were exceptionally important.

The LVP, though, was certainly Jason Isringhausen, who just didn't "have it" tonight. Certainly, you'll see a lot of closers who blow saves getting the lowest total WPA, and, undoubtedly, this reflects why fans get so annoyed when closers blow saves. Victory is so close, and it's easy to get the closer when he changes the course of the entire game.

Onto the Top 5 plays:

  1. Aramis Ramirez BB, 8th inning (+.163) - Ramirez' walk was Izzy's second and loaded the bases for Michael Barrett. This was a huge play and pushed the Cubs' Win Expectancy north of 70%. The go-ahead run was pushed to second base here, and the Cubs, who have been maligned for their inattentiveness to OBP, actually used it to their advantage here.
  2. Scott Rolen HR, 1st inning (-.181) - Rolen's homer got the ball rolling for the Cards and was the only strike against the rookie Sean Marshall in the early going. The early returns this season from Scott Rolen are good. Through 6 games, he's hitting .375/.423/.667, and, while that's an incredibly small sample to make a judgment on, it seems that he's healthy.
  3. Albert Pujols 2-run single, 5th inning (-.234): Pujols single just barely got past the outstretched glove of Ronny Cedeno, but it was good enough for two runs. Wuertz looked very good in this inning, but Pujols got the best of him here and propelled the Cardinals back into the lead, at 4-3. This was Pujols' first hit of the series, according to the broadcasters.
  4. Michael Barrett Grand Slam, 8th inning (+.266) - Barrett's grand slam is the obvious "turning point of the game," if there were a contest, but the whole "turning point" concept is a difficult one to quantify in general. What should constitute a turning point, as per a framework of Win Expectancy? Arbitrarily, I'm thinking that the play that drives your Win Expectancy north of 60% for good would be the turning point, and, in that case, it would be the Aramis Ramirez walk. But Barrett crushed one, the crowd exploded, and the Cubs locked it up at this point (the Win Expectancy was 97.2%).
  5. Jacque Jones HR, 4th inning (+.338) - Jacque Jones finally got some hits today, and his first one couldn't have been bigger. Capping off a 2-out rally, Ponson left a pitch RIGHT down the middle, and Jones mashed it. His home run went to dead center on a virtual line, taking what seemed like less than 4 seconds to arrive in the grass in center. Ponson certainly made a mistake with this pitch, but Jones capitalized. I don't think he realized that he was supposed to take a curtain call, though.
All in all, a great game to watch. The most fun ones are the ones with a lot of bouncing back and forth on the WPA line, and a few spots where P gets pretty high. This certainly qualified. Both managers used their good relievers in unorthodox but logical situations, and it didn't really work out for either. Still, a great game and one from which we can learn a lot.

Amazing stuff, and we haven't even reached Tax Day yet.