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Taking a closer look at Travis Ishikawa's walk-off home run

Travis Ishikawa went from thinking about retirement to postseason hero with one swing of the bat.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Ishikawa has his spot in the history books. With one swing of the bat, he propelled the San Francisco Giants to the World Series, a moment which he will surely never forget. The fact that he is a replacement-level player who was thinking about retirement before the season began just makes the story a little sweeter. How can you not be romantic about baseball?

But this isn't a piece about the ups and downs of Ishikawa's career, as that tale has been told countless times since Thursday night. This is a website that focuses on sabermetrics, so naturally I'm going to dig deeper and analyze the at-bat that led to fireworks.

Before I get started, though, we do need a statistical history of the man. Ishikawa has spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, totaling 978 plate appearances in 444 games. He's surpassed 100 games in a single season only twice -- 2009 and 2010.

The lefty has 22 career home runs and ranks 319th in isolated power among players with at least 950 plate appearances since 2006. Hitting for power isn't exactly his forte. So how did Ishikawa, a player with a career wRC+ of 93, homer off one of the Cardinals' best young pitchers in the most crucial portion of the NLCS? The easy answer is because it's baseball, and baseball is a random and funny game. Not everything can be explained, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try.

Michael Wacha threw three four-seam fastballs to Ishikawa. This was no surprise: Wacha threw a fastball at a 58.2% clip this year, and was his second-most effective pitch in terms of pitch value. The first two pitches Ishikawa saw were balls, hitting 96 and 95 mph, respectively, on the radar gun. Ishikawa knew he'd see another four seamer. Heck, the vendor selling hot dogs knew the next pitch would be a fastball. But that didn't mean it would be easy to hit. Ishikawa hit only .214 off four seamers in 2014 -- nothing is ever a sure thing.

And, as expected, Wacha threw Ishikawa another 96 mph fastball. This, as you already know, is what happened:


Tony Cruz wanted the pitch low and away, but Wacha missed his spot and ended up throwing in Ishikawa's only happy zone. Take a look at his isolated power profile from this season:


Ishikawa loves the ball middle in or middle and low. The Cardinals clearly knew this, as is evidenced by how Cruz set up behind the plate. Wacha simply missed his location and ended up paying the ultimate price. Wacha could have literally put the ball in any other spot -- other than right down the middle, obviously -- and the home run probably wouldn't have happened. It was a mistake he'll never forget.

During the regular season, Ishikawa homered three times in 107 at bats. In other words, he hit a home run every 35.6 at bats. His home run off Wacha was his 26th at-bat of the postseason. While Ishikawa was probably the last guy you'd pick to hit a walk-off dinger, it's not entirely surprising that it happened.

Travis Ishikawa now has a firm place in the hearts of Giants fans, and a place in Hell if you root for the Redbirds. It's amazing how one swing of a bat from a relatively unknown baseball player can change everything.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball.

Justin Schultz is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.