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Alex Gordon, Hunter Pence, and the WPA World Series

The World Series is too short for grand lessons, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't root for chaos. Alex Gordon and Hunter Pence both delivered that in 2014.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

In theory, the postseason is supposed to be the height of intrigue. The leverage is much higher, and every single pitch is monumentally important. The A's were a handful of outs away from the ALDS with a four run lead, and it all fell apart so quickly. But the curse of the postseason is that while there are bona fide big-moment storylines, there aren't many teams or games involved. We've had 25 games in the last three weeks when we'd typically have that many games over the span of two days. As a result, for the sportswriter, there are too many people trying to tell the same story.

And I don't like telling the same story as everyone else. You don't need "my take" sitting next to 17 other columnists, 12 beat writers, and everyone you follow on Twitter. Bottom line, the Royals are good at defense and we probably sold them a little short. Also, while we mock Dayton Moore and Ned Yost, the Royals are not anti-sabermetric. As for the Giants, Hunter Pence has crazy eyes, Posey is awesome, and Bumgarner is the real deal. If you want to read one of those stories, there are plenty of great pieces ready for your consumption.

Instead of giving you a routine take on the World Series, which begins (still can't quite believe this) tomorrow in Kansas City, I'd like to offer a different kind of story about the teams involved. This is the story-stat World Series preview.

If you aren't familiar, WIn Probability Added (WPA) is a statistic that measures how much a player improved his team's chance of winning a game. So if a team had a 56% chance of winning before a home run and their chance of winning was 84% after, the player who hit the bomb would have a WPA of 0.28 for that HR (i.e. 28%).

When it comes to measuring individual players, the stat is basically useless. If you hit 10 HR all year, your WPA would be much higher if you hit them in the ninth inning of 0-0 games than if you hit them in the first inning of otherwise 0-0 games. It's one thing to give a player credit for advancing runners, but giving them credit for hits when the score is close and almost no credit for when it isn't makes it a very poor indicator of performance. There also isn't a defensive component (only hitters and pitchers).

But one thing WPA does very well is tell you the story of a game. Having the highest WPA during a game or a season doesn't make you the best player, but it does a nice job of capturing the key moments.

Both the Giants and Royals performed well in high leverage spots during the 2014 season, and they are about to square off in the Fall Classic, so let's allow a story stat to tell the story of the two best individual offensive games that led these teams to this moment.

San Francisco Giants - Hunter Pence June 7th

The Giants were playing excellent baseball in early June when they drew Bartolo Colon and the Mets on a Saturday evening at AT&T Park. They were in first place, on a short winning streak, and had Tim Hudson toeing the rubber. Pence finished the game 3-4 with a walk in five plate appearances. He was batting second and playing right field.

His first PA came in the bottom of the first with the score tied at zero and Angel Pagan on first base. The win expectancy was a 58% for the Giants when he stepped in. On a 1-1 pitch, Pence put a single through the hole on the left side, registering 0.06 WPA for his first PA. The Giants would fail to score.

For trip number two, it was the bottom of the third inning. The Giants were now trailing 3-0 and had a 24% chance of winning the game. Pence watched strike three and lost 0.04 WPA, leaving him at 0.02 for the day so far. He was two PA into the day and had added only 2% to his club's odds. The Giants would fail to score in the third inning.

Two innings later, still trailing 3-0, the Giants started to fight back. Gregor Blanco and Pagan each singled with no outs to give the team a 27% chance to win the game from the point forward. Pence walked on the sixth pitch of the plate appearance and added 0.11 WPA to his total. After three trips, he was at 0.13 WPA for the day. Decent work, but still somewhat ordinary. He was 1-2 with a walk and his team was down 3-1 when the fifth inning came to a close.

In the very next inning, the Giants pushed back. They had given one back in the top half and trailed 4-1, but a bases loaded single from Pagan set up another Pence single with two men on. It went through the left side, but no one scored, giving Pence just 0.05 WPA. Posey went down swinging right after and it was a 4-3 ballgame after six with Pence standing at 0.16 WPA.

You can probably see where this is heading. In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants were still down 4-3 and Pagan managed to reach first on a dropped third strike to lead off the inning. Pence came to the plate with the Giants sitting on a 30% chance of victory. Then Pence doubled down the left field line on the second pitch. Pagan scored and Pence was in scoring position. His WPA for that PA was a whopping 0.49. Three batters later, the Giants won.

When all was said and done, Pence had accumulated 0.676 WPA (using the unrounded amounts) in the Giants 5-4 win against the Mets.

Kansas City Royals - Alex Gordon, August 26th

Alex Gordon had just four plate appearances in the Royals' 2-1 win over the Twins in Kansas City near the end of August but he only really needed the last one.

He struck out to end the first (-0.01 WPA) and then singled to lead off the fourth inning of a 0-0 game (0.04 WPA). In PA number three, he ended the sixth inning with a ground out to second base (-0.02 WPA) in a 0-0 game. Gordon was barely in the black, but it was a tie game and not much had happened offensively.

In the seventh inning, Joe Mauer knocked in Brian Dozier, and the Royals and their limited offense were down a run with nine outs left.

Glen Perkins entered in the bottom of the 9th and allowed a 1-0 single to Alcides Escobar. Gordon walked to the plate with his team's odds of winning at 33%, and that's on average. It doesn't consider the fact that the Twins had their ace lefty on the mound against a LHH. Gordon's good, but was Gordon that good?

Jamie Squire/Getty

He was. He took an 0-1 pitch and walked off to right field. 2-1, Royals win, 0.67 WPA. That left Gordon with with 0.686 WPA for the entire game.

Would either of these teams have made the World Series without these defining wins? It's impossible to say. Pence and Gordon came through in big moments throughout the year and neither was down to their final out, so the teams still might have won these two games as well.

But it's a story stat. It doesn't really matter what would have happened in 1,000 trials or what's going to happen this week. The Royals and the Giants played well enough to make the playoffs and made it through some tough competition to get this far. The better team might not win. It's tough to tell much from four to seven games, so in lieu of potential lessons, let's just hope for some insane win expectancy graphs and some WPA heroes.


Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, the Site Educator at FanGraphs, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D