With Spring Training underway, baseball is back in the news!. One of the many things we’re pondering (Will Mike Trout ever get another MVP award? Are the Rays and Marlins really trying to lose?) is the eternal question: Who is going to win the World Series this year? It’s a teeny bit too early for predictions – so I won’t make any.
Instead, I’ll note that we’ve had some really great series recently. Exciting games, teams ending championship droughts, classic matchups, the works. It leads one to ponder – just which WS was the most exciting of them all?
Seems like one cannot quantify “excitement” in that manner. Surely, it’s an objective matter. But hold on a minute. The huge body of statistical records in baseball, with details down to individual pitch counts, makes it a bit easier than one would expect. There’s something called “Win Probability” which, as it suggests, gives a team’s chance of winning a game at any specific point in any given game. Atfer a play, the difference in Win Probability becomes “Win Probability Added” (WPA). The bigger and more important a play, the greater the WPA. (more on WPA in this post ) In a World Series or other playoff game, one can calculate the odds of a Championship Probability – the chance a team has of winning the actual series – for each situation. The Championship Probability Added (cWPA) is therefore how important a given play was in determining the outcome of a series.
Naturally, people have done this to figure out the biggest and most important plays in World Series history. Over at The Baseball Gauge, Dan Hirsch has crunched all the numbers and made the database.
THE TOP TEN PLAYS IN WORLD SERIES HISTORY:
10. Cubs v. Indians, 2016 – Ben Zobrist doubles home Andrew Almora to give the Cubs the lead in the top of the 10th of Game 7. Anthony Rizzo moves to third and would soon score with what would turn out to be a needed insurance run. cWPA: 0.336
9. Pirates v. Yankees, 1960 – Bill Mazeroski walks it off. Not as high as one might think, because the game was tied at the moment. Still plenty of opportunities for the Pirates to win. cWPA: 0.338
8. Pirates v. Yankees, 1960 – Yogi Berra’s three run blast gives the Yankees a 5-4 lead in the top of the 6th in Game 7. It makes the list because the Yankees’ odds were so low prior to the home run. cWPA: 0.348
7. Reds v. Red Sox, 1975 – With 2 outs, Joe Morgan singles home Ken Griffey with what would become the winning run in the top of the 9th of Game 7. cWPA: 0.354
6. Senators v. Giants, 1924 – A lucky two-out single by Bucky Harris ties Game 7 at 3-3 in the bottom of the 8th. Fans often overlook this one since it happened before television, so there’s little visual record of the series. cWPA: 0.372
5. Tigers v. Cardinals, 1968 – With two out, Jim Northrup triples just past the reach of Curt Flood, and two runs score to put the Tigers on the board in the top of the 7th of Game 7. cWPA: 0.384
4. Cubs v. Indians, 2016 – A two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the 8th by Rajai Davis ties Game 7 at 6. cWPA: 0.416
3. Red Sox v. Giants, 1912 – After the Giants took the lead in the top of the 10th in Game 8, Tris Speaker makes New York pay for not catching his foul pop when he doubles to tie the game and put the winning run on third. cWPA: 0.491
2. Diamondbacks v. Yankees, 2001 – A double by Tony Womack (!) with one out in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 ties the game at 2 – and puts the winning run on third. cWPA: 0.492
1. Pirates v. Yankees, 1960 – A pinch-hit home run by Hal Smith (!!) gives the Pirates a 9-7 lead with two out in the bottom of the 8th of Game 7. cWPA: 0.627
Bet you never heard of that last one! Imagine. You’re up by a run with only four more outs to go – and one swing of the bat later, you’re down by two. Now you need to score twice in one inning just to tie the game! No wonder the cWPA is so high!
By the way, did you notice two plays from 2016’s Game 7, and three from 1960? Where do you think they would rank on the Greatest World Series Games of All Time. By cumulative cWPA (adding up the values of the cWPA for each and every play), of course.
THE GREATEST WORLD SERIES GAMES OF ALL TIME
10. Game 7, 2001: Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2 – You know, the game where Mariano Rivera, the Greatest Reliever of All Time, had the Biggest Blown Save of All Time? cWPA: 3.52
9. Game 7, 1975: Reds 4, Red Sox 3 – Everyone remembers Fisk’s home run that won Game 6 for Boston, but this game was even more intense simply for being a “winner take all” game. cWPA: 3.60
8. Game 7, 1991: Twins 1, Braves 0 – The game that got Jack Morris into the Hall of Fame. cWPA: 3.89
7. Game 6, 2011: Cardinals 10, Rangers 9 – The only one on the list that’s not a “win or go home” game. It’s the one where the Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series – twice! cWPA: 4.00
6. Game 7, 1925: Pirates 9, Senators 7 – The Pirates came from behind with three two-out runs in the bottom of the 8th. cWPA: 4.18
5. Game 7, 1960: Pirates 10, Yankees 9 – A total of ten runs were scored in the last two innings! cWPA: 4.45
4. Game 7, 2016: Cubs 8, Indians 7 – See the two plays listed above. cWPA: 4.46
3. Game 7, 1997: Marlins 3, Indians 2 – The Marlins tied it with one out in the bottom of the 9th, and won it on a cheap two-out single in the bottom of the 11th. cWPA: 4.83
2. Game 8, 1912: Red Sox 3, Giants 2 – A pitcher’s duel all the way through. The Giants pushed a run across in the top of the 10th, but their poor fielding overall in the bottom of that inning gave Boston the win. cWPA: 4.99 (NOTE: Game 2 in the series was declared a tie because of darkness; that’s why there’s a Game 8)
1. Game 7, 1924: Senators 4, Giants 3 – A seriously underrated game. A two-out single by Senator’s player-manager Bucky Harris ties the game in the bottom of the 8th. The Giants leave two on in the top of the 9th; a double play in the bottom of the 9th sends the game into extra innings. Each teams goes quietly in the 10th, and then strands two runners in the 11th. Two errors help the Senators win it all in the bottom of the 12th. cWPA: 5.90
Note the wide margin between the cWPA’s of the top two games.
Hey, while we’re here, it might be interesting to find out which individual players contributed the most to their team’s success. Total up a player’s cWPA for an entire series…..
11. George Springer, Astros – 2017. cWPA: 0.571
10. Johnny Podres, Dodgers – 1955. cWPA: 0.615
9. Lew Burdette, Braves – 1957. cWPA: 0.634
8. Hal Smith, Pirates – 1960. cWPA: 0.647
7. Steve Blass, Pirates – 1971. cWPA: 0.648
6. Sandy Koufax, Dodgers – 1965. cWPA: 0.665
5. David Freese, Cardinals – 2011. cWPA: 0.677
4. Pete Alexander, Cardinals – 1926. cWPA: 0.704
3. Madison Bumgarner, Giants – 2014. cWPA: 0.865
2. Jack Morris, Twins – 1991. cWPA: 0.919
1. Ralph Terry, Yankees – 1962. cWPA: 0.994
Had to go to 11 on this, because I know you’d want to find out where George Springer wound up on the list. Interesting how all but three of them won the World Series MVP that year. Of course, back in 1926 they didn’t have the award, so that takes care of Alexander. Hal Smith makes the list thanks almost entirely to that one pinch-hit home run. As far as Steve Blass is concerned, that year the honor went to Roberto Clemente. Fair enough, the award is NOT given solely on the basis of cWPA or any other statistic. Blass, by the way, pitched complete game victories in Game 3 (after the Orioles had won the first two) and Game 7, giving up a total of only two runs on seven hits.
Okay. That’s enough of the preliminaries. Obviously, when it comes to total cWPA, 7-game series will have a higher value simply because they went the distance. You’ll see a few series that have been mentioned before; the high cWPA of a Game 7 will have a major effect on the total for the series.
You’ll note that the 1960 World Series, despite the incredible Game 7, isn’t in the Top 10. The Yankees three wins in the Series were blowouts: 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. In the three games won by the Pirates, they had the game well in hand by the fifth inning. No real excitement there.
THE MOST EXCITING WORLD SERIES OF ALL TIME
10. 1947 – Yankees over Dodgers. The first World Series to be televised. Any fan with a TV got their money’s worth. A fairly uninteresting series, until Game 4. The Yankees were looking to take a 3-1 lead in the Series, but Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Beven’s no-hitter with a game winning double with two out in the bottom of the 9th. The Yankees won Game 5 in a 2-1 pitchers’ duel; the Dodgers came back to win Game 6. They scored early to take a lead in Game 7, but the Yankees quickly came back and shut the Dodgers down the rest of the way to win the Series. cWPA: 9.86
9. 2017 – Astros over Dodgers. You were watching it, right? cWPA: 10.04
8. 1925 – Pirates over Senators. The Senators won three of the first four games, so things really didn’t get exciting until Game 7, where the Pirates came back from being down 6-3 after four innings. cWPA: 10.56
7. 1991 – Twins over Braves. You know, there probably wouldn’t have been a Game 7 if Kirby Puckett didn’t win Game 6 for the Twins with a home run in the bottom of the 11th. And don’t forget the Braves winning Game 3 on a two-out single by Mark Lemke in the bottom of the 12th. cWPA: 10.77
6. 1952 – Yankees over Dodgers. Games 5 and 6 were both decided by single runs late in the game (Game 5 went 11 innings). The big plays in Game 7 came with the Yankees up 4-2 with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th. Relief pitcher Bob Kuzava got two straight popouts (the last one being caught on a fantastic play by second baseman Billy Martin) to end the threat. cWPA: 10.91
5. 1997 – Marlins over Indians. Game 3 was tied at 7 going to the 9th; the Marlins won it 14-11. In Game 5, it was 4-2 Indians after four innings. Going to the bottom of the 9th, it was 8-4 Marlins. Final score: 8-7 Marlins. cWPA: 11.13
4. 2011 – Cardinals over Rangers. The Rangers won Game 2 with a pair of runs in the top of the 9th, and Game 5 with a pair in the bottom of the 8th. And they scored twice in the top of the 1st in Game 7. cWPA: 11.40
3. 1912 – Red Sox over Giants. In addition to Game 8, Games 1, 3, and 5 were decided by single runs. cWPA: 11.67
2. 1975 – Reds over Red Sox. Four of the seven games were decided in the ninth inning – or later. cWPA: 12.13
1. 1924 – Senators over Giants. Yeah, it was pretty much all in the last game. But what a wild one! cWPA: 12.90