Yesterday afternoon I looked at the five longest homers of the Yankees season, but that was more for fun than anything else. A homerun counts the same whether it goes 315 ft. or 550 ft., but the timing of the homer can increase its impact on the game. This morning I’m going to look at the five biggest hits of the Yankees season in terms of Win Probability Added, or WPA. Hannah did something very similar a few weeks ago, looking at the biggest hits by Leverage Index, or LI. If you don’t understand the difference between WPA and LI, Joe’s got you covered right here. There is some overlap between my list and Hannah’s list, but not much.
A little later today I’m going to have something on what I think was the biggest single hit of the season from an emotional/intangible/fanboy point of view, a hit that doesn’t crack the top five of my list or Hannah’s. With some help from the Baseball-Reference Play Index (subs. req’d), here are the five biggest hits of the season by WPA…
The fifth biggest hit of the year came not only in a game the Yankees lost, but it was the also the first game of that ugly six-game losing streak in mid-May. A.J. Burnett went seven strong against the Royals, but David Robertson (of all people) allowed Kansas City to tie it in the eighth. Buddy Carlyle (remember him?) gave up a go-ahead double to Jeff Francoeur in the top of the tenth, and a few minutes later Soria was brought in to protect the one-run lead.
Soria was having a rough start to the season, and that showed when he walked Russell Martin on four pitches to open the inning. Brett Gardner bunted him over to second, then Derek Jeter moved him to third with a ground out. That brought Granderson to the plate with two outs, seven innings after he hit a solo homer off Vin Mazzaro. The Royals closer fed him a 2-2 curveball, but that sucker hung like crazy (watch the video, total hanger) and Curtis lined it to right for a game-tying single. It was the biggest hit of the game at +0.40 WPA, but unfortunately Carlyle allowed the Royals to retake the lead in the 11th, leading to the eventual loss.
The Grandyman was in full blown beast mode at this point of the season, coming into this game with a .260/.335/.607 batting line with 16 homers in just 46 team games. He beefed up that batting line with three hits in his first four at-bats, but it was his fourth hit that did the most damage.
CC Sabathia struggled through the first 3.1 IP of the game, allowing four runs on eight hits, but he settled down and retired 17 of the final 18 men he faced, including the last 16 in a row. The Blue Jays were up one heading into the bottom of the ninth, and it was Jorge Posada who started the comeback rally with a one-out double to right-center as a pinch-hitter replacement for Eduardo Nunez. Chris Dickerson pinch-ran, then moved to third on another Jeter ground out. Frankie Frank came after Curtis with a 2-1 breaking ball (another hanger), and the Yanks’ center fielder grounded it past the first baseman for a game-tying single. He then proceeded to steal second and score the winning run on Mark Teixeira’s walk-off ground ball single, but it was his +0.40 WPA game-tying knock that takes home the title of fourth biggest hit of the season.
The Yankees had just moved past the Red Sox in the standings and taken hold of first place in the AL East, and now they were trying to hang onto it for dear life. Starters Bartolo Colon and Ricky Romero had given up a bunch of runs early, but Toronto nursed a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning. Romero got the first two outs on line drives to dead center, but then started to unravel by hitting Granderson with a pitch and walking Alex Rodriguez on four straight.
Janssen, who came into the game with a 1.99 ERA and a 43-13 K/BB in 45.1 IP, jumped ahead of Cano 0-2 before the Yankees second baseman worked it back to 2-2. The sixth pitch of the at-bat, a cutter, was left right out over the plate, and Robinson smoked it into the gap to score both Granderson and A-Rod, turning a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead. Nick Swisher tacked on an insurance run with a single one batter later, and Robertson made the lead stand up with a two-inning save while filling in for the overworked Mariano Rivera. This game will probably be better remembered for Jesus Montero’s first career hit, but it’s Cano’s +0.41 WPA double that had the most impact. The Yankees maintained their lead over the Sox and didn’t look back.
Posada had a great start to the season and a great ALDS, but he didn’t do much of anything in between. The Yankees trailed the Orioles 5-4 heading into the ninth inning of their 11th game of the season, with newly signed closer Kevin Gregg coming on to nail things down for the Fightin’ Showalters. Posada, 0-for-3 on the day to that point, wasted no time tying things up, jumping all over a first pitch fastball for a game-tying solo homer into the Yankees bullpen to knot the game up at five. Swisher would give his team the walk-off win one inning later, but it was Jorge’s solo shot that made it all possible. At +0.43 WPA, it was the second biggest hit of the season.
Seems kinda weird that the biggest hit of the season comes in a game the Yankees won 22-9, doesn’t it? The game wasn’t always that lopsided though, the Yankees scored a dozen runs in their last two offensive innings to put things out of reach. The A’s smacked Phil Hughes around early before Cano hit a grand slam off Rich Harden to turn a 7-2 game into a 7-6 game. The big hit came one inning later.
Craig Breslow took over for Harden in the middle of the fifth, and stayed in the game to start the sixth. He plunked Granderson with the first pitch of the inning, but got the first out when Teixeira lined out to left. In came De Los Santos, who immediately walked A-Rod on five pitches and allowed the two runners to move up to second and third on a wild pitch. Cano went down hacking for the second out of the inning, and Oakland chose to intentionally walk Swisher to load the bases for Martin.
Santos, and extremely hard-thrower, jumped ahead with a first pitch fastball before throwing a pitch in the dirt for ball one. The intentional walk seemed curious because Martin had been 2-for-2 with a walk and a homer already in the game, and he made it 3-for-3 with a walk and two homers when he drove the 1-1 fastball over the right-center field wall to turn a 7-6 deficit into a 10-7 lead. This game will forever be remembered as The Three Grand Slam Game (capital letters are important), but it was Martin’s salami that registered as the biggest Yankees hit of the 2011 season at +0.45 WPA.