The Yankees’ Five Biggest Hits of 2016

Tuesday Night Open Thread
The End of Mark Teixeira's Career [2016 Season Review]
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

For the third time in the last four seasons, the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2016. They did stay in the race longer than I expected, which I guess is better than nothing. Despite another postseason-less season, the Yankees recorded several memorable moments in 2016, including more than a few walk-off home runs. Those are always cool.

Let’s take a look back at the five biggest hits of the season for the Yankees. To make life easy, let’s use win probability added. WPA goes a good job factoring in the game situation and all that, though it’s not perfect. Important context like the players — a Ronald Torreyes walk-off homer against Craig Kimbrel will feel bigger than a Gary Sanchez walk-off against Brad Boxberger, you know? — and the standings are left out, however.

With an assist from the Baseball Reference Play Index, here are New York’s five biggest hits of the season according to WPA. There were a lot of big ones and one massively huge one this summer.

5. Austin vs. Aaron Sanchez

Tyler Austin was not with the Yankees very long this year, only 47 games overall, and he played in only 31 of those 47. And yet, Austin had plenty of impact in his limited playing time. He hit more than a few important home runs — four of his five dingers gave the Yankees the lead and the other tied the game — and all of them were to right field at Yankee Stadium. His opposite field power is real.

On September 6th, with a postseason spot 3.5 games away, the Yankees were home against the Blue Jays, one of the teams they were chasing in the standings. This was wild back and forth game, at least in the late innings. Toronto was nursing a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning when Aaron Judge poked a ground ball single up the middle with two outs. Austin, the next batter, took advantage with a go-ahead two-run home run. On his birthday! To the action footage:

That was only the third home run ground ball machine Aaron Sanchez allowed in the second half, and only the third he allowed to a right-handed batter all season. He left a sinker up and on the outer half, which is essentially Austin’s wheelhouse given his opposite field approach.

The homer gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead but it was far from the end of the scoring. The Yankees went on to win this game 7-6. It was the Brett Gardner catch game. You know the one I’m talking about. The score was 2-1 through six and a half innings, then the two clubs combined for ten runs in the final four half-innings. No mas. WPA: +.458

4. Gardner vs. Erasmo Ramirez

The start of the season did not go well for the Yankees. Well, that’s not true. They did win four of their first six games, so hooray for that. Before you knew it though, that 4-2 record turned into a 5-9 record. The worst.

The Yankees were home against the Rays on April 23rd, and they were trying to win consecutive games for the first time in nearly three weeks. Gardner tied the game 2-2 with a run-scoring single in the seventh inning, then, two innings later, he untied the game with a walk-off home run to right field:

The pitching in that game went exactly according to plan: Masahiro Tanaka to Dellin Betances to Andrew Miller. The offense almost wasted their effort though. Gardner came through twice. First by tying the game in the seventh, then by winning it in the ninth. WPA: +.465

3. Austin vs. Erasmo Ramirez

Austin again, Erasmo Ramirez again. I wonder how many non-closers have allowed multiple walk-off home runs to one team in a single season. Can’t be many, right? However many it is, Ramirez is on the list. He gave up two walk-off bombs to the Yankees in 2016.

Two days after his big home run against the Blue Jays, Austin came through with another clutch home run, this one the game-winning solo shot against the Rays. The score was 4-4 at the time and most of the runs came early; it was 3-3 after three. Austin won the game with another one with his made for Yankee Stadium inside-out strokes.

That homer gave New York their fifth straight win and got them to within two (two!) games of a postseason spot. This was peak “holy crap they might actually do this” craziness. It didn’t last, but you know what? The ride was fun as hell in August and early September. WPA: +.465

2. McCann vs. Sam Dyson

The Yankees had a nine-game homestand in the middle of June and they had three walk-off wins in the nine games. The first was Starlin Castro‘s walk-off homer against Jason Motte and the Rockies. That was one of the longest home runs of the season.

The second of those three walk-offs came on June 29th, and the walk-off was made possible by an incredible ninth inning comeback. The Rangers pushed the Yankees around early in the game — it was 6-1 after five and a half innings — and the score was 7-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth.

The six-run ninth inning started with a Rob Refsnyder single, of all things. Then Jacoby Ellsbury walked. That prompted Texas skipper Jeff Banister to go to his closer Sam Dyson. Gardner followed with a single to score a run, and suddenly the Yankees had the tying run at the plate. Hey, at least they were making it interesting.

That tying run at the plate? Alex Rodriguez. He lined out to second for the first out of the inning. The next batter, Brian McCann, got a sinker slightly up in the zone from Dyson, and he deposited it into the short porch for a game-tying home run and the second biggest hit of the season by WPA. To the video:

Two batters later, Didi Gregorius won the game with a walk-off two-run home run. The six-run ninth turned a 7-3 deficit into a 9-7 win. New York had a 1.8% chance to win the game when the ninth inning started. Here’s the WPA graph:

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees beat the Rangers the next night with another walk-off. That one was a little less eventful though. Catcher Robinson Chirinos let a Tony Barnette pitch scoot by for a walk-off passed ball. Chase Headley scored from third. Quite an eventful 24 hours. WPA of McCann’s homer: +.479 (would have been higher had the homer won the game and not just tied it)

1. Teixeira vs. Joe Kelly

The biggest hit of the season for the Yankees was also the final home run of Mark Teixeira‘s career. It was totally unexpected too. I watched the game with my own eyes and I still didn’t believe it.

It was September 28th and the Yankees were on the brink of elimination. The Orioles came back to beat the Blue Jays in Toronto that night, which dropped New York’s tragic number to one. A loss to the Red Sox meant season over. And for much of the game, a loss felt inevitable. The offense was nonexistent against Clay Buchholz, and Boston took a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning when Mookie Betts chopped a double over Headley’s head at third.

The score remained 3-0 into the bottom of the ninth and it felt like only a matter of time until the Red Sox celebrated their AL East championship on the Yankee Stadium field. Sucks. Then Kimbrel came in and forgot how to throw strikes. Gardner started the inning with a single, then Kimbrel threw 14 of his next 23 pitches out of the zone. He walked the bases loaded with no outs and then walked in a run. How about that?

Suddenly the Yankees were in business. They were still down two runs, but the sacks were full and there were no outs. Castro and Gregorius then followed two terrible at-bats. Three-pitch strikeout and three-pitch foul pop-up. Geez, guys. Thankfully, Teixeira picked them up when Kelly left one of his arrow straight fastballs up in the zone. Walk-off grand slam. Ballgame over. Season still alive.

The WPA of the walk-off four-run homer: +.827. .827! It was not just the biggest hit of the season for the Yankees. It was the fourth biggest hit by any player in baseball this season, in terms of WPA. Here’s the list:

  1. July 18th: Adam Lind three-run walk-off homer vs. David Robertson (+.917 WPA)
  2. July 25th: Adrian Beltre walk-off two-run homer vs. Ryan Madson (+.896 WPA)
  3. May 24th: Leonys Martin’s two-run walk-off homer vs. Ryan Madson (+.866 WPA)
  4. September 28th: Teixeira’s walk-off grand slam vs. Joe Kelly (+.827 WPA)

Rough year for Ryan Madson, huh? Also, WPA says Teixeira’s grand slam was the second biggest hit by a Yankee since 2008. The biggest was Carlos Beltran‘s three-run walk-off home run against Zach Britton in 2014 (video). That checked in at +0.84 WPA. The biggest before that was Jason Giambi‘s three-run walk-off homer against B.J. Ryan in 2008 (+.890 WPA). I remember this like it was yesterday:

Baseball can be really cool sometimes.

Tuesday Night Open Thread
The End of Mark Teixeira's Career [2016 Season Review]