The Yankees’ Five Biggest Hits of 2017

Aaron Hicks: Fourth outfielder to starting in center [2017 Season Review]
Manager search begins: Yanks reportedly interview Thomson
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

For the first time since 2012, the Yankees played in an actual postseason series this year. They beat the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game and came back from down 0-2 to beat the Indians in the ALDS — how cool was that? — before dropping Game 7 of the ALCS to the Astros. It was a fun season with a lot of big hits along the way.

Once again, I’m going to take my annual look at the five biggest hits of the Yankees season, though I’m going to use a different metric this time. Normally I use win probability added because that’s simple enough. This time around, I’m going use championship probability added, with is available at The Baseball Gauge. CPA is similar to WPA, though it looks at the big picture. Instead of “how much closer are we to winning the game because of this hit?” (WPA), it’s “how much closer are we to winning the World Series because of this hit?” (CPA). Easy, right?

Given the nature of CPA, the biggest hits of the year all came in the postseason. Winning one random game in May doesn’t improve your World Series hopes nearly as much as winning a postseason game in October. So anyway, let’s look at the five biggest hits of the season for the Yankees, shall we?

5. Judge vs. Giles in ALCS Game Four

Overall, the postseason was not kind to Aaron Judge. He hit .188/.316/.500 (114 wRC+) with a 47.4% strikeout rate in 13 postseason games, though he did provide some very big hits along the way. The biggest: his game-tying double in Game Four against the Astros. The Yankees were down 4-0 with nine outs to go in that game, and they won. The Fighting Spirit prevailed.

The comeback rally started with a Judge solo home run, which cut to deficit to 4-1. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but hey, a comeback has to start somewhere, right? The Yankees got to within one run with two run-scoring outs — Gary Sanchez had a sac fly in the seventh and Brett Gardner got a run home with a ground out in the eighth — and when Judge came to the plate against Ken Giles, the Yankees were down 4-3 with a runner on third and one out in the eighth inning.

Given his strikeout issues in October, it was easy to get discouraged when Judge fouled away a pitch to even the count 2-2. We were all waiting for the swing through the slider down-and-away. It never came. Giles did try to throw the slider down-and-away, but he left it up juuust enough for Judge to reach down and yank it to right field.

I thought it was a sacrifice fly off the bat. As strong as he is, I didn’t think Judge hit it hard enough to get it over the fence or even to the wall once he had to reach down for the slider like that. Somehow he managed to hammer it off the top of the all. Amazing. The double tied the game 4-4 and put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Two batters later, Sanchez split the right-center field gap for a go-ahead two-run double. So awesome. CPA of Judge’s double: +0.035.

4. Gardner vs. Allen in ALDS Game Five

Before Judge could be the hero in Game Four of the ALCS, the Yankees had to come back to beat the Indians in the ALDS. They won Game Three 1-0 thanks to Greg Bird‘s homer and Masahiro Tanaka‘s brilliance. They won Game Four 7-3 thanks to Luis Severino and a diverse offensive attack. Just forcing Game Five against a team as good as the Indians was quite the accomplishment.

The Yankees did not stop there. They jumped out to an early lead against Corey Kluber in Game Five, and when Gardner came to the plate in the ninth inning, his team was up 3-2. New York had runners on first and second with two outs and were looking for insurance. With the speedy Aaron Hicks at second, the Yankees did not need Gardner to find a gap. A single would suffice, and a single is what they got, but not until after Gardner battled Cody Allen for 12 — 12! — pitches. The glorious at-bat:

Here’s the crazy thing: that was Gardner’s second 12-pitch at-bat of the game. He battled Andrew Miller for 12 pitches in the fifth inning, though that at-bat ended in a strikeout. Can you imagine a left-handed hitter hanging in for a 12-pitch at-bat against Miller? Well, you don’t need to imagine. Gardner did it. And he did it against Allen as well, and drove in two huge insurance runs in the ninth inning of Game Five. CPA of Gardner’s single: +0.039.

3. Gregorius vs. Kluber in ALDS Game Five

Even after knocking him around in Game Two, having to face Kluber in Game Five of the ALDS was daunting. He’s probably going to win the Cy Young and he’s one of the three or four best pitchers in the world. No one wants to face that guy with the season on the line.

The Yankees jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in Game Five thanks to a Didi Gregorius solo home run on a Kluber mistake. He missed his spot with a fastball by the full width of the plate. It was supposed to be away, and instead he left it up middle-in. Gregorius yanked it out to right for a first inning homer. And two innings later, Didi did it again. Kluber left a slider up, and Gregorius again hammered it to right field, this time for a two-run shot and a 3-0 lead.

I remember watching the game at home and feeling, for the first time in the series, that holy crap the Yankees might actually win this. Once they fell behind 0-2 in the series, I figured they were done. The Indians are so good. Then the Yankees won Game Three and I thought great, the season continues another day. Then the Yankees won Game Four and I though awesome, they’re really making them sweat. Then Gregorius hit his first homer. Hmmm. Then he hit his second. That’s when it really hit me. The comeback was on, truly. CPA of Didi’s second dinger: +0.042.

2. Headley vs. Musgrove in ALCS Game Four

Oh no oh no oh no oh yes oh yes oh yes! That describes this play in a nutshell. It was not a run-scoring hit, but it was an important hit as part of the comeback in Game Four of the ALCS. The Yankees were still down 4-2 at the time, and Todd Frazier opened the eighth inning with a single to left against Joe Musgrove. Pinch-hitter Chase Headley followed with what went into the record books as a single. It was so much more than that though.

After the game Headley explained he was thinking double out of the box, but he hit the first base bag weird and slipped, which led to the stumble. The Astros had him dead to rights, but thankfully Carlos Correa decided to throw to first base rather than second. The throw to first gave Headley enough time to hustle to second base to beat the tag. A second baseman with longer arms probably gets the tag down in time. I’m not trying to be a jerk. Jose Altuve’s a ridiculously good player. But his size may have cost him the out there.

Anyway, that single — Headley officially hit a single and advanced to second on the throw — put runners on second and third with no outs in a 4-2. That’s why it registers so high in terms of CPA. It put the tying run in scoring position with no outs, with the Yankees having a chance to win the game to even the series 2-2. CPA of Headley’s single: +0.042.

1. Bird vs. Morton in ALCS Game Seven

A harsh reminder of how close the Yankees were to the World Series. Their biggest hit of the season in terms of CPA did not drive in a run. It did not even lead to a run being scored later in the inning. It set them up to potentially score the tying run in Game Seven of the ALCS.

The Yankees were down 1-0 in the fifth inning of Game Seven, and Charlie Morton was going through the lineup a second time. He’d allowed some hard contact in the previous inning, and in that fifth inning, Bird greeted him with a first pitch leadoff double into the right field corner. Just like that, the Yankees had the tying run in scoring position in Game Seven.

At +0.044 CPA, Bird’s double was the biggest hit of the season. It moved the Yankees closer to a World Series championship than any other hit this year. And yet, the double led to heartbreak. Later in the inning Bird was thrown out at home on a rather spectacular play by Alex Bregman and Brian McCann on Frazier’s little grounder.

Brutal. Not the decision to run, necessarily, just the play itself. It was quite deflating. The Yankees had runners on the corners with one out in a tie game, then bam, Bird was thrown out at home. Yuck. The single biggest hit of the season led to that.

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CPA and WPA are an objective look at something that, frankly, is quite subjective. You know when a big hit happens because you feel it. There are factors and context stats don’t consider. It doesn’t know that, say, the shutdown closer is warming up in the bullpen so you better score now. Or that the staff ace is looming in Game Four so you better not lose Game Three and fall behind in the series 2-1, you know?

Subjectively, I thought the three biggest hits of the season were Didi’s three-run game-tying homer in the Wild Card Game, Bird’s home run off Miller in Game Three of the ALDS, and Sanchez’s go-ahead two-run double in Game Four of the ALCS. I go to a lot of games each year, and I went to Houston for Games Six and Seven of the ALCS for CBS, and the loudest I heard a ballpark in 2017 was Yankee Stadium after Sanchez hit the double. It was louder than Minute Maid Park after the Astros won Game Seven. It was incredible.

The Bird home run pretty much saved the season. The Yankees were down 0-2 in the ALDS and needed that win, and it was pretty clear neither side was going to put together a sustained rally in the game. Both clubs were into their ace relievers at that point too. Then Bird smacked his dinger and brought the house down. Good times, good times.

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That concludes the postseason portion of our program. Now let’s look back at the biggest hits of he regular season, because hey, big regular season hits are cool too.

Biggest regular season hits by CPA

  1. May 5th: Brett Gardner go-ahead three-run homer vs. Cubs (+0.005 CPA) (video)
  2. July 8th: Clint Frazier walk-off three-run homer vs. Brewers (+0.005 CPA) (video)
  3. July 27th: Gary Sanchez game-tying single vs. Rays (+0.005 CPA) (video)

Six other regular season hits registered at +0.004 CPA. The Gardner homer against the Cubs stands out as the biggest hit of the regular season for me. The Frazer walk-off job was pretty great too. Remember that Sanchez hit? That was when Tim Beckham and Adeiny Hechavarria miscommunicated and let a weak grounder get through the infield. It should’ve been the final out of the game.

Biggest regular season hits by WPA

  1. May 5th: Brett Gardner go-ahead three-run homer vs. Cubs (+0.730 WPA)
  2. July 8th: Clint Frazier walk-off three-run homer vs. Brewers (+0.650 WPA)
  3. April 28th: Starlin Castro game-tying two-run homer vs. Orioles (+0.470 WPA) (video)
  4. April 30th: Didi Gregorius game-tying two-run single vs. Orioles (+0.460 WPA) (video)
  5. June 23th: Brett Gardner game-tying solo homer vs. Rangers (+0.460 WPA) (video)

CPA and WPA agree the Gardner homer against the Cubs and Clint’s walk-off dinger were the two biggest hits of the regular season. I’m cool with that. Makes sense to me. The Castro homer was fun. Between the big comeback and the whole dropping to one knee thing, it was one of the most satisfying and aesthetically pleasing homers of the season. I don’t remember the Gregorius single against the O’s at all. That was the game Bryan Mitchell played first base. I still can’t believe that happened.

Aaron Hicks: Fourth outfielder to starting in center [2017 Season Review]
Manager search begins: Yanks reportedly interview Thomson