Best Position Player Postseason Performances Since 2000, WPA Edition
At Red Sox Beacon last weekend, I decided to see where J.D. Drew's performance in Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS stood on the all-time great Red Sox postseason performances. The metric I chose was Win Probability Added, and thanks to Baseball Reference's Play Index tool, I was able to sort through the best (and worst) games this way.
I thought I would do it here, but limit our search to the five best hitting performances by WPA since 2000. There are no World Series games on here, which sort of screams for a follow-up post as the Fall Classic is set to start. I will also take a look at pitcher performances. There are some forgotten names listed (Erubiel Durazo!), and some no-doubter Hall-of-Famers as well, a dynamic that makes the playoffs so much fun. Sure, Josh Hamilton was great last night. But Bengie Molina!
The Minnesota Twins had taken the first game of the series, but Anaheim ripped off three straight wins in Games Two through Four. Game Five was big because the series was set to head back to the Metrodome, a difficult place to win. This was the first playoff series for the Twins since the 1991 World Series, when the Atlanta Braves took a 3-2 lead back to the Homerdome. The same had happened in the 1987 World Series, too. St. Louis showed up in Minneapolis for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead. We know how those ended.
So, even though momentum was Anaheim's, they wanted to wrap things up in California. In the top of the 7th, the Twins took a 5-3 lead over the Halos, and according to B-Ref, had an 80% win expectancy at this point. In the bottom of the 7th, things would change. Adam Kennedy, having already homered twice, would hit his third of the game off of youngster Johan Santana, a three-run shot that would give the Angels the lead for good. They would tack on, oh, another seven runs that inning, and win the game 13-5.
Again with the Twins! A-Rod gets a lot of heat for laying an egg in Games 4-7 of the 2004 ALCS, but the Yanks never would have had a chance to participate if not for his performance in the ALDS that season. He hit .421/.476/.737 in the 2004 Division Series, and came up huge in Game 2 after the Yanks had dropped the first game of the series. Incidentally, Rodriguez lays claim to games 4, 6 and 11 on the list of best (most clutch) postseason performances since 2000.
Game 2 was a back-and-forth affair, and things looked bleak for the Yanks after the Twins took a 6-5 lead in the top of the 12th. Mariano Rivera had already pitched. In the bottom of the 12th, Ron Gardenhire pushed things a bit by bringing Joe Nathan back for a 3rd inning of work. Nathan got John Olerud swinging to lead off the 12th but then issued walks to Miguel Cairo and Derek Jeter on 9 pitches. Gardenhire stuck with Nathan though, now 46 pitches into his outing, and A-Rod made him pay with a double that plated Cairo and sent Jeter to third. After an intentional pass to Gary Sheffield, J.C. Romero relieved Nathan but Hideki Matsui hit a sac fly on the very first pitch from the southpaw.
Rodriguez finished the game 4-6 with a home run, the key double, three RBI and two runs.
3) Erubiel Durazo, 10-1-03, ALDS Game 1, .701 WPA
I remember this one well. Durazo was a beast, going 2-4 with 3 RBI, 2 walks and a run scored. His double in the 3rd came off of Pedro Martinez, and plated two runs to give the A's a 2-1 lead. In the 9th inning, Grady Little panicked. Byung-Hyun Kim started the inning with a 4-3 lead and induced a fly ball out. He then walked Billy McMillon and hit Eric Byrnes with a pitch.
Well this was when Kim still had the 2001 Yankee Stadium meltdown choker stigma, and the Boston fans were tough on him when he blew a few games down the stretch. Still, he had been an excellent pitcher and was a perfectly viable option for the Red Sox in this spot. He demonstrated as much on the next batter, getting Mark Ellis to strike out. Two outs.
Now the panic. Little decided with two outs to go and get Kim and bring in lefty Alan Embree. Problem was, Kim was no worse than Embree against lefties and even worse, Durazo had a reverse split! He hit lefties better! Embree entered nonetheless, Durazo singled and the game was tied. In the 12th, Durazo worked a lead-off walk and the A's went on to win 5-4.
This one's not too hard to figure out. The Marlins won the game 4-3 and Pudge had all four RBI. The first two came on a home run in the opening frame off of Kirk Rueter. The last two, the game-winners, came with the Giants ahead by a run with two outs and the bases loaded. Pudge singled off of Tim Worrell to give the Fish a 2-1 Series lead.
One moment can change everything in the playoffs. To get a sense for the drama in the bottom of the 9th in Game Four of last year's NLCS, scroll to the 13:45 mark or so of this video. When Rollins came to bat, his team had an 83% chance of losing, and that's before you factor how good Jonathan Broxton had been for the Dodgers in 2009.
But Rollins squared up a fastball, ripped it into the right-center field gap, two runs scored and the Phillies would go on to qualify for the World Series for the second time in as many seasons. In the first inning, Rollins had singled and scored on a Ryan Howard home run.