December 11, 2013
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Saturday, June 01, 2013
Ten years ago today, New York Yankee player Juan Rivera had a day he’d love to forget. Not only was it his worst and most ineffectual game ever, but according to WPA, it’s the worst known one-game performance by any batter.
WPA is a fun stat. It’s a story stat that figures the chance a team has to win a game before and after each at-bat. The difference in odds of winning then is assigned to the player for his at-bat. Thus, a guy who hits a home run late in a 22-0 blowout won’t gain much value, but the guy who belts the walk-off home run in the bottom of the 22nd inning of a tie game will benefit quite a deal.
Thus, to have the worst one-game score by a batter, you need to bat in quite a few clutch situations and perform as poorly as possible in all of them. And that’s what happened to Rivera on June 1, 2003.
Rivera’s Yankees faced off against the Tigers in Comerica Park on that day. Batting eighth in the order, Rivera had a chance early in the game to help the Yankees out. He came up against Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman with runners on the corners and just one out. With New York already up 3-1, this was a chance to blow the game open. WPA already gave New York a two-in-three chance to end the day victorious.
But those odds went down noticeably after Rivera’s at-bat. He poked a grounder to first baseman Kevin Witt, who threw to shortstop Shane Halter to get one runner, and then Halter threw back to Witt to nail Rivera and complete the 3-6-3 double play. Inning over, and New York’s chances of victory fell from 67 percent to 56. Alas, the day would get much worse for Rivera.
He came up in the fourth and didn’t do too badly. With one down, he flew out but at least advanced the runner to third. Still, that lowered New York’s chances of winning by two percent. No big deal, though.
His next at-bat also wasn’t a big deal: groundout to short to lead off the sixth. His fourth at-bat was more of the same. With two out and none on in the eighth, he grounded out again. So he was 0-for-4 and lowered his team’s odds of winning each time up, but only with one clutch out. Then again, that’s because he only had one clutch at-bat. Things were about to change.
You see, the Tigers and Yankees were stuck in a tie, 8-8. And in extra innings, Rivera’s bad day became a historically dreadful one.
In the top of the 10th, the Yankees put together a nice rally that looked like it would end the game. Thanks to three Detroit walks (one intentional), New York had the bases loaded with just one out. That was just in time for Rivera to come up.
You can guess what happened, right? He’s got the worst-ever WPA, so this must be the worst-case scenario for this at-bat, right? Yeah, it was. Rivera bounced one to second base for a 4-6-3 double play. Folks, double plays really kill a WPA score. And the worst kind of a double play is an inning-ending double play. That guarantees you won’t score that inning. New York’s chances of winning stood at 71 percent when Rivera came to the plate but collapsed to 36 percent when Detroit snuck out of the top of the 10th without allowing a run.
And the game went on. In the 13th, Rivera had the highlight of his day, his only time up that helped New York’s chance. He drew a walk. Still, it was a two-out walk with none on, so it’s impact was negligible. New York didn’t score, and the game went on.
Into the 16th they fought. New York had back-to-back singles to lead off the inning. After a pop-up failed to advance the runners, Rivera’s turn came up. With one out and runners on the corners, you can figure out what happened. Yup, yet another double play, his third of the game. No, three double plays aren’t the one-game record. But all three of Rivera’s double plays ended an inning, and two came in extra innings when everything is that much more dramatic. This time, New York’s chance of winning fell by 32 percent, from 68 to 36 percent.
As it happens, that was Rivera’s last time up. The Yankees won in the 17th, 10-8. Rivera was in the on-deck circle when the inning ended, robbing him of a chance to redeem himself—or saving him a chance to fall even further. His one-game WPA score was –0.820, the worst ever for a batter.
Oh, and in the field he made an error, too. It didn’t affect his WPA score, but it’s worth noting he had his problems there, too. It was one of four errors the Yankees made on the day, and one of three to happen in the bottom of the fifth. Rivera tried to throw a runner out at home from his station in left but threw the ball away, allowing not only the runner to score, but the batter to advance to second. Maybe the runner would’ve been safe anyway, but just think: if he’d nailed the runner there, the game wouldn’t have gone into extra innings, saving Rivera all his agony later in the day.
Despite that, his team somehow won the game. So I suppose he couldn’t have been too unhappy with how the day ended, even though he couldn’t have been at all happy with his own performance in it: the worst game ever by a batter according to WPA, and it was 10 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversaries or “day-versaries” (which are things that occurred X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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