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.
1,000 days since a rare case of coaching interference ends a Rangers rally in the ninth. They enter the frame down four, but score three runs, only to have the game end when an umpire rules the third-base coach touched a defensive player trying to stop him from making a play.
1,000 days since the Padres lose their 10th straight game, yet somehow they are still in first place. The only other team to do that is the 1932 Pirates.
1,000 days since the Red Sox lose to the White Sox in hellish fashion. Boston blows a lead in the bottom of the ninth, with the game concluding on four consecutive walks, the last two of which drive in the tying and winning runs.
1,000 days since Omar Vizquel plays in his 2,832nd game, passing Rafael Palmeiro for the most career games by someone born outside the US. Vizquel, like all shortstops, is from Venezuela, while Palmeiro is from Cuba.
2,000 days since Texas signs free agent hitter Milton Bradley. Texas will be the only place he really lives up to his potential.
2,000 days since the Brewers sign free agent reliever Eric Gagne.
2,000 days since the Nationals sign catcher Paul Lo Duca as a free agent.
8,000 days since Bernie Williams makes his big league debut.
8,000 days since umpire Steve Palermo is shot while trying to help two women in an armed robbery in Dallas.
10,000 days since the 1986 January draft features the following highlights: Boston takes Curt Schilling, the Pirates claim Moises Alou, and the Cubs pick future Rookie of the Year winner Jerome Walton. Those guys all sign. The Orioles pick Jaime Navarro but won’t sign him.
15,000 days since the Mets lose, 1-0 in 13 innings, to the Expos on a walk-off error. Ouch.
1869 Ted Breitenstein, one of the best pitchers to end up with a losing career record, is born.
1891 Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings makes his big league debut.
1891 Hank Severeid, long-lasting St. Louis Browns catcher, is born.
1903 Rube Waddell, the colorful A’s pitcher, first sees the Washington Monument. To verify that it’s real, he tries biting it. Later that day, he defeats the Washington Senators, 1-0.
1910 Miller Huggins, an infielder who later becomes a Hall of Fame manager, has six plate appearances with zero at-bats. He walks four times, hits a sacrifice fly, and lays down a sacrifice bunt.
1911 The Cincinnati Reds enter the bottom of the ninth leading the Cardinals, 5-0, but end up losing, 6-5.
1913 The Yankees trade Hal Chase, the most corrupt baseball player of all time, to the White Sox.
1915 When Brooklyn’s Zack Wheat hits a two-out, two-strike homer to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth against the Phillies, one fan is so excited, he drops dead of a heart attack. The Phillies go on to win, 5-4.
1916 Babe Ruth throws his second straight shutout, defeating Walter Johnson and the Senators, 1-0.
1917 Hank Gowdy, Braves catcher, becomes the first player to enlist in armed forces for WWI.
1918 White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil, who next year will be the point man for the gamblers in the 1919 World Series fix, hits into a game-ending triple play.
1921 Dave Bancroft hits for the cycle. That’s especially impressive since today’s home run is his first since Sept. 23, 1917. It’s also an inside-the-park home run.
1921 Umpires start rubbing baseballs with mud before games to remove the glare and improve the grip on the ball. The mud comes from a New Jersey farm.
1923 The Chicago White Sox sign Ted Lyons. He’ll become a Hall of Fame pitcher and is still the all-time franchise leader in wins.
1923 The Giants score in every inning of a 22-8 win over Philly. This is the first time that’s happened in the 20th century. Ross Youngs gets seven RBI in the game, going 5-for-6 with a triple for New York.
1925 Lou Gehrig begins his consecutive-games-played streak.
1932 John McGraw manages his last game, losing 4-2 to the Phillies. The loss drops New York into last place, which is probably related to his decision to step down.
1934 Hall of Famer Goose Goslin slugs his 200th home run.
1934 Dizzy Dean, who is feuding with the St. Louis Cardinals over money, tells manager Frankie Frisch he has a sore arm. Frisch tells him to go home if he doesn’t want to pitch. This will lead to Dean temporarily revolting on the team and refusing to pitch, though he’ll back down due to a ferocious fan backlash.
1935 The New York Yankees set a record by hitting six solo home runs in one game.
1937 White Sox Bill Dietrich throws a no-hitter, beating the Browns, 8-0.
1939 The Phillies play their first night game at Shibe Park and lose 5-2 to the Pirates.
1941 Mel Ott hits his 400th home run. He’s the first National Leaguer and fourth player overall to reach this level.
1941 It’s the birth of Dean Chance, Cy Young Award winner and one of the worst-hitting pitchers of all time. (According to OPS+, he’s the worst-hitting pitcher with at least 200 games started).
1942 Cubs select Jimmie Foxx off waivers from the Red Sox.
1942 Ken McMullen, a solid third baseman in the 1960s, is born.
1942 Randy Hundley, Cubs catcher, is born.
1943 Stan Musial hits the first of nine career inside-the-park home runs.
1943 Rip Sewell introduces his blooper “eephus” pitch.
1944 Exactly one month since the first time a Washington Senator got six hits in one game, Stan Spence does it again for the franchise.
1945 A teenaged Billy Pierce makes his big league debut.
1952 Slugger Ralph Kiner hits the fifth of eight career walk-off home runs.
1954 Pirates scout Clyde Sukeforth discovers Roberto Clemente playing for the Montreal Royals in Brooklyn’s farm system. They’ll nab him. Sukeforth is also the man who signed Jackie Robinson for the Dodgers almost a decade earlier.
1955 Duke Snider hits three home runs in one game for the second time. He also gets a career high 10 RBIs.
1957 Pete Schneider dies at age 61. He was one of only six 20th-century pitchers to toss 200 innings in his age-19 season.
1961 The Milwaukee Braves trades Billy Martin to the Minnesota Twins.
1961 The Angels lose a heart-breaker to their fellow expansion team, the Senators, 3-2. All three Washington runs score in the bottom of the ninth on only one hit. The Senators’ inning: walk, walk, double steal, sacrifice fly, strikeout—but the runner advances to first on a passed ball and scores on a walk-off double.
1965 Bob Veale ties a Pirates franchise record by striking out 16 men in a game. The previous 16-K performance by a Pirate was also Bob Veale. No other pitcher in franchise history has done it. Until recently, he was also the only man in franchise history to fan 200 in a year. Then came Oliver Perez.
1968 Joe Hoerner sets a record by fanning six straight in relief.
1969 Dick Allen homers in his fifth consecutive game.
1969 Nate Colbert hits his ninth home run as a Padre, passing Ollie Brown as the all-time franchise leader. Over 40 years (and much more than 40 home runs later), he still is the Padre franchise leader in homers.
1970 Bowie Kuhn, the least deserving Hall of Fame inductee of all time, publicly blasts Jim Bouton’s new book, Ball Four, as detrimental to baseball.
1971 Colorful umpire Ron Luciano has a bad day. While calling a runner safe, he accidentally bonks Yankee shortstop Gene Michael on the head. Michael will miss several games while recovering.
1973 Derek Lowe is born.
1973 Bucky Dent makes his big league debut.
1975 Nolan Ryan throws his fourth career no-hitter for a 1-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles, issuing four walks while fanning nine. The game is also his 100th career win. His record is 100-89.
1977 It’s WPA’s favorite Rod Carew game: 0.704 WPA. He’s 1-for-3 with two RBIs, two walks (one intentional) and a strikeout. Twins beat Yanks, 4-3.
1978 Jim Palmer tosses his third straight complete-game shutout. His line in those games: 3-0, 27 IP, 16 H, 0 R, 8 BB, and 10 K.
1978 Pittsburgh releases Jim Fregosi. They pull him in the middle of a game after he made two errors. This ends his playing career, but there is good news, as well. The Angels have just fired their manager, and they’ll snag Fregosi immediately as their new on-field leader.
1979 Robin Yount hits the first of six career inside-the-park home runs.
1979 Andy Messersmith, the game’s first free agent, plays in his last game.
1980 Rube Marquard, Hall of Fame pitcher, dies at age 90.
1981 A’s manager Billy Martin is suspended a week and fined $1,000 for bumping umpire Terry Cooney and throwing two handfuls of dirt.
1981 Carlos Zambrano is born. It’s somewhat fitting he was born on a day when someone is fined for completely losing his cool on the field.
1983 For the first time in four-and-a-half years, Gaylord Perry picks off a runner. The last time he did it: Sept. 26, 1978.
1986 George Brett hits his 200th home run.
1986 Ruben Sierra makes his big league debut.
1988 Draft day. Some guys selected (and the teams that picked them): Astros – Kenny Lofton and Luis Gonzalez; Yankees – Deion Sanders and Fernando Vina (not signed by them); Pirates – Tim Wakefield; Giants – Kenny Rogers and Royce Clayton; Expos – Marquis Grissom; White Sox – Robin Ventura; Mariners – Tino Martinez; Brewers: Alex Fernandez (not signed); Braves – Steve Avery; Dodgers – Eric Karros and, last but not least, Mike Piazza.
1992 Devon White becomes the sixth player to hit a leadoff home run and an extra-inning homer in the same game.
1992 Draft day. Some players selected (and the teams that picked them): A’s – Jason Giambi; Royals – Jon Lieber and Johnny Damon; Expos – Jose Vidro; Tigers – Bobby Higginson; Pirates – Jason Kendall; Marlins – Charles Johnson; Rangers – Rick Helling; Yankees – Derek Jeter; Astros – Phil Nevin; Padres – Todd Helton (not signed); Mets – Darin Erstad (not signed); Brewers – Matt Morris (not signed).
1993 The Expos sign amateur free agent Orlando Cabrera.
1994 Greg Maddux has a weird game. He posts a victory with a complete-game shutout for a 1-0 Braves triumph over the Giants. He does this despite allowing 12 base runners (six walks and six hits) and pitching blind. Pitching blind? Yeah, he lost a contact earlier on the road trip and decided to even it out today on the mound by taking his other contact out.
1995 Draft day picks: Angels – Darin Erstad; Cubs – Kerry Wood; Rockies – Todd Helton; Brewers – Geoff Jenkins; Cardinals – Matt Morris; Blue Jays – Roy Halladay; Giants – Joe Nathan; Expos – Brian Schneider; Mets – Aaron Rowand (not signed) and A. J. Burnett; Yankees – Mike Lowell; White Sox – J. J. Putz; Dodgers – Brad Wilkerson; Mariners – Juan Pierre; Giants – Brad Lidge (not signed), and Tigers – Mark Mulder (not signed).
1996 John Olerud hits his only pinch-hit home run.
1999 Roger Clemens wins his 20th straight decision. His numbers in that spell: 20-0, 30 GS, 5 CG, 211.1 IP, 161 H, 68 R, 63 ER, 73 BB, 240 K, 2.68 ERA. He’ll lose his next contest, though.
1999 Ivan Rodriguez’s longest career hitting streak peaks at 20 games. He’s 30-for-80 with nine doubles and five home runs.
2001 CC Sabathia earns the win despite pitching just four innings. The game is called after five-and-a-half innings due to rain.
2002 Bobby Abreu smacks his 100th home run.
2003 It’s WPA’s favorite relief pitcher performance of the decade, Steve Sparks with a 0.778 WPA. 7.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. He gets the loss, though.
2003 Jose Valverde makes his big league debut.
2003 Charles Nagy appears in his last game.
2004 Derek Jeter has a personal-best 11 total bases in one game: 4-for-5 with two home runs and double. Yankees 8, Orioles 7.
2007 Mississippi Braves manager Phillip Wellman has an epic meltdown when umps eject him in a minor league game. He buries home plate in dirt, throws a few other bases around, pretends to hurl the rosin bag at the umpires like it was a grenade, and fake-ejects the umpires. He earns a three-game suspension, but it sure makes a memorable YouTube video.
2009 The Yankees set a new record by playing their 18th straight game without anyone on the team making an error.
2010 The Tigers trade Dontrelle Willis to the Diamondbacks.
2010 It’s an odd ninth inning in Tampa game. In the top of the inning, manager Joe Maddon is tossed for arguing about Carlos Pena being out on called third strike. In the bottom of the inning, Tampa allows four runs, losing the game despite Toronto getting only one hit. There are also five walks and a wild pitch. Tampa’s pitcher is tossed for complaining that the umpire is squeezing the strike zone on him. Toronto 7, Tampa 6.
2011 It’s a long wait for very little. The Giants lead the Cardinals, 7-5, with two outs in the bottom of the 11th when a bank of lights goes out in Busch Stadium. The game has a 16-minute delay to fix the lights, but it takes just one pitch after play resumes to end things.
2012 Finally! After a half-century and many near-misses, the Mets finally have a no-hitter. Johan Santana blanks the Cardinals. St. Louis outfielder Carlos Beltran hits a double down the line, but the umpire calls it foul, and that’s what counts.