Welcome back as we continue to countdown the biggest WPA games of the year. We are looking at the top 10 positive WPA games and the top 10 negative WPA games. By popular demand, we will bounce back and forth and look at No. 10 negative and then No. 10 positive and then No. 9 and so on. Today, we will actually be looking at the tenth biggest positive WPA of the year.
The game we recall today occurred on August 20. On that Sunday afternoon, the Cubs were facing the Toronto Blue Jays. The Cubs had won the first two games and were looking for the sweep. Albert Almora Jr. had a bases-loaded double in the third inning to send the Cubs out to a 3-0 lead. With Kyle Hendricks on the mound, that seemed like maybe it would be enough. But, the Blue Jays scored single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth, with the last one coming on a Miguel Montero home run.
Koji Uehara started the 10th inning for the Cubs with it still 3-3 and allowed a single, a fly out and an error by Alex Avila. Koji issued an intentional walk to Jose Bautista and induced a Darwin Barney fly out before allowing a Kevin Pillar RBI single to give the Jays a 4-3 lead. Justin Wilson came in and walked the first two hitters he faced to make it 5-3 before getting out of the inning.
Things looked bleak heading to the bottom of the tenth inning, and then one of the weirder half innings of the regular season broke out. Kyle Schwarber reached on a drop third strike. Ben Zobrist followed with a single and Schwarber moved over to third. Roberto Osuna threw his second wild pitch of the inning to score a run and make it 5-4 with Zobrist moving up to second. Anthony Rizzo grounded out to second, moving the tying run to third. Javier Baez reached on another drop third strike as former Cub Rafael Lopez seemed to basically not think of throwing the ball to first to get the out. Javy stole second and Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch.
Today’s Superhero stepped up with the bases loaded and one out and the Cubs down 5-4. Alex Avila lined a single to right field scoring Ben Zobrist with the tying run and Javy Baez with his usual aggressive baserunning slid in safely with the winning run. This one at bat resulted in a WPA of .469. Incidentally, Roberto Osuna’s outing was worth a -.910 WPA. That kind of WPA is reserved for guys who snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A 91% move in the Blue Jays chances of winning means that they moved from nearly certain to win to closing out the loss.
Alex played in 35 games and had 112 plate appearances before going mostly unused in the playoffs. It felt like he was quite productive as a Cub, but then when I look at his numbers, he had an OPS of .750 and an OPS+ of just 96 (4% worse than a league average hitter). Avila is a durable catcher, having appeared in over 100 games in five straight seasons from 2010 - 2014 and then again this year.
I’d list Alex Avila as one of those players who the Cubs would love to have if he wanted to come back. His skills are a pretty good compliment to Willson Contreras and he is certainly capable of filling in during an injury like the one that happened this year after Avila was acquired. Unfortunately, Alex is 30 years old and this is likely his last chance to cash in on a decent contract before he starts being looked at as more of a backup catcher. A left handed hitting catcher with a career OPS of .752 should get a decent look at a starting catcher job somewhere. I expect Alex to look for the best deal he can get this offseason before he might consider chasing a ring later in his career.
Reading through the Al’s recap column and the comments section, the focus of the discussion was largely on the other player the Cubs acquired from the Tigers at the deadline, Justin Wilson The comments weren’t too kind to him. Sadly, Justin never did get it worked out this year. Other topics in the column were Miguel Montero and several people following the Cardinals games as the Cubs had only been in first place a little over a month and were still only up by two games at the end of the day.
That’s it for today. Next week, we’ll be back on the negative side of the ledger, looking at the ninth biggest negative WPA game of the season for the Cubs. As I teased last week, that one will involve a starting pitcher. Of course later this week, I’ll be back with another look at the 1984 Cubs season from a Heroes and Goats perspective. Please tune in for that one as we follow along in the Cubs first division title winning season in Cubs history.