Now that I’ve had a little time to catch my breath and get over a disappointing conclusion to the season, it’s time to pick up the pieces and move forward. However, before I can move forward, we have to tie things up regarding the season. This will be the first in a four-part series, looking at the biggest WPA plays of the season as well as the biggest WPA games of the season. Today, I’ll take you through the 10 plays that registered the largest negative WPA scores of the year.
If you suspected that relievers would be victimized on this list, you’d be right. All 10 of the events were registered by relief pitchers. A total of seven different relievers will account for all 10 of the events. Without further ado, let’s jump into it.
#10: Brandon Morrow - June 6 (-.348)
On June 6, the Cubs were at home against the Phillies. The pitching matchup featured Jose Quintana against Aaron Nola. If you followed this feature this year, you know that the Cubs had an amazing record in games started by the elite pitchers of the National League. Anthony Rizzo started the scoring with a second inning home run. Willson Contreras and Javier Baez added an RBI single and a sacrifice fly in the fourth as the Cubs built a 3-0 lead. Steve Cishek allowed a three-run home-run to Aaron Altherr with two outs in the sixth inning (-.307) after relieving Quintana with two outs and two on.
The score remained tied until the ninth inning when Brandon Morrow was summoned. Brandon allowed a single to Altherr. That brought Dylan Cozens to the plate and he hit a two run homer (-.341).
This won’t be the last time this week that you see this game talked about as this was the Jason Heyward game. The Cubs would walk this one off 7-5.
#9: Justin Wilson - September 8 (-.370)
This one was a game played in Washington. The pitchers were Cole Hamels and Jefry Rodriguez. Victor Caratini hit a grand slam in this one in the second inning to open the scoring. The Nationals would score one in the fourth and two in the sixth off of Hamels to cut the lead to 4-3. Kris Bryant added an RBI double in the seventh.
In the bottom of the seventh, Steve Cishek would strike out the first batter he faced but he then allowed a single and a double to cut the lead to just 5-4. At that point Joe Maddon summoned Justin Wilson to face Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper slugged a two run homer to give the Nationals a 6-5 lead. That would be the final score.
#8: James Norwood - July 11 (-.394)
The Cubs were in San Francisco for this one. Johnny Cueto faced off with Mike Montgomery. The Giants sent eight men to plate in the first inning and scored four runs. Jason Heyward homered in the third to cut the deficit to 4-1. Kris Bryant homered in the fifth with Heyward along for the ride to make it 4-3. Javier Baez homered in the seventh to tie the score.
The score would remain tied until the 13th inning. James Norwood got a few cups of coffee with the Cubs in 2018 and in this one he made his major league debut. James pitched a scoreless 12th then retired the first two batters he faced in the 13th. He just couldn’t get the last out. A Brandon Belt walk, an Andrew McCutchen single and a Buster Posey single walked it off for the Giants. That’s quite a trio to face in your major league debut.
#7: Brandon Morrow - March 30 (-.396)
In the season opening series in Florida, there would be a few significant WPA-related happenings. This game saw Kyle Hendricks and Caleb Smith match-up in what looked like a mismatch on paper. Kris Bryant opened the scoring in the third inning with a solo homer. Ex-Cub Starlin Castro would get the run right back with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning. That 1-1 score would remain unchanged until the 17th inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Eddie Butler, who had entered the game with two outs in the 10th inning, retired the first two batters of the inning. 21 outs recorded, a full seven inning relief stint. Eddie has 39 career starts. The longest outing of his career was this relief outing. With two outs, he allowed back to back singles and Joe Maddon brought Morrow into the game to make his Cub debut. It was a short one as he allowed an RBI single to the first batter he faced.
#6: Steve Cishek - August 31 (-.423)
This is another Cubs/Phillies game. This time in Philadelphia. Nick Pivetta started for the Phillies and Jose Quintana for the Cubs. Javier Baez opened the scoring in the fifth with a solo homer. The Phillies got the run back in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out RBI single.
The theme of low-scoring extra-inning games continues. It was 1-1 to the 10th inning. Cishek had retired the final batter of the ninth inning and then went back out for the 10th. He retired the first batter but then allowed a walk-off homer.
#5: Brandon Kintzler - August 19 (-.467).
The Cubs were in Pittsburgh for this one. Yet another Jose Quintana start as he squared off with Jameson Taillon. Kyle Schwarber opened the scoring with a solo home run in the second. (Sad that without looking, I remember exactly how this game went). In the sixth inning, Gregory Polanco had an RBI double to tie the game 1-1.
The score would remain tied until the 11th (I did say this was a theme). Brandon Kintzler pitched the 11th and he retired the first two batters he faced, but the third, Adam Frazier hit a walk-off home-run in this 2-1 Pirates victory.
#4: Randy Rosario - June 21 (-.468)
This one was a Cubs-Reds game in Cincinnati. Matt Harvey started for the Reds against Kyle Hendricks. Javy Baez opened the scoring in the third inning with a two-run double. The Reds opened the sixth inning with a Billy Hamilton walk, but then Hendricks got a strike out and fly out. That’s when the wheels began falling off. Joey Votto walked, Scooter Gennett singled to load the bases and Eugenio Suarez drew the bases loaded walk for the first Reds run of the game.
That’s when Joe Maddon went to the pen. Randy Rosario faced Jesse Winker with the bases loaded and two outs. The result? A grand slam. Rosario would allow three more singles and another run before finally getting the third out. The Reds won the game 6-2 with each team scoring all of their runs in one inning.
#3: Brandon Morrow - May 5 (-.505)
For this one, we have a Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis. Tyler Chatwood was still in the Cubs rotation for this one and he faced Luke Weaver. The Cubs put four runs on the board in the second inning without a home run being involved. There were fives singles however. The Cardinals responded with four runs of their own in the fourth. Their rally involved a walk, a hit by pitch, an error and a double. The Cubs added solo homers by Javier Baez in the sixth and Anthony Rizzo in the seventh to take back control.
The Cubs took that 6-4 lead to the ninth inning. That set the stage for Brandon Morrow. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good day for Brandon. He walked the first batter he faced, then recorded a strike out before allowing a single. That set the table for Marcell Ozuna to upstage Morrow. Ozuna hit a two run double to tie the game. An inning later, Kolton Wong would homer with a man on for a walk off 8-6 Cardinals victory.
#2: Justin Wilson - June 19 (-.695)
This one was from the Cubs-Dodgers Wrigley Field series. Tyler Chatwood was once again on the hill for this one and Kenta Maeda was the opposition. Joc Pederson opened the game for the Dodgers with a home run. Kris Bryant gave the Cubs the lead with a two-out bases-loaded double in the second. Anthony Rizzo added to that lead with a two-out RBI-single of his own in the fourth. Yasiel Puig cut the lead to 3-2 with an RBI-double in the sixth.
The score remained 3-2 until the ninth inning when Justin Wilson was handed the ball for a save opportunity. He walked the first batter he faced. Then one out later he allowed a single. He got a strike out and that brought Kyle Farmer to the plate with two outs and runners at first and second. Farmer doubled and Justin Turner came all of the way around from first with the eventual winning run in this 4-3 Dodgers victory.
#1: Luke Farrell - May 6 (-.908)
2018 was a pretty remarkable year for Cubs WPA. They saw a positive WPA moment of .906 and this negative moment at .908. It was a year where if you stopped watching before the final pitch, you may have missed something. You may recall that we already covered the May 5 game. It was a nightmarish trip to St. Louis in early May. In this one, Jon Lester and Michael Wacha matched up. Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs an early lead with a first inning sacrifice fly. Jedd Gyorko tied the game back up with a solo homer in the second. Kris Bryant lead off the fourth a homer of his own to give the Cubs the lead again. Kolton Wong’s RBI-triple in the sixth tied things at 2-2. It stayed that way until the 14th inning. In the top of the 14th, Javier Baez hit a solo homer (this will not be the last time we talk about this event in this series).
In the bottom of the 14th, Joe Maddon summoned Luke Farrell, who promptly struck out the first two batters he faced. Then with two outs in the 14th, Harrison Bader had an infield hit. That brought Dexter Fowler to the plate. Fowler generally had an abysmal 2018 season marred by injuries and ineffectiveness. But on this day, he experienced neither as he delivered a two-out, two-run, walkoff home run.
Relievers almost never get to be on the positive side of the WPA Play of the Game, but as you see here they are given ample opportunity to be on the wrong end of it. Brandon Morrow was victimized three times, but of course the closer will be put into these situations more than any player on the team. Thus, he was victimized three times in only half a season. Justin Wilson appears twice, one of those was in an attempt to close out a save of his own.
But it isn’t only closers we see here. We see names like Luke Farrell, Brandon Kintzler, Randy Rosario and James Norwood. Five games blown by guys who seemed unlikely to see leverage situations for the Cubs in 2018. I take two things from that. One, no matter how good your bullpen looks on April 1, May 1, June 1 or even July 1, almost all bullpens are in a constant state of flux. The second is that these games highlighted the Cubs offensive woes. Six of the 10 losses were in extra innings. A couple of them were 1-1 games well into extra innings.
For a team that was built initially around offense, this team really struggled in 2018 at pushing a run across the board when it really needed to. Early in the Cubs rebuild, Tim and I used to have conversations about secondary consequences. In those instances, we were usually talking about defense. Bad defense is a fact of life in the minor leagues, but an error or even just a play with a little difficulty that isn’t made can extend an inning for the pitcher. More pitches thrown in a single inning can wear down a pitcher and might be a factor that leads to pitcher injuries. In this instance, I talk about unintended consequence, because some of these long games may have contributed to a Cubs team that once again appeared to run out of gas late in the season. Also, the March 30 game in which Brandon Morrow warmed up on multiple occasions may have contributed to the injuries that ended his season.
Next time, I’ll visit the 10 biggest positive WPA events of the season. That one is sure to leave a better taste in your mouth. As always, thanks for reading.