Today, we take our second look back at the 2018 season through the lens of Heroes and Goats and WPA. This time, we take a more upbeat look as we look at the 10 largest positive WPA events of the year. This list is exactly what you’d have expected at the start of the season, what with a healthy dose of Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. Sure, that makes sense. Wait, there’s no Kris Bryant and no Willson Contreras? Ok, maybe it’s not quite what you’d have expected. An Ian Happ moment? Yeah, there was one of those in 2017 too, so he has an occasional huge homer. David Bote appears on this list how many times?
(Caution: Spoilers ahead if you just woke up out of a coma and missed the 2018 season.) Not one, but two walk off grand slams in the same year? Wait, what? Jason Heyward appears on this list? As always with baseball there is some of what you’d expect and some totally unexpected events. With that, let’s get into it. Here are the 10 largest positive WPA events of the 2018 season.
#10: Anthony Rizzo - July 13 (.397)
The Cubs visited the San Diego Padres for this one. A classic pitcher’s duel on paper of Clayton Richard and Tyler Chatwood. The Padres scored a run in the first to take an early lead. Ian Happ had a two-run bases loaded single in the second to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Chatwood allowed a two-run homer in the second and it was 3-2 Padres. Kris Bryant delivered a two out RBI double in the fifth to tie the game. Carl Edwards Jr. allowed a two-out RBI single in the eighth and the Padres were once again in front.
The Padres sent Brad Hand, who notched 32 saves for two teams in 2018, to the mound. Hand retired the first two batters he faced and the Cubs sent Victor Caratini to the plate. Hand hit Caratini with a pitch and Joe Maddon sent Jason Heyward in to run. That move payed off when Anthony Rizzo doubled scoring Heyward all of the way from first with the tying run. The Cubs went on to win this one in 10 innings when Javier Baez singled, stole second and came all of the way around to score on a couple of errors.
#9: Javier Baez - July 8 (.411)
The Cubs were at home against the Reds for this one. Jon Lester was on the mound and his opponent was Luis Castillo. The game was scoreless until the second inning when Addison Russell had a two run double. Lester would surrender a run in the third and two in the fourth on a Eugenio Suarez homer to give the Reds a 3-2 lead. Addison Russell drove in his third run of the game in the fourth inning on a fielder’s choice grounder to tie the game at 3-3. But Billy Hamilton walked, stole second and scored on a pair of errors on the play to put the Reds back on top 4-3.
It remained 4-3 until the seventh inning. Michael Lorenzen started the inning for the Reds and retired the first two hitters he faced. Albert Almora Jr. had a two out single. The Reds brought in Kyle Crockett who allowed a single to Jason Heyward. That brought Javier Baez to the plate against David Hernandez. Javy came through as he did so often in 2018. He lined a single that scored Almora with the tying run. Jason Heyward also came all of the way around thanks to an error by Scooter Gennett and Javier Baez made it all of the way to third (where he was stranded).
Brandon Morrow surrendered an Adam Duvall homer in the ninth to tie the game at 5-5. At -.342, this just missed the bottom 10 events of the season. But this one does have a happy ending. In the bottom of the 10th, Willson Contreras walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. One out later, Ian Happ was intentionally walked. Addison Russell then reached on an error by Joey Votto. That brought David Bote to the plate for the walk-off walk.
#8: Javier Baez - May 6 (.419)
The Cubs were in St. Louis on May 5. We discussed this game yesterday. This was a game started by Jon Lester and Michael Wacha. The game made it to the 14th inning tied 2-2. Javier Baez batted with two outs in the top of the 14th inning and hit a solo home run. Unfortunately, this was the game that Luke Farrell allowed a two-run walk-off home-run to Dexter Fowler.
#6 (tie): David Bote - August 24 (.423)
Once again, this one is a Cubs/Reds game. Again, this one was at Wrigley Field. Alec Mills got a start in this one against Matt Harvey. After a scoreless first, Mills allowed back to back doubles to start the second inning and the Reds had an early 1-0 lead. It stayed that way until the sixth inning when Javier Baez had an RBI-single with the bases loaded to tie it at 1-1. Daniel Murphy hit a home run in the eighth to give the Cubs the lead. Unfortunately, Pedro Strop allowed a solo home run leading off the ninth inning (yet another just missed the bottom 10 moment at -.342).
This one makes it a perfect four for four on the list with an extra inning game. It was 2-2 to the bottom of the 10th and the Reds sent their closer Rasiel Iglesias to the hill. He retired the first batter he faced, but that brought David Bote to the plate. Bote launched a walk-off home-run. Two Bote walk-off hits in the first four games we look at. And we aren’t done...
#6 (tie)/#4: Anthony Rizzo .423/David Bote .476 - July 26
From a WPA standpoint, this was easily my favorite game of the year. If you would vote for either of the walk-off grand slams, I totally get that. WPA loved those two obviously. But this one was fun for me because it had two of the top events of the season in one game. In one inning. Consecutive batters!
This was a game that pitted Tyler Chatwood against Zack Godley in a Cubs/Diamondbacks game at Wrigley Field. The game was scoreless to the bottom of the second when Kyle Schwarber had an RBI single. Reading Fangraphs boxscores and not going to look back at a recap can be fun. This inning is the perfect example. Willson Contreras singled to start the inning. Ian Happ flew out (no mention of tagging up by Contreras). Schwarber followed with a single to right that scored Contreras.
Alex Avila hit a two-run homer to give the Diamondbacks a 2-1 lead. The game went haywire in the fifth however. The Diamondbacks parleyed three Chatwood walks into a grand slam off of Brian Duensing to jump out to a 6-1 lead. The Cubs bounced back though with three straight one out singles off Godley to plate a run. A fielder’s choice grounder brought a second run in. Kyle Scwharber doubled and scored on two wild pitches by Godley in the sixth to cut it to 6-4.
That’s where the score was heading to the ninth. Brad Boxberger who recorded 32 saves for the DBacks headed out for the ninth with the two run lead. Ben Zobrist drew a walk to start the inning and the Javier Baez flew out. That brought Bote to the plate. He smacked a home run to tie the game (.476). As I recall, Anthony Rizzo then hit the very next pitch for a walk-off home-run.
#5: Ian Happ - September 14 (.457)
Pardon me if your head is spinning after both a sixth place tie and then a game where the sixth and fourth biggest WPA events of the year both happened, but it felt right to cover the whole game in one entry. This game not only features another Cubs Reds game at Wrigley Field, but Matt Harvey was on the mound. This time against Cole Hamels. This game was scoreless until the fourth inning. That was when the first two Reds hit home runs against Hamels to give them a 2-0 lead.
The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the seventh. David Hernandez is once again in the wrong place at the wrong time for a Cubs comeback. He allowed a Caratini single. David Bote then reached on a fielder’s choice and error by Eugenio Suarez. Tommy La Stella then reached on a fielder’s choice recording the first out of the inning. That brought Ian Happ to the plate. He hit a three-run home-run to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. The Reds would threaten against Jorge De La Rosa who ended up notching his first ever MLB save.
#3: Anthony Rizzo - September 3 (.498)
This one was against the Brewers in Milwaukee. Zach Davies started for the Brewers and Cole Hamels is once again the Cubs starter. The Cubs scored a run in the first on an Anthony Rizzo single. The run was Javier Baez scoring from first with the assistance of a throwing error by Lorenzo Cain. Cain had an RBI single in the fifth, followed with a stolen base and then scored the go ahead run on a Christian Yelich single.
It was 2-1 heading to the eighth inning when Josh Hader went out for a third inning of work after two perfect innings. He walked Ian Happ to start the inning. He bounced back with two strike outs but then allowed his first ever major league home run against a lefty hitter when Anthony Rizzo took him deep.
Unfortunately, Carl Edwards surrendered the lead in the eighth with a bases loaded two out walk. The Brewers would go on to walk it off when Christian Yelich singled with the bases loaded and two outs against Jesse Chavez after they loaded the bases off of Steve Cishek.
#2: Jason Heyward - June 6 (.829)
This was a home game against the Phillies. Jose Quintana and Aaron Nola faced off. We did cover this game yesterday as well. This was a game that Brandon Morrow allowed a single and a walk to open the ninth after being brought into a 3-3 game.
The Cubs went to the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-3. As I recall, Seranthony Rodriguez was riding quite a hot streak into this game and he had already pitched a scoreless eighth when he went to the hill for the ninth. He walked Kyle Schwarber to start the inning but Javier Baez struck out. Albert Almora Jr. singled and then Ian Happ walked. (Two things you will read about on Twitter and the internet is how unclutch the Cubs are and how much trash Ian Happ is. But he was involved in a lot of these comebacks. Not saying it means anything, but I still believe Ian is going to put together a decent career. The flashes are there). Ben Zobrist grounded into a fielders choice at home, leaving the bases loaded, but leaving the Cubs down to their final out.
By this time, Adam Morgan had been on the hill for the Phillies. He’d walked a batter but induced that key grounder. That brought Jason Heyward to the plate. Jason walked it off in grand fashion. In any normal year, this would have been the WPA Play of the Year.
#1: David Bote - August 12 (.906).
This is almost certainly the most written about game of the 2018 season and deservedly so. I don’t have to set the stage a lot of this one. This was Nationals/Cubs. Sunday Night ESPN game. Cole Hamels (yet again) and Max Scherzer. After a second inning Nationals sacrifice fly gave them a lead, this one remained 1-0 to the ninth inning.
The Cubs sent ex-National Brandon Kintzler to the mound to try to keep it right there but he allowed a one out triple and an unintentional walk followed by an intentional walk to Bryce Harper. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a two run single. Justin Wilson then came on to record the final two outs.
Ryan Madson retired the first man he faced but then he allowed a single to Jason Heyward. Albert Almora was hit by a pitch. Kyle Schwarber then fouled out. Willson Contreras in the middle of a horrible slump followed and he too was hit by a pitch. And that brought none other than David Bote to the plate. David Bote had his crowning moment in a literally unbelievable season as he hit a grand slam and then flew around the bases to be part of one of the more raucous celebrations you’ll ever see on a baseball field.
I was struck this morning finding the pictures of that moment at just how many fans were still at Wrigley Field. This game was a classic, but the narrative was clear. Max Scherzer, on the way to yet another Cy Young (until he wasn’t), outdueled Cole Hamels who was having a phenomenal run to start his Cubs career. It was late, and it looked pretty hopeless. I had looked at tickets to this game and the morning after, I was a little sad that I hadn’t gone, but in no way do I believe I’d have still been there for this moment had I gone. Kudos to all of you who were there and who did stay. I am sometimes critical of Wrigley Field and how quickly it can become a mausoleum of terror when things are going badly. But on this night, the pictures show that a large majority of the crowd was still there to witness this epic event.
So there we have it. The top 10 positive WPA events of the season. In the negative events, the relievers were victimized, with all 10 events being scored by relievers. The top 10 positive events is of course a showcase of the hitters.
The Cubs, sadly, only won eight of these games. They won one of the bottom 10, so they won just 9 of these 20 games. The expectation would be for 10, so this is a little disappointing, especially in a season that came down to just a single game. It was easy to think while I was writing up those bottom 10 moments that the Cubs had let a good handful of games slip through their fingers. Of course, any one of them would have changed the whole complexion of the playoffs.
But don’t lose sight of what today’s stories tell us. The Cubs flat out stole a few games. Not even covered here is the grand larceny that occurred in a mid-April game against the Braves at Wrigley Field. The Cubs absolutely stole same games that likely should have been losses. Also remember that the Cubs weren’t playing very good baseball the last few weeks of the season. The Brewers were red hot. It’s possible that a few days off and home field advantage would have changed things, but it is far from a forgone conclusion that even if the Cubs had won the division they’d have advanced to a fourth straight NLCS. Instead, they got an extremely short postseason appearance, but the longest off-season since the 2014 season. Hopefully, they’ll return rested and motivated.
Next time I write, I’ll be back on the negative side of things. We’ll look at the 10 largest negative WPA game scores of the season. As we turn to full game scores, things will mix up a bit. There will see starters and relievers and even a hitter mixed in. Until then, thanks for reading and I’ll leave you with a poll.
Which of these games was your favorite?
This poll is closed
David Bote’s walk-off slam trailing 3-0
Jason Heyward’s walk-off slam trailing 5-3
Anthony Rizzo’s homer off of Josh Hader
Bote and Rizzo homer on consecutive pitches to walk it off