We’ve look at the 10 plays that generated the lowest WPA scores and the 10 plays that generated the highest WPA scores from the 2018 Cubs season. This week we are going to pull back a little bit and look at the 10 biggest game scores. We’ll see some of the same games again, but there are some new ones. Today, we’ll start that by looking at the 10 largest negative games before concluding this mini-series later this week and closing the door on 2018 from a Heroes and Goats perspective.
So today we look at the 10 largest negative game scores by Cubs players in 2018. For the first time we get a bit of a mixture. The 10 largest negative events were all relief pitchers. The 10 largest positive events were all hitters. Today though we have a couple of starting pitcher performances, some more relief appearances and even a hitter mixed in. Let’s jump right in.
#10: Brandon Morrow - May 5 (-.417)
This one is a re-visit. This was a game in May against the Cardinals in St. Louis. The Cubs jumped out to a 4-0 lead behind Tyler Chatwood off of Cardinals starter Luke Weaver. Chatwood allowed four runs of his own in the fourth. Javier Baez hit a home run to put the Cubs back in front in the sixth inning. Anthony Rizzo added one in the seventh and the Cubs took a 6-4 lead to the ninth.
Brandon Morrow was called upon and issued a walk to Harrison Bader. He bounced back with a strikeout, but then allowed a single to Jose Martinez. That brought Marcell Ozuna to the plate who hit a two-run double. To Morrow’s credit, he got a pop out and a fly out to get out of the inning with the game tied. Unfortunately, an inning later Kolten Wong walked it off with a two-run homer.
#9: Jason Heyward - March 30 (-.423)
This was the second game of the season. After a successful opening day, we get this one. Kyle Hendricks versus Caleb Smith in Miami. This is another revisit game. Brandon Morrow made his debut at the end of a 17 inning game, allowing a walk off single to the first batter he ever faced as a Cub, spoiling the seven inning relief outing of Eddie Butler. Of course, this won’t even be the last time we revisit this game as we’ll talk about it again next time.
Looking at a large negative WPA game for a hitter can lack any real pizzazz. Often, there are no real lightning bolt moments. But let’s look at what landed Jason here. The kicker here is Jason didn’t even start this game. Jason’s first at bat wasn’t until the 10th inning. He batted with the bases empty and one out and struck out. That isn’t particularly remarkable. The Cubs had no base runners between the 10th and 14th innings. Jason was thus the second out again in the thirteenth inning, again with a strikeout.
In the 15th inning, Heyward would bat with one out and the bases loaded. He grounded into a double play first to home (-.344). Two strikeouts and grounding into a double play. For a guy who didn’t start the game, that’s a pretty rough day.
#8: Brandon Morrow - June 6 (-.440)
Another revisit game. This was a game from a June home game against the Phillies. This was a game started by Aaron Nola. The Cubs score a run in the second on an Anthony Rizzo homer and two in the fourth on a Willson Contreras single and a Javier Baez sacrifice fly. The Phillies tied the game up with a three-run homer by Aaron Altherr in the sixth off of Steve Cishek.
The game was tied heading to the ninth when Brandon Morrow came in. Altherr lead off the ninth with a single and Brandon Morrow then allowed a two-run homer to give the Phillies a 5-3 lead. One out later he hit a batter and then walked Phillies reliever Seranthony Domingues. Cory Mazzoni came in and got out of the inning. This would be important, because Jason Heyward would walk this one off with a two-out grand slam.
#7: Yu Darvish - March 31 (-.469)
In tracking these plays of the game and largest game scores, I’ve noted an oddity. There is no explanation anywhere in the pages of Fangraphs. But I make note of these games and track them over the course of the season. This one may have had the largest change of any that I’ve noted. I had this game marked down as a -.424 for Yu, but here is -.469. So this is what I interpret that as. Fangraphs is using some evolving database for the probability of certain events happening. They are surely constantly revisiting the database and tweaking it. These number don’t change mid-season, so know that after the season they are refining their methodology.
As for the game itself, this was Yu’s Cub debut. Obviously, the whole season ended up being a disappointment, largely because of injury issues. But also because Yu wasn’t all that effective when he was able to pitch. This start occurred in Miami. The Cubs had lost in 17 innings the night before, so of course they’d have been hoping for a deep start from Yu. The Marlins had to send Odrisamer Despaigne back to the mound after finishing the game the night before.
Yu hit the first batter he faced and then he allowed a two-run homer to the second. Not a great start. But after Yu retired the final three hitters in the first inning, Willson Contreras lead off the second with a single and then Kyle Schwarber tied the game up with a two-run homer of his own. The game remained knotted at two until the fifth inning. With one out, Jason Heyward singled. Darvish followed with a sacrifice bunt. Then Ian Happ and Kris Bryant had back to back walks. Anthony Rizzo then followed by driving two runs in with a single. There was an error on the play and Bryant came all of the way around to score and make it 5-2.
Unfortunately, Yu couldn’t hold onto the lead. In the bottom of the fifth, he allowed a single, then a walk, then a single. The next hitter had a single driving in a run. Yu got a line drive and then another single, this one by old pal Starlin Castro. This one drove in two runs. Brian Duensing came in and got out of it, preserving the 5-5 tie.
The Cubs did again lead 6-5 after a Jason Heyward sacrifice fly in the sixth. Pedro Strop yielded a tying run in the eighth, but the Cubs did go on to win in 10 innings. Ben Zobrist drove in the eventual winning run with an RBI single after Javier Baez had started the inning with a double and Kris Bryant had a two out three run double. The Cubs won this one 10-6.
#6: Randy Rosario - June 21 (-.501).
Not a lot of great things happened this year when the Cubs traveled to Cincinnati. A team the Cubs have dominated in recent years put up a bit of fight. This was a game started by Kyle Hendricks and he opposed Matt Harvey. This yet another game on this list we’ve talked about in the past. Baez had a two-run double in the third.
It was 2-0 heading to the sixth. Hendricks allowed a walk and a stolen base to Billy Hamilton and then retired the next two hitters. But Joey Votto drew a two out walk and Scooter Gennett followed with a single to load the bases. Hendricks uncharacteristically issued a bases loaded walk to Eugenio Suarez and that was it for Hendricks.
Randy Rosario inherited a 2-1 lead and the bases loaded. At this point, the Reds had just a 43.3% chance of winning the game. A Jesse Winker grand slam followed. Then three more singles, the last by Billy Hamilton drove in yet another run. By the time Randy mercifully escaped the inning, the Reds had a 94.3% chance of winning. (There is some second decimal place math and rounding involved by Fangraphs to make this total -.501.)
#5: Jose Quintana - May 14 (-.542)
In this one, the Cubs are at home against the Braves. Jose Quintana was on the mound. You’ll recall that Jose was completely owned by the Braves. This was one of those games. Ozzie Albies hit a lead-off homer to start the game. In the bottom of the second, with two outs Kyle Schwarber walked and Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer to give the Cubs a lead at 2-1. But Jose would allow a single and then a two-run homer in the third. The Braves were up 3-2. Kris Bryant followed a lead-off single by Tommy La Stella with a two-run homer of his own. The Cubs once again lead.
They held that lead until the fifth inning. In that inning, the Braves got back to back singles to start the inning. One out later, Jose Bautista came to the plate. Jose was once one of the most feared hitters in baseball, but that Jose Bautista was not the one we saw in 2018. However, in this one he lofted what I recall as a wind-aided homer to give the Braves a 6-4 lead. In the ninth, Javier Baez grounded out to start the inning Victor Caratini followed with a single and advanced to second on a passed ball. Kyle Schwarber was walked and then Albert Almora Jr. followed with a single to load the bases. David Bote struck out. But then Ian Happ was hit by a pitch to cut it 6-5. But then Kris Bryant flew out to end the game.
#4: Tyler Chatwood - June 30 (-.591)
We visit inter-league play for this one. The Cubs were home against the Twins with Tyler Chatwood starting against Adalberto Mejia. This game was scoreless through one, but that just wouldn’t last. Joe Mauer had a base clearing double with the bases loaded in the second to give the Twins a 3-0 lead. The score would stay there until the bottom of the third. The Cubs opened the bottom of the third with four straight singles (Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo), the last of which drove in a run and left the bases loaded. One out later Ben Zobrist had a two-run single to tie the game at 3-3.
Almora added a sac fly in the fourth to give the Cubs a brief 4-3 lead, but then a walk and a two run homer put the Twins back on top. If that wasn’t bad enough, a walk, a single, a stolen base and then another two-run single made it 7-4. That was it for Chatwood. In five innings he allowed seven hits, three walks, a home run and seven earned runs.
Alas, he wasn’t the losing pitcher on the day. In the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs added a run on a Zobrist sacrifice fly, a run on a David Bote single, a run on an Ian Happ single, a run on an Almora single and a run on a Heyward single. In total, they had seven hits in the inning, all singles. They plated five runs to take a 9-7 lead. Brian Duensing would surrender those two runs in the top of the sixth. But the Cubs had a second five run rally in the seventh, this one including a couple of doubles, a couple of singles and three walks (two intentional). The Cubs ended up winning 14-9.
#3: Justin Wilson - June 19 (-.649)
We get into really ugly numbers with this Justin Wilson appearance. Once again, this is one we talked about previously. This game was also started by Tyler Chatwood and he opposed Kenta Maeda and the Dodgers in the first game of a double header. Joc Pederson started this game with a home run. But a Kris Bryant two run double in the second gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Anthony Rizzo tacked on another run for the Cubs with an RBI single in the fourth. Yasiel Puig cut the lead to one with an RBI double in the sixth.
The score was still 3-2 when Wilson was summoned for the ninth inning with the Cubs having an 84.2% chance of winning. He walked the first batter, but then got a fly out. He allowed a single but then struck out Yasmani Grandal. That left Kyle Farmer standing between the Cubs and a win. Kyle Farmer hit a two run double. Wilson did get a strikeout to get out of the inning, but by the time he left the Cubs had just a 19.3% chance of winning. The Dodgers did win 4-3.
#2: Pedro Strop - June 24 (-.717)
If you are paying attention to dates, you’ll note that this is the fifth game from June. Interestingly, all 10 of these games happened by June 30 with two in March, three in May and the five June games. Odd. This one was a match-up of Mike Montgomery and Sal Romano for the Reds. This game is doubly interesting (horrifying?) because that garish WPA number didn’t have a single play in the bottom 10.
Even more amazing, this game actually started out quietly. It was scoreless to the fifth inning when Ian Happ and Addison Russell had back to back singles to start the inning. Two outs later Jason Heyward had a two-run double. Javier Baez followed with a single and ended up on second after a Reds error. Anthony Rizzo then capped a five run inning with a two-run homer. Michael Lorenzen homered off of Mike Montgomery, but it was a solo shot and the Cubs still led 5-1. Albert Almora Jr. had a solo homer of his own in the seventh to make it 6-1.
Montgomery had been sailing along other than the homer, so he stared the seventh. He allowed two singles sandwiched around a double and the Reds had cut the lead to 6-2. Still, When Mike left, the Reds had just an 18% chance of winning. Pedro Strop got the call. The first batter he faced was Jesse Winker who hit a three-run homer (-.180). Still, the Cubs lead 6-5, but there were no outs in the inning. Billy Hamilton singled and Strop walked the next batter. Tucker Barnhart had an RBI single (-.177). That brought Joey Votto to the plate in a tie game. He doubled in another run (-.175). Strop struck out the next batter and then intentionally walked Scooter Gennett. A line out registered the second out and then Jose Peraza stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Peraza drew a walk (-.092). That was it for Strop. Two outs recorded, four hits allowed, three walks issued and four earned runs (plus two inherited runners allowed). The Reds held on to that 8-6 lead for the final.
#1: Luke Farrell - May 6 (-.813)
If you’ve followed this whole series, you shouldn’t be surprised to see this game here. This was a Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis. Michael Wacha and Jon Lester were the pitchers. It started out with promise when Anthony Rizzo drove in a run in the first with a sacrifice fly. Jedd Gyorko homered in the second to tie the game at one. Kris Bryant homered in the fourth. Kolton Wong had an RBI triple off of Steve Cishek in the sixth. Neither team then scored until the 14th inning when Javier Baez hit a solo homer that Cub nation felt sure would be a game winner.
But the Cardinals had other ideas. Luke Farrell was summoned with the Cardinals having just an 18.7% chance of winning. Two strike outs to start the inning later and those chances were down to just 4.3%. But Harrison Bader had an infield hit and that brought Dexter Fowler to the plate. He would smash a two-run homer and that was it. A 3-2 Cardinals victory.
So there you have it, the ten worst WPA games of the season. A testament to the Cubs’ comeback nature in 2018, the Cubs actually won three of these games. Given that in six of these games, one player recorded enough negative WPA to lose a game, that’s a pretty impressive number.
Next time we’ll finish this series off with the top 10 positive WPA games of the Cubs season. I’ve not cheated ahead to verify which game ended up on top. With the Fangraphs WPA recalculations, the whole bottom half of today’s list shuffled around. There were two games very close for the top WPA game of the year. If you are not a long time follower of Heroes and Goats, you may be surprised by one of the two top WPA performances of the year. That list will feature five games by hitters, and five by pitchers, making it easily the most balanced of the lists. We’ll see that there are a number of ways to pile up WPA in a game.
Until then, thanks for reading.