As I close the door on the 2018 season here at Heroes and Goats, we take one last look. Finally, we’ve visited all of the bad. Today we talk about the 10 games that produced the best positive WPA game scores. This list has a little of everything. Five hitters and five pitchers. A blend of starters and relievers. Scores that are built largely upon a single moment and scores that were built up over multiple at bats or innings pitched. Games from March through September. This list is by a wide margin the most diverse of the four reviews we’ve had.
With that, we get down to business. Let’s take a look back at the ten highest WPA game scores produced by Cub players in 2018.
#10: Kyle Hendricks - April 26 (.443)
Much was said about the poor first half Kyle Hendricks had in 2018, but not all of the starts were poor. This one was a gem from April against the Brewers in a game at Wrigley Field. Chase Anderson was the opposition. The game was a scoreless tie until Kyle Schwarber stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth and took care of that with one swing of the bat.
Kyle would go back out for the seventh inning with a 1-0 lead and though he did allow a two-out single and a stolen base, he finished seven scoreless innings. Kyle allowed just four hits and no other base runners. Ryan Braun had a two-out double in the first and Domingo Santana had the two-out single and stolen base in the seventh. Those were the only two base runners who got past first base. Kyle struck out five.
Carl Edwards threw a perfect eighth and Brandon Morrow worked around a couple of singles in the ninth inning, aided by Christian Yelich grounding into a double play, to notch the save and the 1-0 win for the Cubs.
#9: Jose Quintana - April 28 (.469)
In the very same series as the Hendricks start, Jose Quintana got to face a Brewers team that he has been very dominant against through his career. This one was no exception. Junior Guerra was the opponent in this one. Jose started this one with three perfect innings. Then Javier Baez followed a two-out single by Albert Almora Jr. with an RBI double go give the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
Q worked around a lead-off double and wild pitch in the fourth and then was perfect in the fifth. He issued a walk in the sixth but escaped with the lead intact. Javier Baez made an error in the seventh, but Jose responded with a pickoff. A two out single went nowhere and this one was 1-0 heading to the bottom of the seventh.
Tommy La Stella had a two-run single following a single and double to start the seventh inning and the Cubs had a 3-0 lead. Tommy was pinch hitting for Quintana whose day was done. Seven scoreless innings of two hit, one walk baseball. Pedro Strop retired the next four Brewers and the Brian Duensing and Steve Cishek each recorded an out to finish off another shutout. This was part of a four-game April sweep of the Brewers by the Cubs in which the Cubs allowed just two runs.
#8: Javier Baez - September 13 (.474)
This was for reasons not entirely having to do with the fantastic game played on the field, one of the most talked about games of the 2018 season. This was the game the Cubs had to fly back to Washington for in the middle of their never ending stretch of games to end the season. It is a horrible irony that in the first year of a new schedule that was designed in part to reduce the number of times a team has to go through one of these long stretches that the Cubs had their season derailed, at least in part, because of one. To be sure, there were other issues that lead to their demise, but this certainly didn’t help.
Mike Montgomery got the start in this one against Joe Ross. The game was scoreless until Spencer Kieboom hit a solo homer in the third. But the Cubs bounced right back. Javier Baez had a one-out RBI double (.145) and then scored on a Victor Caratini single for a 2-1 lead. After Montgomery allowed a lead off single in the fifth inning, Jesse Chavez was summoned. He retired the first batter he faced, but after a single he allowed a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
Baez batted with one out in the sixth and untied the game with a solo homer (.172). Unfortunately, Carl Edwards walked Victor Robles with two outs and then Robles stole second and scored on a Trea Turner RBI double to tie the game at 3-3.
The game remained tied until the 10th inning. That’s when Kris Bryant had a one out double and Daniel Murphy followed with a single to put runners on the corners with one out and bring Javy to the plate one more time. Javy had an infield hit to put the Cubs up 4-3 (.177). The Cubs would load the bases but then Pedro Strop grounded into a double play, effectively ending his season. Randy Rosario nailed down the win with a perfect 10th.
On the day, Javy had three hits in four at bats, drew a walk, scored two runs, drove in three and had a home run. Had the season ended differently, this might have been one of the signature games in an MVP season.
#7: Cole Hamels - August 17 (.483)
The Cubs visited the Pirates for this one. The pitching match-up featured Cole Hamels and Trevor Williams. Hamels worked around a single and a walk in the first with the aid of a double play. Kyle Schwarber then hit a solo homer in the top of the second. Hamels worked a scoreless second thanks to a double play. In the third, Hamels allowed a single, but faced only three hitters after another double play.
In the fourth inning, the Pirates had two singles and a stolen base but Hamels worked around the trouble to keep them scoreless. Hamels had a perfect fifth inning. But then in the sixth he allowed a single followed by... a double play (that’s four). Cole also pitched the seventh inning. With one out, he issued a walk but then coaxed his fifth double play grounder of the day. That finished the day for Hamels. He did allow five hits and two walks plus he hit a batter. But on the heels of five double plays and three strikeouts, he held the Pirates scoreless.
Brandon Kintzler threw the eighth inning. He allowed a single, but got a line drive double play to get out of that inning. Steve Cishek pitched the ninth. He allowed a lead-off single and a wild pitch. But one out later, he issued a walk and then the game ended with the seventh double play of the game. The Cubs became only the third team to ever record seven double plays in a nine-inning game and the first since 1969.
#6: Javier Baez - June 26 (.525)
This was a Cubs road game against the Dodgers. Jon Lester and Ross Stripling was a fantastic pitching match-up on paper as Jon Lester was one of the best pitchers in the National League in the first half and Stripling was off to a great start after moving into the Dodgers rotation.
Javier Baez had a one out double with a runner on first (.088) in the top of the first, but the runner was Ben Zobrist and he was unable to come around to score. Two strike outs and the Cubs failed to score. The game made it to the bottom of the second scoreless before a single, a stolen base and another single gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
In the third inning, Baez batted again with two outs and a runner on first. He singled (.024). Once again, the Cubs failed to cash in. It remained 1-0 heading to the fifth inning when Javy batted with two outs and the bases empty. He launched a home run to tie the game (.157). Lester allowed a single, a wild pitch and then two more singles to yield his second run.
But the Cubs bounced right back in the top of the sixth. Willson Contreras lead off with a single. One out later, Ian Happ reached on an error that put runners on second and third. Addison Russel had an infield hit to tie the game at 2-2. One out later Ben Zobrist came through with an RBI single to put the Cubs ahead. Jason Heyward then drew a walk and Javier Baez came up with the bases loaded. He had his fourth hit in six innings. This one was a Grand Slam (.258). In six innings, Javy had four hits, two home runs, a double, five RBI and two runs scored and the Cubs had a 7-2 lead.
Lester only lasted five innings in this one before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning rally. But Steve Cishek worked two scoreless innings allowing just one walk. Contreras added a two-out RBI single in the eighth. Anthony Bass gave back two runs in the eighth, both were inherited runners left by Brian Duensing who allowed a one out single and walk. Bass allowed a couple of stolen bases, a wild pitch and a single. Albert Almora Jr. added an RBI single in the ninth and the Cubs won this one 9-4.
#5: Anthony Rizzo - September 3 (.578)
The Cubs visited Milwaukee for this one. Cole Hamels and Zach Davies locked up in this one that we did cover earlier in this series. Rizzo got right to work in this one, batting with Javier Baez on first and one out. Rizzo singled to center and Javier Baez realized that with a shifted infield, he had a fairly clear path to third and kept right on going despite Lorenzo Cain getting to the ball quickly in center. Cain threw towards third but the throw got away and Baez came all the way around to score (.098).
It was 1-0 Cubs when Rizzo batted in the third with one out and a man on first. He had his second single of the game (.019) but the Cubs failed to score. In the fifth inning, the Brewers used a single, a balk, a Cain RBI-single, a Cain stolen base and a Christian Yelich single to plate two runs. Rizzo lined out to start the sixth (-.037).
With the Brewers leading 2-1 and every win being precious by this point in the season, Craig Counsell turned to Josh Hader to start the sixth. He threw two perfect innings to start his outing then went back out for the eighth. He walked Ian Happ, ending a string of 12 straight Cubs retired by Brewers pitching. But Hader struck out the next two hitters. Ian Happ stole second to get the tying run in scoring position. But it didn’t end up mattering as Anthony Rizzo launched the first home run Hader ever allowed to a left handed hitter in the majors (.498).
Unfortunately, Carl Edwards Jr. walked in a run in the eighth after allowing two singles and two walks. Christian Yelich ended up walking this off with a bases loaded single off of Jesse Chavez in the bottom of the ninth after the Brewers loaded the bases off of Steve Cishek.
On the day, Anthony Rizzo had three hits, including the homer off of Hader. He drove in two and scored one. If WPA took into account the opposing pitcher, this might have been the highest WPA event of the Cubs season. Hader was mostly unhittable by anyone, but particularly against left handed hitters.
#4: Luke Farrell - June 2 (.606)
One of the most unlikely Cubs to appear on this list shows up here. This one was a match-up of Mike Montgomery and Jacob deGrom. deGrom will likely win his first NL Cy Young, to be announced next week. This one was in New York.
The Cubs actually managed to get three singles in the first but deGrom struck out three and the Cubs scored no one. That would be the last Cub hit until the sixth inning as deGrom faced only one over the minimum in-between, that one being a walk. But in the sixth inning with the game scoreless, Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo had three consecutive singles to start the inning. The last one scored Heyward with the game’s first run. A sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk re-loaded the bases, but two strike outs kept the game where it was.
It didn’t take long for the Mets to tie it back up as Michael Conforto homered in the bottom of the inning. deGrom allowed a two-out double to Heyward in the seventh, but no runs. From the eighth inning on, the two teams were in the bullpen. It was the bottom of the ninth when Luke Farrell entered the game. He struck out two batters in a perfect ninth.
The Cubs threatened in the 10th but left the bases loaded. Farrell struck out one in a perfect 10th. He struck out another in a perfect 11th. He finally allowed a single with two outs in the 12th, but that was it for the Mets in the 12th. The Cubs threatened again in the 13th, but couldn’t push a run across. Farrell showed signs of tiring in the 13th, allowing a double, intentionally walking one batter and then unintentionally walking another, but he got out of a bases loaded jam and the game moves to the 14th tied 1-1.
Finally, the Cubs bats woke up. A one out Willson Contreras single got things started and Kyle Schwarber followed with another one. Then Albert Almora Jr. doubled and an error allowed a second run to score on the play and the Cubs were up 3-1. Addison Russell was intentionally walked and then Ian Happ drew a walk of his own. Ben Zobrist had a two-run double, though a third run was thrown out at home. But Javy Baez followed with a homer and it was 7-1. Brandon Morrow worked around a single with help from a double play to close it out.
Farrell threw five scoreless innings allowing two hits, two walks and striking out seven. Five innings of sudden death baseball and he got it done. Farrell ends up with the #4 positive game, the #1 negative event and the #1 negative game of the year for the Cubs. An interesting year for Farrell, who is now a member of the Angels.
#3: Jason Heyward - June 6 (.778)
This game has been talked about a ton as this one game recorded the #3 positive game, the #8 negative game, the #2 positive event and the #10 negative event. A combo platter of Jason Heyward and Brandon Morrow. With that in mind, I’ll keep this one brief. This was the Cubs/Phillies game that matched up Aaron Nola and Jose Quintana. The game reached the ninth inning tied 3-3 and then Brandon Morrow allowed two runs to the first two batters he faced to put the Cubs down 5-3. But Jason Heyward’s two-out grand slam walked it off.
Jason had just one hit in five at bats on the day. But the one hit lands him here as it was a walkoff grand slam with two outs in the ninth, down two.
#2: Eddie Butler - March 30 (.816)
Well, I built this up to be closer than it actually was. Fangraphs has downgraded a number of percentages for pitching performances. Back in March, this game was recorded as a .898 and the #1 event was logged at .901, so this was about as photo finish as it could get for two very different events. Alas, the drama ends.
This was the second game of the year. We talked about it earlier in the week as Jason Heyward popped onto the bottom 10 list with his nightmarish day where he struck out twice and grounded into a double play in three at bats starting in the ninth inning after he came into the game late on a day he didn’t start.
The two teams traded single runs in the third and then this game was tied at 1-1 when Eddie Butler entered with two outs in the 10th. He struck out the first batter he faced. He pitched a perfect 11th with his second strike out. He struck out his third in a perfect 12th. In the 13th, he did issue a lead-off walk, but thanks to a caught stealing he faced the minimum again and struck out a fourth Marlin. In the 14th, he allowed his first hit, but held the Marlins scoreless. He allowed another single in the 15th, but still no one advanced past first. In the 16th, Kris Bryant made an error, but that was it. By this time, this was the longest outing of Eddie Butler’s career. A career in which he’d made a number of starts, but had never recorded more than 18 outs.
He then retired the first two batters he faced in the 17th inning. 21 outs recorded. Seven full innings worth of work. However, he allowed two singles and Joe Maddon called for Brandon Morrow to make his Cubs debut. He allowed a single (#7 negative event of the season) and the Marlins walked it off. But Butler threw seven innings of one run, four hit, one walk, five strike out ball. Truly a superhero performance. Butler would be traded for Cole Hamels later in the year. Those would be his two biggest contributions as a Cub.
#1: David Bote - August 12 (.906)
This is another game that has been talked about at such length that I won’t belabor it here. This was a Sunday night game between Max Scherzer and Cole Hamels. Max was chasing yet another Cy Young and Hamels had been fully dominant as a Cub. The Cubs trailed this one 3-0 heading to the bottom of the ninth when David Bote hit his Ultimate Slam. A grand slam, down three runs, two outs in the ninth inning. All of the drama you can bake into a single event.
So there you have it. The 10 biggest positive WPA games of the Cubs season. Two heroic relief appearances, three dominant starts, three hitters who made a number of contributions to a win and two walk-off grand slams, one of which was by a pinch hitter. So literally people contributed in every possible way. In these 20 individual games, 18 different games were looked at. The Cubs won 10 of them (a .556 winning percentage). Just a bit better than you’d expect.
We won’t always be so lucky, but this list shows that you can’t know when you might get a chance to be the Superhero. Three of these 10 players didn’t start the game and in fact, none of the three appeared before the ninth inning of their game. Heyward made the list in a game where he came to the plate hitless in four at bats previously. That’s one of the great things about baseball. Things can change on a dime and the season is so long that you really need contributions from a great number of players in a great number of ways.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these four looks back at the Cubs season. If you haven’t already, please vote in the poll here to have your voice heard for Historical Heroes and Goats. That poll is still close with a few days left until it closes. I’ll be back next week with the first installments in that series. I’ll be talking about the season that you, the readers, picked. If you are going to be reading, let me know which season should be covered.