Welcome back for another season following our boys in blue. With another season on the field comes another season looking at the Heroes and Goats as identified by WPA.
I think as I approach 45 years old this year, I’m a little bit surprised by the range of thoughts and emotions as today’s game played out. Through three innings, I couldn’t help but think that the season was picking right back up where it left off. Then over the next four innings, the Cubs looked like the juggernaut that they were in 2016.
Of course, the Cubs had plenty of lopsided scores in 2018, particularly in the first half the season. The problem was consistency (and that the highs came less and less often as the season wore on) from game to game.
Consistency. That is always what I strive to bring you here. For those of you not so familiar with my work, that’s what I try to bring to the table. The morning after the worst game of the season, I’m going to be here telling you that everything is going to be all right. The morning after the biggest win of the season, I’m going to tell you that it was just one game and no matter what the score, who the opponent was, it still only counts as one win.
That said, I was right with the Cubs players in being irritated by the 79-win projection for the Cubs in the off season. I know that statistical modeling is difficult and I wouldn’t even begin to want to try to figure out what is going to happen in a sport known for its unpredictability. But it’s hard to not look at 79 wins as a slap in the face. As little as I do know about statistical modeling, if I saw a result that had the Cubs (or any one of about half a dozen other teams) spit out at a losing season, I’d go back to the drawing board. Because I’d know that something was wrong with the model I’d put together.
So again, this was just one win. It doesn’t count extra because they scored 12. So the Cubs are 1-0 like a bunch of other teams. But, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing if the Cubs can harness the killer instinct that has appeared to be missing these last couple of years. This Rangers team appeared to be over matched and with a couple of crafty veterans in Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels to throw over the weekend backed by a potent offense, this looks like a series that is there for the taking.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added — here’s a good explanation of how WPA works) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. Also note, for the purposes of Heroes and Goats, we ignore the results of pitchers while they are batting and hitters while they are pitching. With that, we get to the results.
Game 1, March 28: Cubs 12 at Rangers 4 (1-0)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero: Javier Baez (.254). Yeah, so about that BCB writers roundtable... (for those who missed it, I dismissed 2018 as more than a little fluky). Last year’s MVP runner-up picked right back up where he left off with two home runs and four runs batted in. Any day you want to make that prediction look bad, I’ll wear it happily, Javy!
- Hero: Ben Zobrist (.113). Ben had a single, two walks, and two runs scored in just four plate appearances. When healthy, Zobrist has done nothing but produce as a Cub.
- Sidekick: Jason Heyward (.109). I wasn’t the only one who did a double take when Heyward got the opening day start over Kyle Schwarber. But of course, he then followed that up with a couple of singles through the middle. Against some teams, those will be ground outs into a shifted infield. Today they were not. Jason drove in a run and scored another.
- Billy Goat: Albert Almora Jr. (-.064). Albert was one one of three Cubs with two at bats prior to the explosion of runs. He was hitless in those two at bats and he never escaped the hole, despite a pair of singles, a run and an RBI in six total at bats.
- Goat: Willson Contreras (-.041). Contreras was the only Cubs starter without a hit in the game. He struck out twice in five at bats. He did draw two walks, so at least he was driving a ton of pitch count. One of the strike outs was a borderline 3-2 pitch. He was also caught stealing to end an inning.
- Kid: Kris Bryant (-.037). Like Almora, Kris was retired in his first two at bats, both coming before the onslaught began. But Kris did have a run driven in with a ground out in his third at bat and then hit a two-run homer later. Three RBI games in the Kid spot is usually going to mean good things happened.
WPA Play of the Game: Javier Baez (.187). Javy stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and the Cubs winning 4-2 with two outs in the fifth. His second home run of the game made it 7-2 and the rout was on.
Rangers Play of the Game: Elvis Andrus (.184). Andrus was one of the few Rangers to have a good game. He had three hits including a two-run, two-out home-run in the third to put the Rangers up 2-0.
Up Next: Game two of the young season features Yu Darvish facing off against Edinson Volquez. Volquez hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2017. Darvish also missed most of 2018, so both pitchers will be looking to put last year in the rear view mirror. Darvish who spent the largest portion of his MLB career with the Rangers has never pitched against his old team. Volquez on the other hand has had fantastic success against the Cubs with an 8-0 record in 13 appearances (12 starts) against the Cubs. The Cubs have a historical line of .255/.352/.380 off of Volquez. Hopefully, for the second straight game, the Cubs can get a first-ever win against a pitcher with an unblemished record against them.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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