I’ve been running this feature for a while now. This is my fourth full season of doing it. For three seasons, the season-long competition has gotten little attention. Generally the huge majority of the conversation is on the individual games. This is usually the domain of the conversation about the Player of the Game. Clicks notch up when a close game happen and click up a lot when a big comeback happens. There is some occasional morbid curiosity about who finishes last in the season-long competition.
But Frank Schwindel has made it into regular conversation. Ironically, I just named the award as the Rizzo Award. I’d said more than a year ago that when his time as a Cub is up, I’d be naming it for him. Anthony Rizzo finished first in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019. He finished third in 2016. He also has the highest ever season score (2015: 65.5). The award is rightly named in his honor. I would put it at more than a passing chance that if I ever went back and scored the 2013 season, he’d win that one too. He had such a dominant and consistent run as the best hitter on the Cubs team. I do on some level wish he’d re-sign with the Yankees. And that is for one reason, and one reason only. I’m hopeful that the NY media would fall in love with him the way we did. That they would amplify further the off the field things he does and also recognize how well rounded his talents are. Because there are so many good first basemen, Anthony Rizzo is wildly underrated.
So it’s fun to me that Schwindel is getting so much attention. The 28 points he has put up since the start of August are a reminder of just how fast one can pile up points. The unofficial record for this metric is Barry Bonds’ 2004 season. Admittedly, I haven’t done a ton of research and tried to find other players. I picked that season for it’s absurd unbalance. That season, Bonds had a 104.5 score. Schwindel has shown that this metric scarcely has an upper limit. I don’t think a player could approach a three point per game average. But the Bonds season and this Schwindel season show that a player could approach a point per game.
If I can spoiler-alert you here in the fourth paragraph, I’ll tell you that despite having only one hit in five at bats from the second spot in the order, Frank avoided the Goat podiums. His lead lives to see another day. Patrick Wisdom, who made a similar huge run towards the top earlier in the season before cooling off, was the Superhero. Wisdom probably has the third-best chance of finishing in the top spot with two weeks to play. Schwindel is probably a slight favorite over Kris Bryant. Bryant, of course, has the benefit of being locked in at +26. Schwindel holds the lead at +28. With only 18 games to play, a two-point lead essentially grows in likelihood with each game that ticks off the schedule with him still leading. Wisdom moves back to +17. He has one stretch this year where he had 12 points in 10 games. It would take that kind of stretch to win. He’s also had a couple of bursts where he put up six or seven points in three to five games. Of course, his numbers are very volatile. He’s had those upswings, but also somewhat matching downswings.
2021 is also an unusual season because there is no starting pitcher remotely near the top. Kyle Hendricks checks in at +4, in a three-way tie for 11th place. Not always, but about three quarters of the time, there has been a pitcher in the top three. In both 2016 and 2020, two starters were in the top three. If Craig Kimbrel holds on for third place, he’ll be the second reliever to make a top three performance. Pedro Strop was the first, finishing first in 2018. Kimbrel had a real chance to win this season if the Cubs had kept the team together.
So that’s everything you probably ever wanted to know about the Heroes and Goats leaderboard and historic performance. The game itself was a bit more interesting today than the other two this weekend were. But this series was an easy sweep to see coming. The Cubs had been playing better, but the talent gap between the two teams on the field over the weekend was immense. I might expect the Cubs to win at best two out of 10 if these two just kept playing day in and day out. There is just no comparison between the two teams.
Of course, baseball is fun. Despite that talent differential, the Friday game was tied in the seventh inning and the Sunday game was decided by a single run. Even a very bad team can keep it close against a very good team. We saw that twice in this series with an overmatched Cubs team. But in the end, the best team won all three games. The Giants have 19 games left to play and they have a 2½ game lead in the NL West. They have a more difficult schedule than the Dodgers, Fangraphs gives the Dodgers the edge in probability for winning the division. The team that loses out in that race is going to draw a very short stick. Whoever finishes second will host a one-game, do-or-die wild card game. And if they win that, they’ll then have to face the team they lost to in the division race. That’s a tough consolation. I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping the Giants hold out and win that division. I tip my hat to the Dodgers for this run they’ve been on. They run a very good organization and deserve their success. But it is fun to see someone different on top. Maybe the Giants can have a deep run for the first time since 2014.
Let’s get to the numbers. They are pretty interesting on what was a close game. As you’ll recall, the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added) 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. And now, let’s get to the results.
Game 144, September 12: Giants 6 at Cubs 5 (65-79)
- Superhero: Patrick Wisdom (.169). 1-1, 2B
- Hero: David Bote (.158). 1-4, 2B, RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Rowan Wick (.089). 2IP, 6 batters faced, 4K
- Billy Goat: Justin Steele (-.305). 5IP, 26 batters faced, 11H, 2BB, 5R, 4K, L (3-3)
- Goat: Willson Contreras (-.224). 0-4, 3K
- Kid: Matt Duffy (-.140). 0-4, K
WPA Play of the Game: In the fifth inning, with the Cubs trailing by one, Justin Steele faced Wilmer Flores with a runner on third. Flores homered, extending the Giants lead to three. (.190)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Patrick Wisdom had a pinch hit double with one out and the bases empty in the ninth inning, the Cubs trailing by one. (.169)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Frank Schwindel +28 (+2)
- Kris Bryant +26
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Patrick Wisdom +17 (+3)
- Rafael Ortega +14
- *PJ Higgins -9.5
- Matt Duffy -9.5 (-1)
- David Bote -10 (+2)
- Rex Brothers -11.5
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -20
Up Next: The Cubs have an off day Monday. Then Tuesday night, they travel to Philadelphia. The Phillies are trying to stay alive to win a division title in the NL East. The Cubs are scheduled to start Adrian Sampson (0-2, 2.20) in the opener. They’ll face Kyle Gibson (10-6, 3.38). This looks like a fourth straight loss. That hot stretch is getting further and further in the rear view mirror.