Well, here in the Heroes and Goats department of Bleed Cubbie Blue, this was hands down the performance of the year. Long time followers of this series know that at the end of the year, I bring you a list of top 10 and a bottom 10 games by WPA. I track scores +/- .400. To date, there had been no scores over .400. I certainly wasn’t believing that trend would hold. But I did mentally wonder a little bit what I would do if there were not 10 scores that made it above that lofty plateau.
I’m going to let those of you who don’t peek ahead and go look at one of the sources that post WPA numbers, and not tell you just how high Marcus’ Stroman’s score was. I will give it context up here though. Not since 2018 has there been a score higher than Stroman’s was. That year, amazingly there were three games higher than Sunday’s score. None of those three games were recorded by players currently on the Cubs and only one is still in the organization.
On March 30 of that year, Eddie Butler scored an .898. That was the crazy opening series in Miami when Butler threw seven innings in relief. He was actually the losing pitcher in that game, or the number would have been even higher (though he wasn’t on the mound for the losing run, so he didn’t get the biggest WPA dip).
On June 6, Jason Heyward would come up a little bit short of that game (.767). That night, Jason had a walk off grand slam. The Cubs had been down by two and they won by two. Brandon Morrow effected both of those games by being on the mound when late runs were scored. An interesting coincidence. At the time of this game, he had a 1.74 ERA, so it’s not like he was doing terribly.
But the highest score that year and highest score I ever recorded was by David Bote on August 12. I think most long time Cubs fans know that one well. This was the duel between Cole Hamels and Max Scherzer on Sunday Night Baseball. Bote hit a pinch hit walkoff grand slam with two outs in the ninth and the Cubs down three. The ultimate event. (.901)
So there’s the context for this game. Those three are the only Cubs games that I have tracked that have higher WPA scores than today’s game by Marcus Stroman. How odd that all three happened in one season. This organization was still producing some magic into 2018. This one was different, though. Eddie Butler’s tight rope walk was the closest thing to this. Seven innings pitched, all in extra innings, produces a massive amount of WPA.
But this game was a throwback to years long gone by. I saw a repost of a comment from Fergie Jenkins that the complete game is dead. Not quite dead, but certainly on life support. Baseball is certainly a different game than when Jenkins pitched. In 1969, Fergie completed 23 of his 43 starts. I always love the contrast. The 30 major league teams completed 36 of 2,430 games. Stroman’s complete game was the 14th in the league this year. There is a chance that there will be a few more completed games this year.
It would be unwieldy to try to adjust WPA to the team you were facing and where you faced them. Certainly, the Rays are human on the road, at 13-10 coming into this game (as opposed to 26-6 at home). But, if one were to account for the relative production of each teams there would be one heck of a multiplier and Stroman would have a runaway best score ever recorded by me.
Obviously, Justin Steele is giving Marcus a run for his money, but I’m certainly not regretting my choice of Stroman as the Cubs top starter in 2023. There’s a lot of baseball to go, but he’s been terrific. I’m so happy for him that he was able to finish this one out. What a terrific win.
After Sunday’s game, I had frustratedly suggested that Matt Mervis should be playing every day. Of course, no player should play every game no matter what. I tip my cap to those who pointed out that I overgeneralized and then ended up landing on a bad point. Also, always good to know some of you are up here reading this, even after a lousy game. Let’s get to three top performances from Sunday’s game.
Hmmm. This might be my toughest effort. Marcus Stroman clearly and definitely gets the top spot. But then what do we do?
I think the second spot has to go to Seiya Suzuki. He had the only hit in the decisive fourth inning. He reached second on an error and then scored after a pair of fly ball outs.
I’m giving Dansby Swanson my third spot. He had a single from the fifth spot. That placement is criminal. I said on Twitter before the game that there is only one absolute in lineup construction. You get your best hitters the most plate appearances. I’m sure Miles Mastrobuoni is a terrific guy. But I pointed out that in a close game, the nightmare scenario is Miles getting an extra plate appearance while Dansby watched from the dugout. That exact scenario played out with Swanson getting one fewer plate appearance. That was also true with Ian Happ and Suzuki each getting one fewer plate appearance.
Game 53, May 29: Cubs 1, Rays 0 (23-30)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Marcus Stroman (.734). 9IP, 29 batters, H, BB, 8K, HBP (W 5-4)
- Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.042). 1-3, R, 2K
- Sidekick: Dansby Swanson (.005). 1-3
- Billy Goat: Tucker Barnhart (-.069). 0-3, K
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.055). 0-3, 2K
- Kid: Miles Mastrobuoni (-.043). 0-3, BB, K
WPA Play of the Game: With runners on first and second and one out in the seventh inning, the Cubs clinging to a one-run lead, Josh Lowe was up for the Rays. Stroman coaxed a double play grounder to short. (.170)
*Rays Play of the Game: Their only hit was a single by Wander Franco leading off the seventh inning. (.071)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: (106 of 108 votes) Patrick Wisdom (Superhero is 36-16... though I may possibly have slightly influenced that one)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- Marcus Stroman +16
- Justin Steele +10
- Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
- Dansby Swanson +8.5
- 2 players tied with +6
- Patrick Wisdom -7.5
- Michael Fulmer/Trey Mancini/Jameson Taillon -10
- Nico Hoerner -11.5
Up Next: Game two of the three game set. It doesn’t get any easier. Shane McClanahan (80, 1.97, 64 innings). He’s slightly less immortal looking solely at his last seven (4-0, 2.20). The Cubs will have the second start of Kyle Hendricks’ 2023 season. The first time saw him allow five runs (three earned) in just 4⅓ innings. He’ll probably need to be quite a bit better than that to give the Cubs a chance to pull off another win.