The Top 10 Plays of 2016 According to Championship WPA

Hanley Ramirez had 2016's highest cWPA on Sept. 15.(via Arturo Pardavila III)

Hanley Ramirez had 2016’s highest cWPA on Sept. 15.(via Arturo Pardavila III)

In a recent “Hey Bill” response on his website, Bill James said this about the difficulty of taking in the events of the season with the modern schedule:

Before the longer schedule, there would be three or four days (sometimes more) between the end of the season and the start of the World Series. The sports media used that period to register what had just happened, in the pennant race, before the postseason started. But the longer schedule and the pressure to start the multiple rounds of playoffs eliminated that time–and eliminated that period of registering what had happened in the pennant race in the public’s mind.

The fact is that we only have about 48 hours to digest all that occurred over the past six months. So while we have time, let’s look at how we got to this point and which plays had the biggest impact. To do this, we’ll use a statistic called championship win probability added.

In 2009, Dave Studeman introduced postseason probability added here at The Hardball Times. A few months later, Sky Andrecheck of introduced championship win probability added. While their calculations were different, they both accomplished the same goal by combining win probability added with a value that measured the importance of that game on the team’s probability of winning the World Series. The resulting value measures the impact each play has on a team’s World Series win probability.


For each game of the season, I calculate a team’s probability of winning the World Series twice. This is done by simulating the remainder of the schedule 50,000 times. For the first simulation, I assume the team wins the game in question, while the second assumes it loses that game. The difference in World Series win probability in these two simulations represents the importance of that game. Obviously, more important games will have a higher difference than games of lesser importance. This number is then multiplied by each individual play’s win probability added, which gives us championship win probability added, or cWPA.

The highest possible cWPA in a regular season game would be worth 11.4 percentage points of World Series win probability. This would occur in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and the home team down by two runs with two runners on base, in final game of the season where a win clinches a division championship and a loss results in elimination. Once this perfect storm of events has occurred, the batter would need to hit a walk-off home run. This has never occurred in the history of baseball (although the circumstances were close for Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World in 1951).

Of course, we didn’t come anywhere near seeing this in 2016, since the division races were not particularly competitive. But that’s not to say we didn’t experience memorable plays that had an impact on the final standings. Here are the top 10 biggest plays of the season, according to championship win probability added.

10)Toles hits a grand slam to put the Dodgers ahead in the ninth (0.68 cWPA)

Aug. 31 didn’t start off so well for the Dodgers. Going into the day, they held a two-game lead in the division over San Francisco. A 7-0 loss to Colorado in the first game of their doubleheader as well as a Gianst victory cut their lead to one game. Now, after seven innings in the second game of the doubleheader, the scoreboard read 8-2 in favor of the Rockies.

Los Angeles would score three runs in the eighth and add another in the ninth before Andrew Toles came to the plate with the bases loaded and two out. On the second pitch, the guy who was out of baseball a year ago and working in a grocery store went opposite field and turned a two-run deficit into a two-run lead. Toles’ grand slam increased the Dodgers’ World Series win probability by 0.68 percentage points and their victory put them back up 1 1/2 in the division.

9) Pedroia puts the Red Sox ahead on a three-run homer (0.68 cWPA)

The Red Sox have a history of hitting dramatic go-ahead home runs with two out in the ninth at Angels Stadium. In Game Five of the 1986 ALCS, Dave Henderson staved off elimination with a home run off Donnie Moore. This time, on July 31, it was Dustin Pedoria’s turn to be dramatic. With the Red Sox down by two runs with runners on the corners, Pedroia sent a 1-0 slider over the left-center field fence, giving Boston the lead. The play increased the Red Sox World Series win probability by 0.68 percentage points.

8) Martin hits a walk-off two-run homer (0.71 cWPA)

Just as most of the biggest plays according to WPA occur toward the end of the game, the majority of important plays according to cWPA occur near the end of the season. This is the lone play on the top 10 list to occur before the All-Star break.

On May 24, down by a run with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Mariners were on the verge of having their division lead cut to just a half-game. Facing Leonys Martin with a runner on second, Ryan Madson was able to get ahead solely on off-speed pitches. But on the fourth pitch, with one strike remaining, Madson went off-speed again and Martin sent it into the right-field bleachers. The home run increased the Mariners’ World Series win probability by 0.71 percentage points.

7) Ortiz gives Boston the lead on a three-run homer (0.72 cWPA)

As far as division race drama was concerned, the 2016 season left a lot to be desired. However, on Sept. 11, four teams were within three games of the American League East division lead. The Blue Jays were hosting the division-leading Red Sox that day with the possibility of tying for the division lead. According to championship leverage index, the game was their biggest of the season up to that point (3.4 times more important than the average game on Opening Day).

Neither starter would make it through four innings as the teams saw three different leads erased. The sixth inning displayed September baseball at its finest, with expanded rosters giving Blue Jays manager John Gibbons an almost endless supply of bullpen options. Lefty Aaron Loup fanned Jackie Bradley Jr. for the first out. Then, righty Bo Schultz came on to face Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts, allowing quick singles to each of them. As David Ortiz came to the plate, Gibbons summoned Joaquin Benoit, who had yet to allow a run in his 18 appearances since joining the club at the trade deadline. Ortiz swung over a first pitch change-up, but when Benoit went change-up on the next pitch, Ortiz was ready and gave the Red Sox a two-run lead they wouldn’t relinquish with a home run to right field.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Ortiz’ shot decreased the Blue Jays’ World Series win probability by 0.72 percentage points and the loss dropped them back to two games of the division lead. That’s the closest they would come to Boston for the remainder of the season.

6) Beltre hits a walk-off home run off Madson (0.73 cWPA)

On June 28, the Rangers were ahead by 10 games in the American League West, with an 88.7 percent division win probability. From that point until July 25, they would lose six of 21 games and see their division lead shrink to just 2 1/2 games. That’s when Adrian Beltre had the best game of his career, according to win probability added.

When he came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, Beltre had already hit two singles and a solo home run. However, Texas was down a run with two out and a runner on first. On the first pitch from A’s closer Ryan Madson, Beltre sent a 96-mph fastball into the Oakland bullpen in left-center field. The home run increased the Rangers World Series win probability by 0.73 percentage points and the victory increased their division lead (which they would hold on to the remainder of the season) to 3 1/2 games.

5) Schoop gives Orioles the lead with a three-run homer in the ninth (0.78 cWPA)

Through six frames on Aug. 14, San Francisco had a 7-1 lead over the Orioles, at which point Baltimore had a one percent win expectancy for the game. Baltimore began chipping away at the lead by scoring two in the seventh and knocked starter Johnny Cueto out of the game. The O’s scored two more in the eighth to cut the deficit to two runs. However, their in-game win expectancy at the end of the inning was just seven percent.

Facing Santiago Casilla in the ninth, Baltimore got two base runners on a Manny Machado single and a Mark Trumbo walk before Jonathan Schoop came to the plate with two out. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Schoop placed a hanging breaking ball into the left field bleachers. In addition to making the ghost of Earl Weaver smile, Schoop’s three-run home run kept the Orioles within a half game of the division lead and increased their World Series win probability by 0.78 percentage points. The comeback from a one percent win expectancy was the fifth biggest comeback of the 2016 season.

4) Cabrera hits a walk-off three-run homer in the 11th (0.98 cWPA)

The resiliency of the Mets was truly tested in their Sept. 22 game, just 24 hours removed from having a walk-off home run taken away by Ender Inciarte. Trying to hold a one-run Mets lead in the top of the eighth, Addison Reed gave up a three-run home run to Maikel Franco. However, Jose Reyes would tie the game in the ninth on a two-run homer that was worth 0.57 cWPA. If that wasn’t enough to overcome for the Mets, the Phillies would retake the lead off of Jeurys Familia in the 11th inning.

This would set the stage for Asdrubal Cabrera, who came to bat with his team down by two runs in the bottom half of the inning with one out and two runners on base. That’s when Edubray Ramos left a hanging breaking ball over the heart of the plate. Cabrera knew immediately that it was gone and the game was over, giving a bat flip that would make Jose Bautista proud. The home run increased their World Series win probability by 0.98 percentage points and kept the Mets tied for first Wild Card spot.

3) Kim puts the Orioles ahead with a two-run homer in the ninth (1.00 cWPA)

For a ball club that became just the fifth team in history to reach 250 home runs, the most important may have come from the unlikeliest player. Unlikely, not only due to the fact that his home run percentage (1.8) was the lowest of any of the Orioles regulars, but also because there were rumors that the team may have wanted to part ways with him after his horrendous spring.

Nevertheless, on Sept. 28, Baltimore was two outs away from dropping to two games behind Toronto for the first Wild Card spot and tied for the second spot with the Tigers. After fouling off four pitches from Roberto Osuna, Kim turned on a 96-mph fastball on the inside part of the plate to give his team the lead as well as increasing Baltimore’s probability of winning the World Series by one percentage point.

2) Inciarte robs Yoenis Cespedes of a walk-off home run (1.13 cWPA)

Okay, I admit that I cheated a little here. For the plays on this list, I looked at the difference in World Series win probability before and after the play. By that criterion, this play went down as a simple fly out to end the game. But if you assume the ball would have cleared the fence and ended the game with a Mets victory, then on Sept. 21, Ender Inciarte decreased New York’s World Series win probability by 1.13 percentage points.

Not only was it a fantastic defensive play; the circumstances are what will make it memorable. It was the second straight inning in which Yoenis Cespedes was inches from a home run. In the eighth, he hit a ball headed for the top of the left field wall that bounced off the glove of Matt Kemp, ending up with a double. As we saw with the fourth-ranked play, it didn’t take long for the Mets to bounce back.

1) Ramirez completes Red Sox comeback with walk-off three-run home run (1.22 cWPA)

On Sept. 15, the Red Sox went into the ninth inning down by three runs to New York. A loss would have allowed the Blue Jays to creep within one game of their division lead. Yankees manager Joe Girardi hoped to get through the ninth without having to use his closer, Dellin Betances, who had made an appearance each of the previous two days. But with a runner on first and the top of Boston’s order due up, Girardi was forced to bring him in.

After a walk and two run-scoring singles, Hanley Ramirez came to the plate with his team down by one run. Betances had thrown a breaking ball in nine of his previous 11 pitches, but down 3-1 in the count, he decided to throw a fastball. It appeared catcher Gary Sanchez was expecting a breaking ball, but it didn’t matter because Ramirez guessed correctly and deposited the pitch 426 feet away to the center field bleachers. The home run increased Boston’s World Series win probability by 1.22 percentage points. It also decreased New York’s by 0.77, which would have been good enough for sixth on this list.

To put this all into perspective, during Game Four of the 2015 World Series, Steven Matz struck out Eric Hosmer to lead off the top of the second inning. This seemingly ordinary play was worth 1.31 cWPA, and had a greater impact on World Series win probability than every single one of the 190,000 plays during the 2016 regular season. This isn’t so much to discredit the impact of individual plays over the course of a long season, but to highlight the significance of each individual moment of the postseason.

References and Resources

Dan Hirsch is the creator of The Baseball Gauge and the web designer for the Seamheads Ballparks Database and the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database. He works as a firefighter in Omaha. Follow him on Twitter @DanHirsch.
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5 years ago

Is there a season leaderboard for cWPA?

Daniel Hirsch
5 years ago
Reply to  skyjo

Not for this year, but I hope to have a leader board updated daily next season

5 years ago
Reply to  skyjo

That’s an expert answer to an insiretteng question

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5 years ago
Reply to  skyjo

Lots of green from the Farmer’s Market and it looks great! Your pizzas are always so beautiful. We had Aldi’s near my college and I would definitely take advantage of the bargain prices there! Great looking chili!

5 years ago
Reply to  skyjo

Jeg har ikke set nogle af de 4 film endnu, men de er alle pÃ¥ min “liste”.. Jeg elsker sÃ¥danne film, og hvis de er gode/sjov ser jeg dem gerne igen og igen nÃ¥r jeg bare skal koble fra

5 years ago

How much WPA did Edwin’s HR last night add?

Daniel Hirsch
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Edwin’s HR was worth 2.17 cWPA. But it was Trumbo’s that was worth the most (2.85)

5 years ago

Hi Dan, do you have a list of which players led the majors in total cWPA?

Daniel Hirsch
5 years ago
Reply to  Simon
5 years ago

There must be an error (missing -teen?) in the Beltre HR section. Unless I’m parsing it wrong, you wrote that the Rangers went 15-6 and their division lead shrank by 7.5 games.

I knew the Ortiz and Kim homers would make this list as they happened! Thanks for the article.

Daniel Hirsch
5 years ago
Reply to  Dain

You’re correct. It should read ” they would win just six of 21 games”. Thanks

5 years ago

I don’t tweet, but I’d be happy to test and render an opinion on any and all samples you’d like to send me.

Erhan Yavuz
5 years ago

I hope to have a leader board updated daily next season.

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4 years ago

I’m waiting for the matches