With Spring Training coming up and the opportunity to write about 2011's games shrinking, I figured it would be a good idea to churn out all the ideas I had for retrospective pieces. Here, we'll look back at the ten most detrimental plate appearances of the previous season, as determined by WPA (courtesy of Fangraphs).
For those of you unfamiliar with WPA, it's pretty much the best stat available for retrospective analysis of how much a plate appearance contributed to a team's chance of winning. It looks at the odds of a team winning before an at bat based on the run/base state, and then calculates it afterward, attributing the difference to the hitter and pitcher. For example, in a 1-0 game in the bottom of the 9th, nobody out, the winning team has a .813 chance of winning. If the leadoff hitter hits a home run, the team that was leading now has a .340 chance of winning. The hitter is credited with a WPA of +.473, while the pitcher receives a WPA of -.473.
WPA is not perfect. The Rays odds of winning are obviously very different even if the base runners and outs are the same if they're facing Scott Proctor in Yankee Stadium, or if they're facing Mariano Rivera in the Trop. Still, WPA is about as good as it gets. We'll look at the 5 worst offensive plays of last season after the jump. Conspicuously absent from the list (and the bottom 10 plays of the year) are Kelly Shoppach, Desmond Jennings, BJ Upton, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, and, surprisingly, Reid Brignac. Even if Brignac's bat gradually bled the Rays chance of winning dry game after game, at least he can say that he never ruined a game in one fell swoop.
Honorable Mention: On August 17th, with the Rays up 2-1 in the top of the 4th with runners on 1st and 2nd, Sean Rodriguez grounds into a triple play. WPA: -.145
This play was far from the 5th worst by WPA, but I had to give it an honorable mention. With the Rays playoff chances looking bleak, they needed every bit of insurance they could get against the Red Sox. Not only did Sean fail to do that, but he also hit into a triple play. Awful.
5) On June 13th, in the top of the 10th inning with the game tied, runners on 1st and 2nd and 1 out, Ben Zobrist lined into a double play. WPA: -.226
You can't really blame this on Ben Zobrist. Not only did he hit a line drive, but also the 2nd out was mostly John "Best Baserunner" Jaso's fault. Still, WPA blames the hitter, not the runner. This one would come back to hurt extra as the Rays would lose in the bottom of the inning.
With the Rays going into this game 8.5 out of a playoff spot and playing perhaps the worst team in baseball, we were in desperate need of a win. Brandon Guyer could've given us a win with a hit of nearly any sort. Brandon Guyer could've prolonged the game by getting hit by a pitch, or taking a walk, either of which would've given the Rays a great chance at winning. Instead, Brandon Guyer grounded out weakly to shortstop to end the game. The Rays ended the day 9 games out of a playoff spot, an insurmountable deficit.
Like the Zobrist double play above, you can't entirely blame Kotchman for this, because although he failed to produce runs, the 2nd out was Ruggiano's fault. Oh wait, turns out it was actually the umpire's fault. This was one of the more bitter losses of the 2011 season, and a classic example of why instant replay is needed.
2) On September 21st, with the bases loaded in a tied game in the top of the 8th against the Yankees, Ben Zobrist grounded into an inning ending double play. WPA: -.288
At this point in the season, every win didn't just matter, it mattered double. The Rays were in a great position to make up ground, what with the Red Sox having lost to the Orioles, and the Rays being in a doubleheader with the Yankees. With a great opportunity to take a commanding lead in the game, Ben Zobrist came up to the plate. The Yankees called on David Robinson (who, in Zobrist's defense, was exceptional all season). With one pitch, Zobrist hit into a double play, ending the threat. The Rays would go on to get swept in the doubleheader, nearly tanking their fluctuating playoff odds.
(Video Not Available)
Sam Fuld was having a wonderful game. He'd gone 4-4 with 3 BBs and a single, advancing to third on a pair of hits. Fuld would then make the worst offensive play of the year-although for some reason video of this play is unavailable, it's pretty unacceptable that Fuld got picked off of 3rd, I mean it's not like he could've stolen home. The super scrappy player made a real boneheaded move here, the worst all year by a Rays player.
Still, given how the rest of this game went, it's hard to really hold this screwup against Fuld. Even though this was the single worst offensive play of the Rays year, many of you will recognize this game for having perhaps the most thrilling and memorable finish of any all year. For those of you who don't remember, you'll just have to wait until the follow up post: The Rays' 5 Best Offensive Plays of 2011, via WPA.