Top 10 Twins World Series Performances Per WPA
Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsWPA tries to put into context an individual play’s impact on a team's odds of winning. So while Kent Hrbek’s grand slam in Game 6 of the 1987 World Series was a great accomplishment, his performance in that game doesn’t crack the top 10. The slam was Hrbek’s only hit in that game, it came in the sixth inning and the Twins were already ahead by a run. That was no doubt a massive play, but the Twins have had some huge performances among their 21 World Series contests.
For more on WPA, check out the FanGraphs glossary. I also like MLB.com’s one-sentence explanation: "Its best use is for deciphering the impact of a specific player or play on a game's outcome." It’s a fun stat, but it has its limitations. For example, fielders don’t get any credit for WPA from key defensive plays.
10. Chili Davis, 1991 Game 3, .303 WPA
Chili only had one plate appearance in this game, but it was a big one. With the Twins trailing 4-2 in the top of the eighth inning, Brian Harper led things off by reaching on an error. Davis came off the bench to pinch hit for the pitcher and Atlanta countered by bringing in Alejandro Pena to face him. Davis swatted a laser beam for an opposite-field homer to tie the game. Unfortunately, the Twins would eventually fall in the 12th inning.
9. Carl Willis, 1991 Game 6, .334 WPA
Willis became the third Twins pitcher to appear in the seventh inning of this game after starter Scott Erickson was lifted and Mark Guthrie, the first man out of the pen, got into some further trouble. The first man Willis faced hit into a force out that scored the tying run from third base. Willis then struck out David Justice to end the seventh and worked scoreless frames in both the eighth and ninth innings to keep the game tied, helping set the stage for ... we'll get to that in a minute.
8. Kevin Tapani, 1991 Game 2, .335 WPA
This was a great bend-but-don’t-break performance from Tapani. He gave up a pair of runs over eight innings, but got outs when he needed them most. He also may have gotten a little help from his first baseman. Wait, let me rephrase that, Tapani was bailed out by Ron Gant, who inexplicably just fell right off first base. Atlanta scratched across runs on sacrifice flies in the second and fifth innings. Scott Leius led off the eight with a go-ahead homer before Rick Aguilera nailed down the save in the ninth.
7. Les Straker, 1987 Game 3, .372 WPA
Straker pitched six shutout innings before exiting this game with a 1-0 lead. He gave up four hits and two walks while tallying four strikeouts. Straker’s position on this list surprised me, but six shutout innings goes a long way toward helping a team win and this was a tight ballgame. Unfortunately, the Cardinals got to Juan Berenguer for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and cruised to victory from there.
6. Frank Viola, 1987 Game 7, .378 WPA
Viola gave up a pair of runs in the second inning, but it was all sweet music from there. He struck out seven Cardinal batters over eight innings while limiting St. Louis to six hits and did not walk a batter. From the end of that shaky second frame forward, he retired 11 consecutive batters. Viola exited the game with a 4-2 lead and Jeff Reardon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close out the victory.
5. Jim Kaat, 1965 Game 2, .393 WPA
Sandy Koufax was incredible in this series, but Kaat managed to outduel him in this one. It was 0-0 until the bottom of the sixth inning when the Twins tallied a pair of runs off Koufax. Kaat gave up his only run of the game in the top of the seventh, but the Twins scored three more runs against the Dodgers’ bullpen to win 5-1. Kaat pitched a complete game, giving up seven hits, all of them singles. He also had a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning to score the team’s final two runs.
4. Mike Pagliarulo, 1991 Game 4, .399 WPA
This is the highest WPA game that came in a Twins loss. Pagliarulo opened the scoring with an RBI single off John Smoltz in the second inning. He added another base hit in the fourth before hitting a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh. So that’s a 3-for-3 day off a future Hall of Famer in which Pags drove in the team’s only two runs of the contest. He was pulled in the ninth inning to avoid a lefty-lefty matchup against Mike Stanton and the Braves won it on a walk-off sac fly in the bottom half of that inning.
3. Mudcat Grant, 1965 Game 6, .420 WPA (pitching + hitting)
What a performance. Mudcat not only pitched a complete game, but he also socked a three-run dinger. Grant didn’t even give up a hit until the top of the fifth inning, after Bob Allison already secured him a two-run lead with a home run in the previous frame. Grant was just the seventh pitcher to homer in a World Series game and only six more hurlers have gone deep in the Fall Classic since. The last to do it was Joe Blanton (Phillies, 2008).
2. Kirby Puckett, 1991 Game 6, .593 WPA
The big moment here was Kirby’s walk-off home run in the 11th inning, but he had an incredible game leading up to that moment. In his first at-bat, Puckett drove in Chuck Knoblauch on a triple. He later scored on a Shane Mack base hit. Puckett then made that incredible catch up against the plexiglass in the third inning (not accounted for by WPA), and delivered a game-tying sacrifice fly in the fifth.
With the game still tied at 3-3 in the eighth inning, Puckett recorded a single and stole second base, though was stranded there. The next time he came up was in the 11th.
And we will see you tomorrow night. Speaking of which ...
1. Jack Morris, 1991 Game 7, .845 WPA
Of course it’s Morris, and it’s not even close. A 10-inning shutout in which the score was tied 0-0 the entire time he was on the mound? We’ll probably never see anything like it again.
Atlanta got a runner to second base with one out in both the second and third innings. They got a man there with two down in the fourth. In the fifth, they had a runner at third with one out. In the eighth inning, they had a man on third with nobody out (hat tip to some Knoblauch deception on that one).
Morris got out of every jam.
When he needed a strikeout, he got one.
The one moment when he desperately needed a double play, he got it.
Morris would not be beaten on that day.
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