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Top 10 Twins World Series Performances Per WPA

With the Super Bowl in town, it feels like as good a time as ever to revisit some of the greatest World Series performances by Twins players. There are a lot of ways someone could attempt to compile such a list, but I’m going to be using a stat called Win Probability Added.
Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
WPA 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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16 Comments

Would be interesting to see how close #2 Kirby would be to #1 Jack if defense was added into WPA. In my mind, the top two are a lot closer than the numbers say.

    • sploorp likes this
I still think Morris Game 7 was the ultimate baseball performance I have watched. Situation, pressure, force of will, and the backing up of his "let's get it on" comment all contribute. Yes I (we) are biased, as well we should be.
    • Blake, beckmt, mikelink45 and 2 others like this

Awesome to see Les Straker on the list. There was so much talk and consternation about who the #3 starter would be. Can you even imagine if they would have needed to try to figure out a fourth starter in the playoffs like teams do today? Uffdah!

 

It's fun remembering these moments!!

    • gunnarthor, mikelink45, mickeymental and 2 others like this
I'm curious where Morris' performance would rank all time?

Fun list!
    • WLFINN and sploorp like this

I love this list.I was at the Morris Puckett games, in fact all the home games in 1991.  

 

Obviously they do not give points for wrestling moves or Hrbek would be high on the list. I was watching this game in a bar in Arizona with all Cardinal fans and I had such a laugh - extra points from me.I am surprised that the Grand Slam did not make the list.

 

What is really fun is to see the Jim Kaat and Mudcat Grant games.Wow were they fun.In those days the World Series was during the day and as a college student trying to earn money for my tuition I was working at Dayton's - downtown, of course. On either fifth or seventh, they had a room with a single television on a stand and folding chairs.We, employees, would come in and catch what we could. 

​Imagine Sandy Koufax, who really beat us in the end, going against Kaat (why doesn't he get any HOF love?).Kaat was magnificent.Tall, lean, and poised.He just controlled things.In contrast my favorite series player - Mudcat Grant - was ebullient and gave us all a feeling we could actually win this series and we almost did.

 

Those games were more dramatic than they are portrayed today.In fact, I seldom see the series referred to at all. Imagine is Pascual were not injured!.Allison's catch, these magnificent pitchers. Thanks for the reminder.

 

That sterile room in Dayton's was still a magnificent stadium for all of us.

    • mickeymental likes this
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ToddlerHarmon
Feb 05 2018 06:19 AM
I second the call to see where Morris' performance stacks up all time. I'd just like to see the all time list...
    • sploorp likes this
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Tom Froemming
Feb 05 2018 10:41 AM

 

I'm curious where Morris' performance would rank all time?

Fun list!

I found a couple guys that have him beat, but it took a lot of digging.

 

The first performance that came to mind when thinking about who may have bested Morris was Don Larsen's perfecto in Game 5 of the 1956 series. Nope. That was a .586 WPA game. Larsen had a 1-0 lead by the fifth inning and then a two-run cushion over the final three frames. I'm guessing that's why his number isn't higher.

 

Madison Bumgarner's crazy five-inning save in Game 7 of 2014 stands out. Nope. That was a .600 WPA game. 

 

I mentioned how incredible Koufax was in '65. His Game 7 performance was worth .581 WPA.

 

How about Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homer in Game 7 of the 1960 series? Nope. He had a .414 WPA that game, not even the highest on his own team. The Pirates entered the eight inning of that game trailing 7-4. They scored two runs and then Hal Smith hit a go-ahead, pinch-hit homer to give him a WPA of .636.

 

Joe Carter? Big Papi? Randy Johnson? Curt Schilling? Nope.

 

Bob Gibson? Reggie Jackson? Lou Gehrig? Christy Mathewson? Nope.

 

In Game 6 of 2011 David Freese had a .964 WPA game. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, he delivered a game-tying two-run triple. He added a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th. Pretty incredible.

 

Then there's Babe Ruth, but not how you may have expected.This was Ruth as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. In Game 2 of the 1916 World Series, Ruth pitched 14 innings. He surrendered an inside-the-park home run to the third batter he faced but shutout the Brooklyn Robins from there on. Boston won it in the 14th inning with the final score of 2-1.

 

For his efforts on the mound, Ruth racked up 1.082 WPA. He also drove in Boston's first run on a fielder's choice, but was 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts, giving him -.191 WPA at the plate. So if you want to account for both his pitching and hitting that day, Ruth had a WPA of .891 -- above Morris but behind Freese.

 

I'm sure there are some other players/performances I didn't check into, but those were all the ones that came to mind.

    • gunnarthor, snepp, bluechipper and 4 others like this

 

I found a couple guys that have him beat, but it took a lot of digging.

 

The first performance that came to mind when thinking about who may have bested Morris was Don Larsen's perfecto in Game 5 of the 1956 series. Nope. That was a .586 WPA game. Larsen had a 1-0 lead by the fifth inning and then a two-run cushion over the final three frames. I'm guessing that's why his number isn't higher.

 

Madison Bumgarner's crazy five-inning save in Game 7 of 2014 stands out. Nope. That was a .600 WPA game. 

 

I mentioned how incredible Koufax was in '65. His Game 7 performance was worth .581 WPA.

 

How about Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homer in Game 7 of the 1960 series? Nope. He had a .414 WPA that game, not even the highest on his own team. The Pirates entered the eight inning of that game trailing 7-4. They scored two runs and then Hal Smith hit a go-ahead, pinch-hit homer to give him a WPA of .636.

 

Joe Carter? Big Papi? Randy Johnson? Curt Schilling? Nope.

 

Bob Gibson? Reggie Jackson? Lou Gehrig? Christy Mathewson? Nope.

 

In Game 6 of 2011 David Freese had a .964 WPA game. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, he delivered a game-tying two-run triple. He added a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th. Pretty incredible.

 

Then there's Babe Ruth, but not how you may have expected.This was Ruth as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. In Game 2 of the 1916 World Series, Ruth pitched 14 innings. He surrendered an inside-the-park home run to the third batter he faced but shutout the Brooklyn Robins from there on. Boston won it in the 14th inning with the final score of 2-1.

 

For his efforts on the mound, Ruth racked up 1.082 WPA. He also drove in Boston's first run on a fielder's choice, but was 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts, giving him -.191 WPA at the plate. So if you want to account for both his pitching and hitting that day, Ruth had a WPA of .891 -- above Morris but behind Freese.

 

I'm sure there are some other players/performances I didn't check into, but those were all the ones that came to mind.

Morris will be hard to top. My first thought was Reggie Jackson but you already checked that. My second thought was Joe Carter and you already checked him. 

 

I found this but this is cumulative, not one game. https://www.sporcle....obability-added

 

my favorite series player - Mudcat Grant - was ebullient and gave us all a feeling we could actually win this series and we almost did.

Mudcat should be in the Twins hall of fame based on his cool baseball name alone.  Then, you start adding in his stats and world series appearances and I start getting all kinds of worked up.

 

How much longer will this travesty continue?  Elect Mudcat for the THOF now!!

 

I second the call to see where Morris' performance stacks up all time. I'd just like to see the all time list...

One of the biggest surprises on this list (plus the mentions by Tom Froemming) is how so many of the greatest performances are by pitchers and not batters.  In my mind, it makes it even more urgent that they close the deal on Darvish.

How did Kirby bat in the 7th but then his next at bat wasn’t until the 11th inning? Did they bat more than 9 guys back then?
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Tom Froemming
Feb 05 2018 08:39 PM

 

How did Kirby bat in the 7th but then his next at bat wasn’t until the 11th inning? Did they bat more than 9 guys back then?

My bad, it was actually the eighth inning where Kirby got the single and stole second. He was the leadoff hitter in the 11th. This has been updated, good eye.

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OldManWinter
Feb 06 2018 08:35 PM
Surprised, nothing from 1965? Killebrew? Kaat? Mudcat? Allison? Oliva?

I was in the military. Lots of Dodger fans among the Californians in the company.

About 5:am, the game would be in the middle innings when we got up.

For anyone who recalls the oceanic radio coverage of those days it was in and out. Sort of dramatic for the two of us Twin fans.

If the Dodgers did not have Koufax, the WS would have been ours.
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Tom Froemming
Feb 06 2018 08:47 PM

 

Surprised, nothing from 1965? Killebrew? Kaat? Mudcat? Allison? Oliva?

I was in the military. Lots of Dodger fans among the Californians in the company.

About 5:am, the game would be in the middle innings when we got up.

For anyone who recalls the oceanic radio coverage of those days it was in and out. Sort of dramatic for the two of us Twin fans.

If the Dodgers did not have Koufax, the WS would have been ours.

Both Kaat and Mudcat made the list.

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OldManWinter
Feb 06 2018 09:31 PM
Sorry, forgot about Mudcat and Kaat. Forgot they were on initial list.

 

I still think Morris Game 7 was the ultimate baseball performance I have watched. Situation, pressure, force of will, and the backing up of his "let's get it on" comment all contribute. Yes I (we) are biased, as well we should be.

I believe it was last year Morris made a comment something like, "If Kirby doesn't make the catch the night before, I wouldn't have bragging rights today."

 

I thought that was a great remark by someone who turned in the single greatest pitching performance I've ever seen. 


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