A lot can change in just one at-bat in a baseball game. A lot can change in a whole season if that one at-bat comes in the playoffs, especially in the World Series.
Win Probability is great for showing just how much changes in an important at-bat within a game. It also shows how much an impact someone can have even if they only make a brief appearance in a game. While it’s usually unlikely that a pinch hitter can have the most hits for his team, and a reliever probably won’t lead the team in strikeouts, they often are tasked with coming in for some of the highest leverage moments in the game.
In honor of the World Series, let’s take a look at the times a Yankee has caused a massive swing in WPA despite making just one at-bat or facing one batter in a Fall Classic contest.
The highest WPA in a World Series game by a batter who only had one at-bat in a game belongs to Luis Sojo in Game 5 of the 2000 World Series. His two-RBI (technically a) single broke a tie in the top of the ninth and increased the Yankees’ chances of winning by 44 percent. It is also among the funniest-ever decisive World Series plays:
However, Sojo had played defense in the half-inning before, and later stayed in to finish the bottom half of the ninth as the Yankees clinched the championship. He didn’t make any of the defensive plays in his innings, so his hit is the only thing he did that shows up in the box score, but we can dig even deeper than that.
In Game 4 in the 2003 World Series, Rubén Sierra stepped to the plate, representing the last out of the game with the Marlins on the verge of tying the series at two. He did this:
Sierra’s triple tied the game and sent it into extra innings after the current Yankees manager failed to plate him. The triple added 40 percent to the Yankees’ chances after they were down to just an 8-percent chance at winning. Sierra was then replaced as part of a double-switch for the 10th inning, ending his game. Don’t ask what happened in that game or series after that.
However, we can find an ever shorter cameo than that. Sierra still was left on the basepaths after his triple, even if it didn’t amount to anything. Johnny Mize was immediately removed after his big hit in Game 3 of the 1949 World Series.
In a tie game in the top of the ninth, Mize was sent up as a pinch-hitter. With the bases loaded and two on, he singled to right, driving home two runs, and getting the Yankees within touching distance of a crucial 2-1 series lead. It added 39 percent to the Yankees’ game Win Probability and 15 percent to the Yankees Championship Probability Added. It actually didn’t end up being the decisive run, as the Yankees added another score to make it 4-1, before the Dodgers attempted a rally and the game finally ended at 4-3.
On the pitching side of things, there aren’t as many dramatic swings. However, there are still some very important moments in there. The most World Series WPA for a pitcher who faced just one batter came via Bob Turley in Game 6 in 1958.
In the top of the 10th, the Yankees had opened up a 4-2 lead over the Milwaukee Braves in a must-win game. Ryne Duren, who had thrown four scoreless innings prior to that, came back out, and retired two of the first three hitters he faced, walking the second. Hank Aaron then singled home a run, and Joe Adcock moved him to third with another hit. Suddenly, the potential winning run was at the plate with the Yankees a defeat away from losing the championship.
At that point, Turley, who had started two games in the series — including two days prior in Game 5 — was brought in for the crucial situation. In what is surely the biggest Yankees World Series moment involving their family, Frank Torre lined a Turley pitch to second base for the final out. The Yankees squeaked out a 4-3 win to even the series. It added “only” 19 percent to the Yankees Win Probability, but it was just as important as any of the above hits, despite the lower percentage.
The next day, Turley came out of the bullpen again, throwing 6.2 innings after Don Larsen got knocked out early. The Yankees won that game 6-2, taking the series with Turley rightfully taking home series MVP honors.
Honorable mention goes to Mike Stanton in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. He added nine percent to the Yankees’ chances in that game by facing only one batter, but technically pitched 0.2 innings thanks to Jorge Posada throwing out Tony Womack on a stolen base attempt. Again, don’t bring up what happened after that.