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The Yankees’ top five plays of the 2022 season by WPA

Remembering when Yankees hitters found victory at extremely unlikely times.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 season might have ended in excruciatingly disappointing fashion for the Yankees, but that doesn’t mean fans didn’t get more than their fair share of highs along the way, even if the way the second half played out rendered the team’s 99 wins perhaps slightly less meaningful than the number makes one think.

Given that those 99 victories included 16 walk-offs — tied with the champion 1987 Twins for the second-most in AL history — there were still an extraordinary number of jump-out-of-your-seat moments over the course of this summer. Let’s use Baseball Reference’s Win Probability Added stat, which uses historical data to determine the degree to which an individual play added or subtracted from a team’s chance of winning, to count down the five Yankees plays this season that did the most to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

5. Rizzo Lights The Flame

June 2nd vs. Angels

WPA: 51.3%

Championship WPA (cWPA): .33% (3rd overall)

It is a little bit funny that despite all of those ninth- and extra-inning game-winners, an eighth-inning knock still registered as one of the five most momentum-changing hits of the season. The difference-maker is that while 13 of those 16 walk-offs came with the game tied, this one came with the Yankees chasing a run. This is useful for demonstrating how WPA works. It’s actually pretty simple: based on the tens of thousands of historical games where data is available, if the home team has the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning while trailing by a run, they win about 36 percent of the time.

Enter Anthony Rizzo and his single. Now, with runners on first and second and a one-run lead, the home team wins more than 87 percent of the time. Boom: Rizzo is responsible for adding more than 50 percent to the Yankees’ chances of winning.

And while an eighth-inning go-ahead single might seem a tad unexcited in the scoresheet, there’s plenty of context it doesn’t account for — like the fact that this was a game that saw Jameson Taillon stay perfect into the eighth inning, or that Rizzo was coming cold off the bench to pinch-hit for a punchless Kyle Higashioka. It may not have been a walk-off, but it was about as thrilling as a non-walk-off can get, particularly when you know it was one of the initial sparks in a stretch that saw the Bombers win 16 of 17.

4. Gleyber’s Slumpbuster

September 13th vs. Red Sox

WPA: 51.6%

cWPA: .20% (T-14th overall)

Another illustration in how these numbers work: while Rizzo’s hit was the third-biggest this season in terms of Championship Win Probability added, Gleyber Torres’s ultra-clutch extra-inning knock against the Red Sox in September added barely half as much to their chances of winning a championship despite being equally odds-defying in the context of that individual game. That’s because losing that game in June, with four months to play and the Yankees still not yet six games clear of second place, had the potential to do a lot more damage to New York’s playoff chances than blowing this game against Boston, when they had the same six-game lead but with just 20 left to play.

You can thank Rob Manfred for the WPA on this otherwise-ordinary go-ahead hit being so high. With the threat of a zombie runner looming in the bottom of the 10th, leaving the bases loaded would have been catastrophic to the Yankees’ win chances. Not only did Gleyber drive in the go-ahead run, he brought home two more, which made the subsequent zombie runner exponentially less dangerous.

It was also great for Torres on a personal level. After entering the prior day with his OPS at a season-low .703, he finished the season at a torrid 1.107 clip over his last 17 games.

T-3. Giancarlo Slams The Door

September 20th vs. Pirates

WPA: 68.6%

cWPA: 0.14% (T-20th overall)

I mean, come on. A walk-off grand slam down three runs is basically the scenario you come up with playing wiffle ball in the alley, right? The fact that this came mere minutes after Judge belted his 60th homer of the season to send the Yankee Stadium crowd into a frenzy already just made it sweeter.

The exit velocity of 118 mph is something you probably get a bit desensitized to after watching a half-decade of Stanton, Judge, and Gary Sánchez, but I’m sure it’s not something Wil Crowe is used to seeing after the ball leaves his hand. Good lord.

T-3. Donaldson... Something Something Grand Slam Pun

August 17th vs. Rays

WPA: 68.6%

cWPA: 0.55% (2nd overall)

We have the same base/out situation here as Stanton did in September, and though I want to say that the former did it better because he’s Giancarlo Stanton and the other guy is Josh Donaldson, it’s hard to say that the stakes weren’t considerably higher when Donaldson stayed perfectly back on Jalen Beeks’ high-90s heater near the top of the zone to win this one.

Not only was it against the Rays — there’s just a bit more history there than with the Pirates, with all due respect to the 1960 World Series — it’s easy to argue that a failure to come up clutch here could have been utterly catastrophic for the Yankees, who entered August 17th having lost 11 of 13 and would subsequently drop an additional three more. A defeat here takes their lead in the division from 10 games to 8 games, and given that the 7-4 deficit involved Aroldis Chapman allowing three runs in the tenth, it takes the vibes down through the earth’s crust. If the rest of history stays the same, that brings their lead down to a minuscule two games by the first week of September — and who knows what happens from there on out.

As bad as this all ended, it could have actually been worse, when you look at it that way!

  1. Aaron Judge (That’s The Tweet)

May 10th vs. Blue Jays

WPA: 80.7%

cWPA: 0.65% (1st overall)

It’s fitting, isn’t it? This is before we knew that Aaron Judge was having, you know, the Aaron Judge season, but it was the start of a stretch that saw him go deep approximately once every eight at-bats for a full month. By the time it was over, it was hard to not see what might be happening. In a season that was fully owned by Aaron Judge, it’s only right that biggest swing of the season — both for any individual game and within the scope of a championship hunt, because turning a win to a loss for a division rival when the standings are still close does a lot for your chances early in the year — belonged to the big man.