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Big gifts from Yankees history

In honor of Christmas, let’s look back at some times the Yankees have been the beneficiaries of teams giving them a “gift” in a game.

New York Mets’ Luis Castillo reacts after missing a single b Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

For everyone celebrating Christmas today, you will almost certainly be exchanging gifts with the people you love. That’s because Christmas is a time of giving, to both those we know and those who need help. In that spirit, let’s look back at some times that Yankees’ opponents have been really giving and helped out the Bronx Bombers in games.

Here is a look at some of the times the Yankees have benefitted the most from opponent mistakes according to Win Probability Added.

One big way that a team can (accidentally) help out their opponent is by committing an error. By definition, errors are plays that a defense should or almost did complete for an out. Considering that a team only has a finite number of them in a game, being given a second chance at one can be pretty important. Our first gift is looking back at the error that had the biggest gain in WPA for the Yankees, and, well, it’s probably the exact one you’re thinking of.

The Yankees were down to their last out, trailing 8-7 to the Mets on June 12, 2009. However, they had two on and Alex Rodriguez at the plate, so things weren’t completely dire yet. With the count 3-1, A-Rod missed a bit on a pitch from Francisco Rodriguez and sent a shallow popup towards Mets’ second baseman Luis Castillo. You probably remember what happens next.

The error gave the Yankees a +0.817 swing of win probability, as they won 9-8. The next closest is one from a 1955 game where the Yankees tied the game on a two-out error in the ninth, but that one was only a +0.488 increase in WPA.

A joke about the 2021 Yankees’ season was often that the team’s MVP was wild pitches/passed balls that came with a runner on third base, since that became a fairly regular way that the team scored runs. However, a wild pitch from 2022 was actually the most influential in Yankees history in terms of WPA.

On August 27th, the Yankees, in the midst of their dreadful struggles, and A’s battled for nine scoreless innings. Oakland then brought in A.J. Puk for the 10th, and he seemed to have no idea where the ball was going. While he got two outs, an intentional walk and a hit by pitch helped load the bases. Puk then uncorked a wild pitch, which, combined with an error, allowed the Yankees to score two runs, and also increase their win probability by +0.424.

Naturally, they then lost that game, because August 2022 was a very stupid month for the Yankees.*

*Editor’s note: I (Andrew) was “lucky” enough for this to be in attendance for this nonsense. It was indeed very stupid.

As far as the passed ball half of that duo, the biggest jump in Yankees’ win probability came in a April 24, 1963 game against the White Sox. Chicago catcher J.C. Martin let a ball slip past him with two outs in the ninth, allowing the Yankees to tie up a game they eventually lost in extras.

Catcher’s interferences are a bit more elusive, so we don’t have any instances of a walk-off coming on one or anything. The biggest WPA swing in the Yankees’ favor came in a 2022 game against the A’s, weirdly also with Puk on the mound. A CI call is obviously not the pitcher’s fault, but it is a weird coincidence considering the wild pitch item on the list.

Back on June 27th, with the Yankees trailing 5-3 in the seventh, Giancarlo Stanton came to the plate with the bases loaded. One of the runners already on was Aaron Judge, who had reached on a catcher’s interference. The spirit of Jacoby Ellsbury appeared to be in the air as Oakland catcher Sean Murphy made contact with Stanton’s backswing, giving the Yankees a second CI call in the inning. The second one scored a run as increased the Yankees’ WPA by +0.164. The Yankees went on to tack on several more runs in the winning and win the game.

For balks, the leader is a +0.307 increase in the top of the 13th of a 6-3 Yankees win over the Phillies on July 16, 2001. For a walk, you have to go all the way back to a May 1919 game where Bill Lamar drew a game-tying one with two outs in the ninth and the bases loaded, worth +0.392 WPA. That game ended in a tie, because 1919.

There are plenty of other weird plays that have helped the Yankees win or get back into a game, but those have been the ones that have been the biggest gifts to the Bombers’ chances of victory.