The Win Probability Added stat is a good way to determine which plays and players had the most decisive impact on any given game. While if you look at any all-time leaderboard of WPA, you’ll find the greats of the game, in a single game, the backup infielder might lead the way.
Playing a key role in a game also tends to mean that you’ve either played for your team before, or will do so again. That’s not exactly the case for the three players we’re gong to talk about here. For fun, let’s take a look at the players who have put up the three highest WPAs in their one and only game as a Yankee.
3. Mark Freeman (0.099 WPA, 9/26/59)
The Yankees and Athletics made a lot of deals with each other when the latter played in Kansas City and essentially served as a secondary farm team. Some of them, such as the Roger Maris trade, were fairly consequential. Others were less so.
A Yankees’ 1952 amateur signing, Freeman was traded to Kansas City in April 1959 after many seasons in the minors. The 28-year old threw 3.2 innings with the A’s, but was retuned to the Yankees a month later. He returned to the minors, but eventually got his chance with the Yankees in a late-season game against the Orioles.
Getting the start, Freeman threw six scoreless innings before allowing two in the seventh that allowed the Orioles to come back and tie the game. Casey Stengel removed him after that inning and the Yankees went on to lose in extras.
Freeman started out the next season in the minors again before a May trade that sent him to the Cubs ended his Yankee career at one game. He went on to appear in 30 games in 1960 for Chicago, but his baseball career came to a close after that season.
2. Steve Blateric (0.143 WPA, 10/4/72)
In September 1972, the Yankees and Reds made a bit of a weird deal. The Yankees purchased pitcher Steve Blateric, who had made his MLB debut the prior season, from Cincinnati. According to the New York Times, if Blateric was on the Yankees’ roster for 30 days after the start of the 1973 season, the Yankees would send the Reds a player in return. If not, he would return to Cincinnati.
Blateric didn’t appear until a couple weeks after the deal, coming in out of the bullpen in the final game of the season. He threw four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits. He was able to put up a 0.143 WPA thanks to those innings coming in a one-run game. Unfortunately, Blateric was on the other end of it, as the offense was blanked in a 1-0 loss.
As for the conditions of the deal, Blateric did not make the Yankees’ roster in 1973 and was returned to the Reds in March. He didn’t reappear in the majors until 1975 with the Angels, who had been the third team to acquire him after he was sent back to Cincinnati.
1. Brandon Claussen (0.216 WPA, 6/28/03)
As part of a doubleheader which saw the Yankees and Mets play a home game each, the Yankees called up the former top-100 prospect Claussen for a spot start in the night game at Shea Stadium. He performed admirably that evening, allowing two runs (only one earned) in 6.1 innings, eventually getting the win despite a near bullpen meltdown. He returned to the minors after the game, and a little more than a month later, he was the primary prospect of note dealt to the Reds in exchange for Aaron Boone, who had a rather notable high WPA game later that season.
Claussen went on to play in parts of three seasons for the Reds, but none quite reached the potential of that MLB debut. He underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery in August 2006 and never made it back to the majors. A comeback attempt with the Nationals’ Triple-A club in 2007 fell short, and Claussen called it a career.
It probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that no hitter had a positive WPA game and then never played for the Yankees again. It’s hard to never play again when you have a good game since there are several open spots everyday, whereas it’s possible to get lost in the shuffle more as a pitcher.
Baseball Reference Stathead
MLB Trade Rumors
New York Times, September 17, 1972