The great thing about the Win Probability Added stat is that it puts a tangible number on big plays and performances with regards to their importance in a game. Obviously, you can feel how big an eighth inning go-ahead hit or stranding the bases loaded in a one-run game is, but with WPA you can put a figure on just how big. It’s fun to know that the Red Sox had a 65 percent change of winning Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS before Jorge Posada’s game-tying double, and that the Yankees than had a 65 percent chance of winning after it.
WPA shows us just how much a player can swing a team’s chance of winning. In the case of one Yankees’ opponent in a 1918 game, we can see just how much help they got.
Early in 1918, the Yankees had gotten off to a solid start under first-year manager Miller Huggins. They went into a June 1st matchup against the White Sox with a 22-15 record, two games back of first in the American League, which at that point, they had never finished atop of. Meanwhile, their opponent that day was the reigning AL and World Series champion White Sox. Chicago had gotten off to a bit of a slow start in 1918 under delightfully-named manager Pants Rowland, coming in at 17-16.
Facing off against White Sox starter Lefty Williams, the Yankees struck first, scoring two runs in the third. Meanwhile, Chicago only managed one hit through the first three innings, a second-inning single by Chick Gandil. More on him later.
Yankees starter Hank Thormahlen mostly cruised early on but eventually ran into some trouble in the sixth. After retiring the lead-off hitter, Thormahlen allowed singles to Eddie Murphy and Eddie Collins. On Collins’ knock, right fielder Frank Gilhooley made an error, allowing both runners to move up an additional base. The Yankees then opted to issue an intentional walk to set up a double play but Thormahlen lost the zone and issued a regular walk to Happy Felsch, plating a run. With the potential go-ahead run in scoring position and just one out in the inning, Gandil stepped to the plate for Chicago. There are several ways he could’ve very much helped keep the inning moving for the White Sox, even if he made an out. Unfortunately for them, he did the one truly bad thing. Gandil grounded one to Roger Peckinpaugh at short, and he kicked off an inning-ending double play, keeping the Yankees in front. According to WPA, the DP decreased Chicago’s chances of winning by 27 percent.
The Yankees then immediately took advantage of that fortune and added to their lead in the top of the seventh. Gilhooley and Peckinpaugh both added RBI hits as the Yankees scored three runs in total in the inning. The score remained at 5-1 into the eighth inning, where Chicago would get another good chance.
Thormahlen was still going and came back out for the eighth. A Shano Collins double, a Murphy single, and a Eddie Collins walk loaded the bases with no outs. Felsch then came through with a single, scoring two runs. With the game now within two runs and still nobody out, Huggins went to his bullpen and brought in Allen Russell. The reliever got off to an inauspicious start, issuing a walk to load the bases, bringing Gandil to the plate.
If the list of things Gandil could do and still be of help in his sixth inning at-bat was long, it was even longer for this one. The bases were loaded and there was nobody out. Although another ground ball double play would be bad, it at least has the potential to score a run and get the White Sox within a run. Any hit or walk or anything like that would obviously be massive, and they truly just needed to avoid disaster. Reader, the White Sox got disaster. Gandil lined one towards third base, where Home Run Baker managed to snag it. He then fired down to second, kick starting a triple play, as both Felsch and Buck Weaver at first were doubled off, ending the inning. The play kept the Yankees in front and dropped Chicago’s chances of winning by 43 percent.
The Yankees added a run in the top of the ninth, and the bottom half of the inning didn’t end up being quite as dramatic, as only one runner was stranded as the Yankees won 6-3. For his efforts, Gandil was worth -0.726 WPA, which is the worst total for any Yankees opposing position player in any game.
After this game, the Yankees ended up falling away after their hot start, and finished in fourth, below .500. The White Sox ended up even worse, finishing two places behind the Yankees, despite their success the prior season. However, they bounced back the next year and won the AL once again before falling in the 1919 World Series.
If the 1919 season and specifically the White Sox role in it sounds familiar, well, it should, because that was the year of the Black Sox scandal. The man who is seen as the ringleader among the players in the scheme to throw the 1919 World Series was nonother than Chick Gandil, which is funny to think about considering his performance against the Yankees on June 1, 1918. Now, that’s certainly not an accusation of anything. It’s unlikely that he managed to perfectly hit a ball to start a lineout triple play — it seems not possible that major leaguers can display that amount of bat control when facing a fellow professional. That being said, it is amusing that the leader of arguably the most infamous scandal in baseball history had a history of absolutely blowing a game.
New York Times, June 2, 1918