As some of you may have picked up on by now, the postseason is a good time for me publishing Sporcle quizzes. One of my favorite things about regular season baseball is that it’s a thing that you can watch or listen to super intensely or passively, as a background soundtrack while you do other things.
However, playoff baseball and its added intensity kind of demands attention, which usually leaves me a little lost, since I usually multitask during games. I’ve found overtime that data entry is a good compensation, and having another relatively-easy thing leaves me feeling less anxious when games get tense. And naturally, once I have a bunch of data entered, it’s only natural I do something with it, and making trivia quizzes is a fun way to do that.
This year, I hit on a good topic: Postseason Win Probability Added (WPA). Baseball-Reference has a lot of WPA data*, but it wasn’t collected in one searchable place, like their Stathead resource. So instead, I compiled all Win Probability data since the start of the Wild Card Era (1995 and later) myself.
*For those unfamiliar with the concept, over the years, statisticians have figured out the average chance of a team winning a game from every game-state. So, to use an overly-simplified example, say a game is tied 0-0 and both teams have a 50/50 chance of winning (or .500, in win percentage). Say then that a player hits a home run to make it 1-0, and teams in that situation win 55% of the time (a .550 winning percentage), then their chances of winning went up .050, and that is credited to that player. If he instead strikes out and his team’s chances go down to 47%, that player is instead given -.030 WPA. If you’d like to play around and see exact numbers, here’s a calculator that I like to use. It’s not an all-encompassing stat (for instance, it doesn’t usually extend to fielding), but it’s a lot of fun to look at.
This has given me a wealth of cool numbers to play around with, and I’m still trying to decide all of the quizzes I want to make with it. But in the meantime, here’s the first one: Can you name the best postseason performances among position players? “Performance” in this case includes the entire postseason, so one strong World Series isn’t going to do much if they played horribly in the Division and Championship Series (although if you can remember the MVPs of individual series, that’s also not a bad starting point). Go check it out, then come back here for a few spoiler-filled discussions!
The number one spot is not too surprising; David Freese was worth .964 WPA in just Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. There are only 150 recorded regular season offensive performances of .964 WPA, let alone in decisive World Series games. Freese would of course win both the NLCS and World Series MVP that year.
David Ortiz and Carlos Beltran appearing in the top four is also not a huge surprise, nor is it a shock that both appear multiple times in the top 50; that’s just their reputation. But Alex Rodriguez showing up in third place will probably shock some people (as well as appearing a second time here; his 2004 performance was really good, but kind of lost in the Yankees’ collapse).
I kind of wonder who’s going to be the least-guessed entry on the quiz. My money is on Michael Tucker in 1998; he had one of the less-remarkable careers on the list, and I would bet playing on a losing team hurts memorability (Scott Brosius in 1998 will make for an interesting comparison). Brett Phillips also fits that description, but he’s more recent, and he at least had a huge moment with his Game 4 Walk-Off. In fact, that single hit is actually all of his 0.82 WPA for 2020; he only had 2 other plate appearances (which combined to less than -0.01 in win probability), and was usually just a pinch hitter or defensive substitute.
(I also bet Jason Bay and Tony Fernandez throw some people off, since they aren’t usually associated with the teams they’re listed with here.)
This is a pretty normal distribution here; there are only 27 players above a full 1 Win Added, out of around 5800 player-postseasons. 3900 of them fall between 0.1 and -0.1. As mentioned, WPA doesn’t consider defense, so the bottom of the list is largely strong fielders at tough positions who weren’t on the roster for their bats. Rey Ordoñez in 1999 (-1.42), Stephen Drew in 2013 (-1.08), and Adam Everett in 2005 (-0.93) were all shortstops, and Mariano Duncan in 1996 (-0.93) was an older, former shortstop who had since become the double play partner for a young Derek Jeter. Alex Rodriguez in 2012 (-0.92) immediately follows them, which could be seen as a justification for his “choker” reputation if not for the fact that 2012 was his age-36 season, and well after he had shed that label. And right above him is Salvador Perez in 2014 (-0.89), which is especially funny because he would improve and go on to win the World Series MVP the very next season.
I didn’t include the 2022 postseason yet, since it’s not completed, but Yordan Alvarez’s incredible ALDS performance (and, through two games, generally-neutral ALCS performance) looks like it will be landing him on this list. He’s currently at 1.10, and there’s still plenty of time left if the Astros keep this up. Oscar Gonzalez and Jose Ramirez were second and third in 2022 through the DS round, but they were both nowhere near the 0.8 WPA needed to make this quiz (Gonzalez made it just over 0.6), and they can’t exactly move any further up at this point. And Jean Segura, who’s making the most of his long-overdue postseason debut, was the second-best position player who actually made the CS; through three additional games (including his impressive performance tonight), he’s almost caught up to Gonzalez.