I’m sure everyone had their fill last week of first-half retrospectives and report cards and highlight reels set to music. Yet, looking back is something that should be done. Even in a season that has been a bumpier ride than many fans expected or hoped for, the Mets have provided plenty of dramatic moments on the field. The ever-expanding statistical toolbox actually gives us a way to quantify those plays which provide a swing in momentum by using a concept known as Win Probability. Fangraphs is a fantastic resource for information on Win Probability and many other baseball statistics, and while perusing it last week I came up with the idea of highlighting the top ten Mets offensive plays of the first half as measured by Win Probability Added—in other words, the individual actions of Mets players, whether at-bat or on the basepaths, that had the greatest impact in terms of increasing the chances of winning a particular game.
In order to find the top ten plays, I looked at the Fangraphs play logs of each Met, where every offensive play of their season is listed along with the context in which it occurred and the increase or decrease in Win Probability that resulted. Some of these plays will be familiar even to the casual fan, while others may have been forgotten for various reasons, such the Mets’ not going on to win the game in which they occurred, taking place away from the eyes of most fans, or coming in the same game as another fantastic play. In any event, my goal here is to give each of the top 10 plays by WPA their due.
#10: April 28, vs. Washington Nationals
Game Situation: Mets trailing 2-1 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Endy Chavez on second base, Damion Easley on first base, Julio Franco at the plate, Chad Cordero pitching
Play: Franco singles to right, driving in Chavez and advancing Easley to third
This might be better known as the Tony Randazzo Game. Randazzo had made three questionable calls in the Nats’ favor in the middle innings before returning the favor on Easley’s infield grounder that kept the game alive for Franco but looked a lot more like an out than the one Easley hit in the fifth for the first of two Ryan Zimmerman “webgems.” The throw by Austin Kearns on Franco’s hit beat Chavez to the plate by a decent margin, but thanks to an absolutely perfect slide by Endy, the game was tied. The Mets went on to win the game 6-2 in eleven innings.
#9: June 25, vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Game Situation: Game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the eleventh inning, Shawn Green at the plate to lead off the inning, Russ Springer pitching
Play: Shawn Green hits the scoreboard with a walk-off home run
In a nationally televised game that featured one of the Mets’ offensive specialties (making a bad pitcher look like the second coming of Sandy Koufax), Green’s blast was an oddity in a few ways. It was only the third Mets hit of the night and the first since Carlos Gomez had led off the third inning with a solo home run. As if a team winning a game in which it goes eight full innings between hits wasn’t bizarre enough, both of those at-bats featured a “foul home run” before the kind that actually counted. Normally, a hitter smoking the ball deep but foul is cause for frustration because the end result of the at-bat is less than what could have been had that drive just stayed fair. Not on that night.
#8: April 24, vs. Colorado Rockies
Game Situation: Game tied 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the twelfth inning, Shawn Green on third base, Jose Reyes on second base, Endy Chavez at the plate, Ryan Speier pitching
Play: I think I’ll let Gary Cohen’s call speak for itself.
A certain October catch may have given Endy name recognition among the rest of the baseball-watching universe, but to Mets fans he was a cult hero long before that, with phenomenal defense, enough offensive ability to make things happen, and a really cool name. The walk-off drag bunt was just another chapter in the Legend of Endy Chavez, and the crazy thing is that it wasn’t even the play with the highest WPA in that particular game (as we’ll see shortly).
#7: May 29, vs. San Francisco Giants
Game Situation: Mets trailing 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the twelfth inning, Jose Reyes on third base, Carlos Delgado at the plate, Armando Benitez pitching
Play: Benitez balks, Reyes trots home with the tying run
Another nationally televised game and one of the greatest games I have ever attended. By the twelfth, the fantastic pitchers’ duel between Tim Lincecum and Oliver Perez had long since been forgotten, and the booing of Barry Bonds in his lone plate appearance was an afterthought that paled in comparison to the reception Benitez received as he waddled out towards the mound, charged with protecting the lead San Francisco had taken in the top-half of the inning. What happened next was a slice of glorious payback for fans who lived through Benitez’s time in a Mets uniform. When Benitez balked Reyes over to second base after a leadoff walk, everyone at Shea Stadium knew that an implosion was forthcoming. That it came in the form of a second balk in the same inning was exhilarating, and that there was still more to come after Reyes’s darting down the line paid off made this one for the ages.
#6: April 22, vs. Atlanta Braves
Game Situation: Mets trailing 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Moises Alou on third base, Shawn Green on second base, Jose Valentin on first base, Jose Reyes at the plate, John Smoltz pitching
Play: Reyes turns a one-run deficit into a two-run lead with a bases-clearing triple
When Tom Glavine faces his former teammate John Smoltz, bad things tend to happen to the Mets. The rally they put together against Smoltz in the sixth inning of this game was a thrilling reversal of the usual pattern. Unfortunately, no lead is safe on a team that has Scott Schoeneweis on its roster, which is why this particular moment of the 2007 season is largely forgotten.
#5: May 17, vs. Chicago Cubs
Game Situation: Mets trailing 5-4 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Endy Chavez on third base, Ruben Gotay on second base, David Wright on first base, Carlos Delgado at the plate, Scott Eyre pitching
Play: Delgado drives in the tying and winning runs with a single to cap a dramatic five-run rally
It was a day game after a late, rain-plagued night game, and Willie Randolph went with the “A-Minus” lineup. Carlos Delgado, one of the only regulars to start, was putting up more of a D-minus performance (0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a double play) as he stepped to the plate in the midst of a Mets team coming back to life against the always-entertaining Cubs bullpen. As Delgado grounded one to the right side, I could visualize the double play that was surely about to be turned, a promising comeback thwarted. But this was the Mets’ day, and the ball got by Ryan Theriot and into right field, ending the game in a much more satisfying fashion.
#4: May 29, vs. San Francisco Giants
Game Situation: Game tied 4-4 with two outs in the bottom of the twelfth inning, Carlos Delgado at the plate, Armando Benitez pitching
Play: Benitez throws his final pitch in a Giants uniform, and Delgado crushes it
Pop Quiz: You have just balked in the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the twelfth inning. The batter currently at the plate has already homered in this game off a pitcher who is better than you. What do you throw in this situation? If you answered “something 85 MPH and right down Broadway,” then you may suffer from a condition known as “being Armando Benitez.” There is no cure, but therapy is available—for the fans of your current and former employers.
#3: April 24, vs. Colorado Rockies
Game Situation: Mets trailing 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning, Damion Easley at the plate, Brian Fuentes pitching
Play: Damion Easley brings the Mets back from the brink of defeat with a game-tying home run
It would have been a tough loss to take. El Duque had pitched brilliantly, but the offense hadn’t come through for him and Wagner had given up his first run of the season, the only one of the game. The Mets were down to their final out, their final strike. Damion Easley would have none of that. One swing, and it was a whole new ballgame.
#2: June 26, vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Game Situation: Mets trailing 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Shawn Green on first base, Jose Valentin at the plate, Jason Isringhausen pitching
Play: Valentin smokes a game-tying double to left and advances to third with the potential winning run
Redemption is a strange, fickle creature. Valentin’s poor defense in this game was a big part of why the Mets found themselves in this situation, making him an easy candidate for goat. As he stood ninety feet from victory, he looked like the potential hero. Then he was stranded, and Schoeneweis was allowed to face a right-hander in an important situation (there’s only one way that story ends, and that’s “badly”), and Valentin’s defense enabled the Cards to tack on an insurance run. The ’Stache really hasn’t been the same since re-injuring his knee, but sometimes he has at-bats like this one where we see flashes of what he was last year.
#1: May 3, vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Game Situation: Mets trailing 4-3 with one out in the top of the ninth inning, Shawn Green on second base, Paul Lo Duca on first base, Damion Easley at the plate, Jose Valverde pitching
Play: Easley goes yard, turning a one-run deficit into a two-run lead
I get the feeling that many Mets fans would be surprised that this is the highest-ranking play of the first half by WPA. Why has a ninth-inning home run that gave the Mets the lead in a game in which they were trailing not gotten the same sort of attention as some of the other plays discussed here? The fact that it took place in Arizona probably has a lot to do with it. Not only are Mets’ victories at Chase Field a routine occurrence, the time difference meant that many Mets fans were asleep when Easley took Valverde deep and didn’t learn of the late-inning heroics until they read the newspaper the next morning. In any event, this was a huge hit by a player who has been a valuable contributor for the Mets in a bench role this year.