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2017 NL Wild-card Game’s biggest moments

What an amazing game. Let’s review the key plays

MLB: NL Wildcard Practice The Arizona Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

First things first: after Paul Goldschmidt’s three-run homer in the first inning, the Diamondbacks’ Win Probability was never less than 74% the rest of the way. I don’t know about you, but it certainly did not seem like the case! When the Rockies pulled within one run, both in the seventh and again in the eighth, it felt as if momentum was inexorably swinging towards the Rockies’ dugout. However, it probably made a big difference that the Diamondbacks never actually lost the lead: that might have put a very different slant on subsequent proceedings. By keeping their noses in front, and responding on each occasion they were threatened, Arizona bent but didn’t break.

Biggest +ve plays: Diamondbacks

  1. +16.0%: Archie Bradley tripled to center. Jake Lamb scored. Daniel Descalso scored.
  2. +13.2%: Paul Goldschmidt homered. David Peralta scored. Ketel Marte scored.
  3. +10.5%: A.J. Pollock tripled to center. J.D. Martinez scored. Jake Lamb scored.

Hard to argue with any of those moments. Bradley becoming the first reliever in post-season history with a triple was absolutely incredible. We’d seen him with a key hit earlier in the regular season, but I wasn’t expecting him to be able to repeat the success. If that figure is anything like confirmed by Baseball Reference in the morning, it will give Bradley the highest WP at the plate by any relief pitcher in post-season history. The current best is only +13.2%, by Doc Crandall of the New York Giants, in Game 5 of the ‘11 World Series. Oh, yeah: that’s 1911, incidentally.

As we saw last night, leaping out to a three-run lead in the first inning is not any guarantee of final success. But there’s no doubt that Goldschmidt’s bomb went a huge way towards settling the team’s nerves in the early stages. It always felt like a game where scoring first would be a significant advantage. But it was doubly great to see it from a hitter who had finished the season in a bit of a slump, and off an opposing pitcher against whom Goldschmidt had never had a hit. Pollock’s hit was hardly any less key, saving us from the nightmare scenario of Fernando Rodney pitching with a one-run lead against the heart of the Rockies order.

Biggest -ve plays: Rockies

We should certainly acknowledge the biggest moments which reduced Colorado’s chances of victory, not just improved Arizona’s. The three biggest outs were as follows:

  1. -8.3%: Jonathan Lucroy flied out to right off Archie Bradley, two outs in eighth (8-7, man on second).
  2. -7.3%: Mark Reynolds grounded into a double play to shortstop; Gerardo Parra out at second, off Robbie Ray, one out in sixth (6-4, man on first).
  3. -7.2%: Ian Desmond struck out swinging off Robbie Ray, no outs in seventh (6-4, man on third).

The first of these was certainly a heart-in-mouth incident. I thought the ball was hit an awful lot harder off the bat, and even when watching the replay, I was surprised to see it fall well short even of the warning track, and nestle in J.D. Martinez’s glove. With the tying run in scoring position, it was an essential out, and I’m quite surprised this didn’t have more impact than -8.3%. The double-play turned off the bat of Reynolds to end the sixth was a thing of beauty, and also had a very important role in settling our nerves as Arizona’s bullpen and pseudo-bullpen (hello, Robbie Ray!) negotiated the middle innings.

Highest leverage index: both teams

Leverage index (LI) measures the importance of a plate-appearance before its outcome is known. As such, it’s a bit different from Win Probability, which is purely based on the result. LI takes all the possible outcomes, weights them by their likelihood and divides by the average change in win probability, to see whether this PA was more or less important than most. Here are the five plate appearances for either side, with the highest LI - an LI of 1.00 is average, and anything above 2.00 is what Fangraphs call “high leverage”.

  1. 2.83: Jonathan Lucroy flied out to right off Archie Bradley, two outs in eighth (8-7, man on second).
  2. 2.04: Jonathan Lucroy advanced on a wild pitch to third, no outs in seventh (6-4, man on second).
  3. 1.94: Ian Desmond struck out swinging, no outs in seventh (6-4, man on third).
  4. 1.81: Charlie Blackmon sacrificed to second, Jonathan Lucroy scored, one out in seventh (6-4, man on third).
  5. 1.65: Mark Reynolds grounded into a double play to shortstop; Gerardo Parra out at second, off Robbie Ray, one out in sixth (6-4, man on first).

You’ll notice all of these are Colorado at-bats, likely a result of them having to play catch-up from the second inning on, and the D-backs having done their damage in the early frames. The highest D-backs leverage at-bat, was Jeff Mathis’s strikeout, with men on first and second in the seventh, and Arizona 6-5 up, which rated a 1.61, just outside the top five. It certainly helped the D-backs’ cause, that the Rockies came up more or less empty in all their most crucial PA. Blackmon’s sacrifice is one of those that people will discuss in terms of tactics for years to come: was it a mistake or not?

Win Probability Ranking in full

  1. K Marte +17.4%
  2. A Bradley (batting) +16.0%
  3. A Pollock +9.4%
  4. R Ray - +8.5%
  5. P Goldschmidt +6.8%
  6. D Peralta +4.0%
  7. D Descalso +3.8%
  8. J Lamb +3.1%
  9. A Chafin +2.7%
  10. F Rodney + 1.7%
  11. J de la Rosa +0.3%
  12. B Drury -0.3%
  13. Z Greinke (batting) -1.5%
  14. R Ray (batting) -1.7%
  15. A Bradley -3.9%
  16. J Mathis -4.9%
  17. J Martinez -5.4%
  18. Z Greinke -5.9%

It’s kinda weird that two of the Diamondbacks’ three pitchers who came to the plate, were “better” with the bat than with the ball! Both Zack Greinke and J.D. Martinez were almost entirely irrelevant in terms of the overall outcome here. Marte becoming the first player in post-season history to triple from each side of the plate was very impressive, and having him and Peralta getting on base ahead of the heart of the line-up was key to the offense getting it done here. Because the pitching certainly didn’t cover itself in glory here...

But the end result, sees Arizona go on to face Los Angeles. The Division Series between those two teams will be very hard pushed to match this wild-card game in terms of sheer drama, that’s for sure!