What a game, right? I mean, you saw it, didn't you? I didn't. :( I actually was at the Braves game, last night so at least I have an excuse. (They won! But more importantly, they scored more than 6 runs so half price pizza today! Yum!) I was however, keeping tabs on the game using my AtBat app. I know, I know. Why was I at a Braves game if I was just going to watch the Royals? I was mostly there for the Burgerizza (What a rip off, only the top bun is actually a pizza, the bottom is just a cheap pizza crust) and the Tater Tot Chop (Which they ran out of before the game even started. Tsk.) But after I watched the win in pitch-by-pitch format I got to come home and watch it twice more in normal format from the MLB.TV archives. Those of you who recognize my username know that I love the Win Expectancy and related stats, so how could I pass on an opportunity to look at the graphic bunches of people have already shown to each other to illustrate how insane that win was, yesterday?
The answer is, I can't. So let's get to it! (WE Graph courtesy FanGraphs; pitch locations courtesy Brooks Baseball)
Not much to say about this that hasn't already been said, The Royals had a 0.01% chance to win this game. Our benevolent leaders pointed out on twitter that since 2010 only 5 teams, including the Royals yesterday, have won a game when put into this situation. Simply astonishing.
(All graphs are from the perspective of the catch, Legend for pitch types: SI - Sinker, FC - Cutter, CU - Curve [Robertson's Curve is a Knuckle Curve, if you're curious], FA - Fastball, SL - Slider)
Before the Plate Appearance: Win Expectancy: 0.3%, Run Expectancy 0.49
This AB came as no surprise, I think, to anyone watching the game. The Royals were down by 6, the White Sox, perhaps partly influenced by last night's comeback, but mostly just wanting to get their closer some in-game action brought in Dave Robertson. Versus a cooling Paulo Orlando, a strike out seemed inevitable. The only surprising thing, I suppose, is that technically the last cutter was a little inside, off the plate. But Orlando didn't argue, it was warm and the game was lost. What would be the point?
Result: Win Probability Added: -0.2%, Run Expectancy Based On the 24 Base-Out States: -0.23
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 0.1%, RE: 0.26
Nothing amazing to see in this at bat, Cheslor Cuthbert got a cutter right down the middle, he swung, he hit it up the middle just out of reach of Tyler Saladino and his mustache. He stumbled a bit out of the box and limped around the bases when he went, but he got things started. Just like we should have known he would, because 2016 is the year of the Royal Rookies.
Result: WPA: 0.2%, RE24: 0.26
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 0.3%, RE: 0.51
This was yet another AB in which the game was over, but the rookies just didn't know it. Brett Eibner took a tough to hit cutter on the inner corner, then another one inside, but got one down the middle and went with it. There was an element of luck to this hit, if Adam Eaton doesn't lose this one in the sun it's entirely possible he makes the catch. Of course, he ended not actually being anywhere near the ball, and it hit off the middle of the wall so it's possible he doesn't catch it either. At this point I was just excited to see Eibner, a rookie I've been rooting for since his great spring last year, get a hit and I was mostly hoping the Royals would just force Robertson's ERA back up over 1.
Result: WPA: 0.6%, RE24: 0.88
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 0.9%, RE: 1.39
This AB is when I started to wonder if the Royals might have something going. Less because of any actual progress and more because Omar Infante could no longer kill the rally. This was also the first AB to show that White Sox pitchers no longer had any real ability to throw the pitch where they wanted it, none of Robertson's pitches are actualy anywhere near the strike zone, here, after the curve ball that made Infante look stupid.
Result: WPA: 0.6%, RE24: 0.17
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 1.5%, RE: 1.56
This plate appearance was the most frightening for me, if we could get past Alcides Escobar I thought we might be able to get somewhere. I saw that Robertson was wild to Infante and I hoped Esky would be willing to take some pitches to see if he could keep the inning alive. As it turned out, he only swung at one, and it wasn't enough to get Robertson going again.
Result: WPA: 2.7%, RE24: 1.00
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 4.2%, RE: 1.56
This may not have been the AB that won the game, but it was definitely my favorite one. Whit Merrifield did what I've been praying Royals hitters would do for at least 3 years, now. He saw a pitcher having trouble commanding his pitches and he forced that pitcher to throw him strikes before he even CONSIDERED swinging the bat. That first pitch is a good one to hit, but Merrifield knows that 4 balls guarantees the line keeps moving while swinging at a good pitch is only a high probability good outcome. Even with one strike he takes a couple close balls low. Takes a tough pitch on the inner corner, fouls off the cutter down the middle, and then forced to swing at another strike gets lucky and it deflects off Robertson's glove, and makes Brett Lawrie look kinda silly having to change directions and go chase the ball down. This was also the luckiest at bat in the inning because there are about a million ways that ball turns into a double play instead of a 2-RBI single. But when you're a Royals Rookie, Lady Luck favors you.
Result: WPA: 6.7%, RE24: 1.62
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 10.9%, RE: 1.18
In contrast to the previous at bat, Lorenzo Cain had my least favorite at bat in the inning. Knowing that a groundball could lead to a double play and only having one strike he swings at a curveball and grounds it to the shortstop. Credit to Robertson, that's a very good pitch. And since he almost exclusively throws cutters, maybe Lorenzo thought he had a cutter low in the zone he could do something with. I contest that Lorenzo STILL made a mistake here, because a cutter moving away from him in the lower-middle part of the zone still needs to be driven the other way, and he ends up pulling it weakly instead. You'll argue velocity difference and I'll argue head position and swing trajectory. The other thing about this plate appearance is that I watched it twice, plus all the replays, and I've never once been 100% convinced Cain was actually safe at first. I understand the White Sox still had the lead here, but they had to be feeling like things were starting to get away from them, and if Cain was out, that's the end of the game. I can't believe they didn't even ask for a moment to check the replay. If I was them, I'd've asked for an umpire review just on general principle here. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Result: WPA: -6.5%, RE24: 0.05
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 4.4%, RE: 0.23
I will admit, watching this with the AtBat app, I was 100% convinced when I saw that sweet "In play, Run(s) Scored" on that pitch low and inside, right where almost every left ever likes it, I thought Hosmer had just tied the game. I was a little disappointed to find he wasn't able to quite barrel it and only got a double. Off of a defense playing no doubles. Silly White Sox, if Eric Hosmer wants a double, Eric Hosmer gets a double.
Result: WPA: 9.7%, RE24: 1.09
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 14.1%, RE: 0.32
This was when I got really confused. You see, I missed the top of the ninth inning because I was wandering around Turner Field looking for my seat. Why was Drew Butera hitting? I thought that perhaps they'd pinch run for him in an effort to score some runs earlier. In retrospect I should have assumed Salvy was getting part of the day off because of the blowout. Instead it was an injury, that as of latest reporting, sounds like it will be a 7-10 game injury instead of a season-ending injury. If true, we really dodged a bullet. In the mean time, the White Sox outfield had quit playing No Doubles. Butera isn't know for his power, despite having 4 doubles among his 5 hits so far this year, and the White Sox understandably wanted a shot at throwing out Hosmer if Butera tried to doink one in. Unfortunately, for the White Sox, Kahnle had no idea where his pitches were going in this game. Alex Avila set up low in the strike zone 3 straight times. The first time, Kahnle threw it in the dirt. The second time he threw a high, hittable strike that Butera took. Butera was ready when the third pitch looked nearly identical to the third, and he drove it well into the gap. It was probably a double no matter how deep they were playing. Tie Game. 46.5% WPA added on a single swing. Drew Butera won half a game for the Royals on a single swing. It's gotta be the hair.
Result: WPA: 46.5%, RE24: 1.00
Before the Wild Pitch: WE: 60.7%, RE: 0.32
Then things started to get really weird. The White Sox decided they'd rather face the rookie third baseman who singled earlier in the inning instead of the 2nd year OF who struck out looking, meekly to start the inning. And we realized Kahnle's control problems were not restricted to normal pitches. He threw his first intentional ball over Avila's head and moved Butera up to third. This play is probably a little bit bigger than it might seem at first glance; yes, second base is scoring position, but Butera is a catcher and they couldn't pinch run for him since Salvy was hurt and they had no other catchers. This means that no matter where the ball was hit, if it landed in the outfield grass, it was a game winner.
Result: WPA: 1.9%, RE24: 0.04
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 62.6%, RE: 0.36
The fun didn't stop there, Kahnle's other intentional balls were all over the place, including one that almost made it back to the strike zone. Eventually Orlando went to first, which somehow increased the Royals' win expectancy despite only adding a possible force play. It also increased the Run Expectancy, but that makes sense. a Home Run didn't win the game any more now than it did before, but it was worth an extra run if it happened.
Result: WPA: 1.0%, RE24: 0.14
Before the Defensive Indifference: WE: 63.6%, RE: 0.49
Paulo Orlando attempted to remedy that force out scenario I described on the first pitch to Jarrod Dyson, pinch hitting for the limping and right handed Cheslor Cuthbert. The ball almost got past Avila, so even if Avila had wanted to consider trying to throw Orlando out, he couldn't have. The weirdest thing here is that it actually decreased the Royals' chances of winning the game, somehow.
Result: WPA: -0.2%, RE24: 0.10
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 63.4%, RE: 0.59
Brooks Baseball doesn't plot intentional balls (That's why I don't have a graph for Orlando's second plate appearance). So that's why you only see 2 pitches here. The first one was the one in the dirt, blocked by Avila to save the game. The second one is a high strike that Dyson swung at. Now the guy was crazy wild, but I'm still OK with Dyson swinging at that pitch and here's why: He's a pinch hitter, and I subscribe to Hud's belief that a pinch hitter needs to swing before he's really into the game. However, I wouldn't have wanted Dyson to swing again until Kahnle threw him another strike. As luck would have it, the White Sox would decide after getting the strike to just go ahead and walk Dyson. That's the first time I have ever seen a team decide to intentionally walk a guy after throwing a strike. I have seen it where they got one strike but then couldn't get him to chase 1 or 2 other pitches and just decided to start fresh with the next guy, but never immediately following a strike. I have a couple theories, but they both seem pretty weak: Either Kahnle was supposed to be pitching around Dyson, but was so wild that he actually got one in the strike zone and they decided to give up on the ol' "Unintentional Intentional Walk" or Avila missed them calling for the intentional walk earlier in the plate appearance before finally catching on. I'm leaning toward the former theory, because Avila has a chat with Kahnle after the first pitch, and it would have had to have been called by then, and there's no excuse for missing it for that long. Also, Avila set up low and in on both pitches. One of them was very low and in, the other was high and in.
Result: WPA: 2.4%, RE24: 0.17
Before the Plate Appearance: WE: 65.8%, RE: 0.76
I have mixed emotions about this at bat, in some ways it's not very good, in others way it's amazing. Let's break it down. Pitch number 1 is way high, so high it's actually off the graph. That's high. So Kahnle still has no control. Pitch 2 there is still pretty high, MLB GameDay actually has it in the strike zone; but even if it was, that's a part of the strike zone that's only called intermittently. When the guy is all over the place, he's not going to get the benefit of the doubt. Not to mention Eibner should have just been flat taking until he got at least 1 strike, even if it was right down the middle, because again, Kahnle has had no idea where his pitches are going and at this point a walk wins the game as surely as a home run. Then the third pitch is way high again and Eibner takes it. Then, another high pitch that again, some sources say was technically in the zone, but probably wouldn't have been called even if it was, and again Eibner swings. My problem with this at bat is that if Eibner never swings, he likely walks on 4 pitches. Game over. However, from this point on, I really like this at bat. Let's continue. Pitch 5 is a little lower, and with 2 strikes you can no longer afford to take those high pitches. He fouls it off, which is what we want, it's too high to be really hittable and while his first two swings were huge affairs, this one was an easy swing that is just trying to go the other way/foul it off. Same thing for pitch 6. Pitch 7 is actually a decent pitch, not quite down the middle and it's the first slider Kahnle throws in the strike zone, Eibner again swung at it so that it was either going foul or the other way. Pitch 8 is interesting, to my eye it looks outside, though Brooks Baseball has it in the zone. Avila is lunging for it, and combining that with Kahnle's lack of control to this point means he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. 3-2 count. Pitch number 9 is basically right down the middle, and it looked like Eibner was just a tad behind it. Then fateful pitch 10, a straight fastball at 98 just to the inner part of the middle. Eibner, focusing on making good contact and not rolling over, drives it to right where a diving Jose Abreu gets his glove on it, but can't reel it in. Game over. So for 4 pitches, not a great plate appearance by Eibner, but he recovered in time and made it count. I really like this kid's 2-strike approach and I look forward to seeing more of him and Merrifield (especially as that means less Infante) as the season goes on.
Result: WPA: 34.2%, RE24: 1.00
So that's how you get 99.9% WPA in 1/3 of an inning. Rookies with good approaches at the plate and plenty of luck.