The 2011 season for the Rockies has had too many heartbreaking losses. It seems all too common for Huston Street to allow at least one ball hit to the warning track everytime he comes into a game. Even with the home run he allowed last night the next batter hit one onto the track. Pay attention to that the rest of the year; it is amazing how many deep flies Street allows that just don’t quite have enough juice to clear the fence.
How can we define a heartbreaking loss? A loss in which the game appears to be over and then out of nowhere the opposing team comes back and wins? Last night was a good example with the Rockies leading by two runs with two outs in the ninth inning. The game seemed all but over and within about five minutes the game was tied and the Rockies eventually lost in the 10th inning.
Fangraphs uses “win expectancy” (commonly referred to as “WE”) to give a value on which team is favored to win with every out in every game. Each play in every game is given some sort of win probability; an amount not to exceed 1.0, to demonstrate how much that play added, or subtracted, to the team’s chance to win the game. This stat is commonly referred to as WPA or Win Probability Added.
Let’s use last night’s game as an example and then we will look at other painful losses from the 2011 season. We will use the Fangraphs box scores to help us through this painful exercise.
The graph below shows each team’s WE throughout the game last night. In the ninth inning the Rockies had a WE of nearly 100% before John Mayberry hit his home run. To be exact; the Rockies had a win expectancy of 98.6% with two outs in the ninth. When Street allowed the two-run home run to pinch hitter Mayberry to tie the game Mayberry was awarded with .341 WPA (and Street was subsequently penalized .341). This means that Mayberry’s home run increased the Phillies chance to win the game by just over 34%. That .341 was deducted from Street’s WPA and when his night was over he had a WPA of -.256 (he was awarded WPA for the other outs he recorded). Street reduced the team’s chances of winning the game last night by more than 25%. That is a big jump.
The graph does most of the work as a picture is worth 1,000 words, but getting WE to near 100% and then losing is really, really painful.
I went back through the season and looked for other games in which the Rockies were darn close to winning and then lost late in the game. I discovered that most of the games like this came in May, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not only was the Rockies record awful in May there were some really bad losses in which the bullpen blew up and handed the “W” to the opposing team.
May 5th: After getting the first out in the bottom of the ninth the Rockies WE is 95% – almost a lock to win. Then two of next three batters hit solo home runs to tie game off of Street and the Diamondbacks end up winning in the 11th.
The very next night on May 6th the Rockies have a WE of 90% Going into bottom of the eighth and Rafael Betancourt allows two-run double to Nate Schierholtz to tie game. In bottom of the ninth Felipe Paulino gives up game winning run. And this is all the more painful because it is against the Giants.
May 14th: Going into the top of the seventh the Rockies WE was 97.8% with a 7-1 lead. Jhoulys Chacin and Matt Lindstrom combine to give up four runs but Rox WE was still 87.5% going into bottom of the seventh with Rox leading 7-5. In the top of the eighth Bentancourt allows two runs to put the WE near 50/50 and in ninth Street gives up a Brad Hawpe home run to drop Rox WE to 11.2%. Rox lose.
Finally on May 20th we have a roller coaster of a battle with the Milwaukee Brewers. Going into bottom of the eighth the Rockies had a 68.2% WE and Casey McGhee ties it up with homer to lead off the bottom of the eighth off of Betancourt. The game goes into extra innings. In the top of the 13th Seth Smith triples to give Rox 5-4 lead and Rox WE jumps to 82.2%. Going into bottom of the 13th it was still at 78.7% before Yuniesky Betancourt leads off the bottom of the 13th with a home run to tie game off of Street. Then in the 14th inning the Rox take the lead again with a Dexter Fowler single and the Rockies WE jumps back up to 85.4%. In the bottom of the 14th Paulino gets Corey Hart to ground out for the first out of the inning and the Rockies WE stands at 88%. Paulino walks Ryan Braun (Rockies WE is still 78%) and then Prince Fielder homers for a whopping .780 WPA and the Rockies WE is flatlined at 0%.
There have been quite a few tough losses in 2011. On June 29th the Rockies had a WE of 88.6% against the White Sox in the eighth and lost. There are at least a few more in which the boys from Denver had a decent lead late and lost. Let’s just hope that more of those deep flies Street likes to give up don’t start leaving the yard or there will be more heart breakers.