The O’s pitching staff wasn’t great in 2013, but here and there they gave the team a great chance to win a game. One way you can measure a player’s contribution to a game Win Probability Added (WPA). The number takes into account a team’s chance of winning a game before and after a plate appearance and gives the pitcher and batter credit (and debit) for the difference. It’s measured in percentage points but written as a decimal. So a player with .226 WPA for a game increased his team’s chance of winning that game by 22.6%. For more, see this article at FanGraphs.
WPA isn’t a measure of talent, but it’s a great way to tell stories. For context, the most WPA recorded in a single AL game this year was 0.857 by Jesse Chavez, who pitched the 13th through 18th innings against the Yankees on June 13th while allowing just three baserunners. Conversely, Fernando Rodney cost his team 0.968 WPA on August 9th. He entered the 9th up 6-3 on the Dodgers but gave up four runs while recording just one out. But before you gloat too much at Tampa Bay, Jim Johnson recorded the second-worst WPA score in the AL this year (May 26th against Toronto).
We're highlighting big games by O's players in 2013. First up, we’ll count down the ten biggest pitching performances in 2013. With one exception these are all starting pitchers, and, spoiler alert, many of them are named "Tillman". Also, please try to not get angry at Jim Johnson. It's not his fault ... oh wait, yes it is.
10. Chris Tillman vs. San Diego Padres, May 14th
Tillman’s line: 7 IP, R, ER, 4 H, 7 K, 2 BB, .332 WPA. Os lose 3-2
Although the Orioles lost this game 3-2, it wasn’t Tillman’s fault. He pitched brilliantly for seven innings, giving up just a solo shot to Carlos Quentin in the top of the 2nd. The O’s led 2-1 in the top of the 9th, but were undone by Jim Johnson’s first blown save (and loss) of the year.
9. Chris Tillman vs. Toronto Blue Jays, September 24th
Tillman’s line: 7 IP, R, ER, 5 H, BB, 9 K, 0.350 WPA. O’s lose 3-2
Another 3-2 loss, but this one hurt more since it mathematically eliminated the Orioles from the playoffs. Tillman pitched extremely well, arguably even better than he did vs. San Diego, again handing a 2-1 lead to the bullpen. This time, a combination of Kevin Gausman and Brian Matusz combined to give up the tying run, and Francisco Rodriguez gave up the eventual winning run. Fun fact, kind of: Mark DeRosa drove in both the tying and go-ahead runs.
8. Miguel Gonzalez vs. Los Angeles Angels, June 11th
Gonzalez’s line: 8 IP, R, ER, 4 H, BB, 5 K. 0.358 WPA. O’s win 3-2
Gonzalez shone in this start, going eight strong innings and giving up just a solo shot to Mike Trout (which is nothing to be ashamed of). He handed a 3-1 lead over to Johnson, who gave up one run but otherwise earned the save. In terms of WPA, it was Gonzalez’s best start of the year.
7. Tommy Hunter vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, August 14th
Hunter’s line: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 4 K, 0.383 WPA. O’s lose 5-4
Relievers rarely earn noticeable amounts of WPA because they don’t pitch a lot of innings. But if they pitch in high-leverage innings, they can earn a seat at the table. Hunter did so when he pitched the 11th, 12th, and 13th innings of a 4-4 tie game on the road and no one reached base against him. As far as WPA is concerned, pitching in extras is just like pitching in the 9th since one run can win it. Sadly the O’s lost the game when Aaron Hill drove in Gerardo Parra against Bud Norris, but you can’t blame Hunter, who performed admirably.
6. Chris Tillman vs. Oakland A’s, August 24th
Tillman’s line: 8 IP, 3 H, R, ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 0.401 WPA. O’s lose 2-1
Poor Tillman! He pitched so well so often yet got stuck with a bunch of losses or no-decisions. This game was one of the latter. Tillman pitched a gem and handed a 1-1 tie to Darren O’Day, who immediately gave up a go-ahead solo blast to Coco Crisp. Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, and Ryan Flaherty couldn't break through against Grant Balfour and the O's lost 2-1.
Stay tuned on Thursday for the top five! I guarantee you'll be surprised at number one.