MLB Analysis: Looking Back at the Best Games of 2012
Another regular season is over and in the books, so it makes sense to look back at the year that was. On particular thing I find interesting is combing through box scores, tracking the most interesting and exciting games of the year. Admittedly, it’s always arbitrary to talk about what makes a game interesting and exciting. But there are some things we can all agree on.
Wild when late
For example, how about late excitement? Who doesn’t like seeing a big comeback or a reversal of fortune in the ninth?
There is a clear winner for most exciting ninth inning of the year. On Aug. 24, the White Sox hosted the Mariners and had a seemingly insurmountable 7-2 lead. Then again, if it really was insurmountable, I wouldn’t have thrown the word “seemingly” in there, now would I? No, the unbreakable lead was broken by Seattle, which scored six runs for an 8-7 lead.
But the ninth was only halfway over. Sure enough, in the bottom of the ninth the Sox staged a rally of their own, scoring two runs for a 9-8 win.
Yeah, that’s pretty awesome. It was one of only two times all year that the ninth inning saw two lead changes. The other came May 8 when Pittsburgh hosted the Nationals. Both teams scored two runs in their half-inning, allowing the Pirates to walk-off with a 5-4 win.
It wasn’t as monumental as the Mariners massive top of the ninth comeback, but the Pittsburgh games has one advantage going for—it got fun before the ninth. The Pirates scored a run in the bottom of the eighth to take a 3-2 lead. So that was three straight back-and-forth half-innings to end the game. Yeah, that might qualify as the most exciting overall final innings of a game on the year.
Speaking of eighth innings, three games this year had a pair of lead changes in the eighth. Two of those games involved the Rockies, and they happened just eight days apart. (Surprisingly, only one was in Colorado.)
The road game came first, on April 24 in Pittsburgh. The Pirates led 3-2 after seven, and then faster than you can say “two for Colorado and two for Pittsburgh,” the Pirates led 5-4 after eight. I didn’t track seventh-inning lead changes, but it’s worth noting that the Pirates scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead in the first place. So that was three straight half-innings with lead changes. Not bad.
Colorado’s May 2 home game against the Dodgers was even more insane. After seven frames, the Rockies led, 2-1. Then the Dodgers scored twice, and the Rockies scored thrice to make it 5-3 after eight. Nice, but the game still wasn’t over. In the top of the ninth, the Dodgers scored twice to tie it up, 5-5. There wasn’t actually a lead change, but it was a comeback. In the bottom of the ninth, Jason Giambi smacked a three-run homer run for an 8-5 win.
(Added bonus: it was a pinch-hit homer, and Giambi became the second-oldest person in history to hit a walk-off, pinch-hit homer, second only to Tony Perez.)
Anyhow, the final two innings saw three teams come back to tie and three times a squad took the lead. Forget that May 8 Pittsburgh win; this Rockies game was the most exciting final few innings of any game.
That Rockies game points out something interesting, too. Not all comebacks result in lead changes. Sometimes you erase a deficit but end up with a tie. Thus, there are two types of comebacks, ones resulting in lead changes and ones ending in ties.
So let’s look at back-and-forth games. As it happens, no games featured five lead changes, but 13 different contests each had four lead changes. Two of those 13, however, had a fifth time the trailing team came back to tie the score.
The first of them took place on June 20 when the Phillies played the Rockies (in Philly, not in the thin air of Denver). The Phillies took an early 1-0 lead in the first, but in the top of the second Colorado plated a trio for a 3-1 lead (and the first lead change). They didn’t get to enjoy it long as Philadelphia immediately scored thrice in the bottom of the second. Two innings done, two lead changes, and a 4-3 score.
The Phillies also didn’t get to enjoy their lead for very long as Colorado scored once in the third and again in the fourth for a 5-4 advantage. That’s three lead changes and counting. Then, in the bottom of the fourth, the Phillies scored once to tie it, 5-5. Now, that wasn't a lead change, but Colorado no longer had the scoring advantage. All that occurred in four innings.
Then everyone stopped scoring. After the opening barrage, neither team gained the advantage until Colorado scored once in the top of the ninth for a 5-4 lead. It wasn’t a lead change as they had the most recent lead. But then they allowed a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth for a 7-6 Phillies win. That was the fourth lead change, plus a tie. All this in nine innings. Added bonus: the winning run scored on a walk-off error.
The other games with four lead changes and a tie took place over 14 innings: White Sox versus the Royals on July 13. An early 3-0 Chicago lead became a 5-3 KC advantage. A half-inning later it became 6-5 in favor of Chicago, but Kansas City rallied in the bottom of the eight for a 7-6 lead. That’s three lead changes.
In the top of the ninth, Chicago tied it, 7-7, and then went ahead 8-7 in the top of the 12th. That’s the fourth lead. However, the Sox bullpen surrendered a run to KC to tie it and extend the game. If the Royals had won, it would’ve been the only game of the year with five lead changes, but it was not to be. Chicago won, 9-8 in 14 frames, so there were four lead changes and a tie.
That Sox-Royals game points to another fun thing that can happen: a comeback in extra-innings. Over 190 games went beyond nine innings this year, and typically the first team to scores wins it—but not always. In all, there were 21 games where the team trailing in extra innings ended up tying the score.
On July 13, the Royals were one of those 21 teams, but of course they lost anyway. However, 15 of the teams that rallied in extra innings ended up winning the game. In eight of these games, the team overcame a one-run deficit, and four times it was a two-run deficit.
On Aug. 1, the Rangers allowed the Angels to score three runs in the top of the 10th before storming back with four in bottom of the inning to cinch an 11-10 win. Mind you, there was only one out when Texas scored the winning run, too, so their bats were really on fire. Making it even better, the extra-inning comeback came after a big regulation comeback. The Angels led 6-0 early in the game. Texas tied it in the bottom of the ninth to force the exhilarating 10th frame.
Four days later, another team overcame a three-run deficit in extra innings when the Tigers topped the Indians. Cleveland scored three in the top of the 10th for a 8-5 lead and then recorded two outs to begin the bottom of the 10th. Then the Tigers had back-to-back walks, a double, a single, and a walk-off home run by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera for an incredible 10-8 win. Cleveland led throughout the game, but Detroit kept coming back. Three times the Tigers tied Cleveland in regulation, but Cabrera’s swing gave Detroit its first lead of the day.
But the winner for biggest extra inning comeback on the season came at the end of the year when the Yankees topped the red-hot Oakland A’s on Sept. 22. The A’s scored four in the top of the 13th for a 9-5 lead, but everything imploded in the bottom of the frame. Three straight singles led off the inning, and then a new reliever threw a wild pitch, allowed a sacrifice fly, and then a game-tying homer. The Yankees won it an inning later on a walk-off error.
One game deserves special mention. Baltimore, as you may know, won their last 16 extra-inning games of the season. None was harder fought than the Orioles' July 14 victory over the Tigers. Detroit scored three in the top of the ninth to force the game into extra innings and then plated one in the 11th for a 5-4 lead. Baltimore tied it on a two-out Adam Jones single. The game kept going, and in the 13th Detroit scored again for a 6-5 advantage. This time, however, Baltimore scored twice for the win. It was the only game all year where a team staged two extra-inning comebacks to get the win.
Call it a comeback
Speaking of comebacks, the biggest comeback of the year was surviving a nine-run deficit, which happened twice. Boston’s bullpen was a blowpen on April 21, turning a 9-0 lead over the Yankees into a 15-9 defeat.
Two months later, on July 20, the Braves overcame a nine-run deficit against the Nationals. Actually, that game was a bit more exciting. The Braves overcame a 9-0 lead to take a 10-9 lead in the top of the ninth, only to see the Nationals stage a comeback of their own to force overtime. But Atlanta had the last laugh, winning 11-10 in 11 innings. Those were some pretty exciting ending innings.
All this talk about exciting endings, but what about the most exciting way of all to end a game—the walk-off winner? Of course, the most storied type of walk-off winner is the walk-off home run. By my count, there were 201 walk-off wins on the year, of which 55 were on a homer. A total of 26 teams had at least one, with only St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, and Houston lacking a walk-off homer. Oakland had the most with five. There were 19 walk-off homers in extra innings. The latest were a pair in the bottom of the 13th: Texas versus Toronto on May 26, and Baltimore against Detroit in that wild game noted in the last paragraph.
The best kind of walk-off homer is a walk-off grand slam, and we had three of those this year. Incredibly, two happened on the same day, May 13. On that day, the Marlins hit one to top the Mets 8-6, and the Reds blasted one against the Nationals for a 9-6 victory. The only AL one happened five days earlier when Brandon Inge introduced himself to his new A’s teammates with a walk-off slam for a 7-3 win over Toronto.
Wanna talk low-hit games? Okay, let’s do that. After all, it's the best kind of pitcher performance. First, there were seven no-hitters on the year, including three perfect games. But you can find info on that anywhere. Let’s dig in a bit more.
On the season, there were 20 times both clubs got four or fewer hits in the same game. The most impressive of those games came on the next-to-last day of the season, when the Orioles and Rays got two hits each. Of the 2,430 games during the season, this was the only one where the teams combined for under five hits. Baltimore won it by a final score of (what else?), 1-0.
James Shields was the losing pitcher despite fanning 15 batters in nine innings. His Game Score is 94, the highest ever for the losing pitcher in a nine-inning game, so he has that going for him.
Most of the 20 bi-low-hit games ended with predictably low scores. Most were shutouts. Two, though, didn’t get the low-hits-means-low-runs memo. The Yankees topped the Orioles, 4-3, on Sept. 1, despite each team getting just four hits. The Orioles had eight walks, and a hit-by-pitch to go alongside their four hits, and one of those hits was a Matt Wieters home run.
Well, at least those teams each had four hits. But how do you explain the Aug. 21 Cubs-Brewers game? That contest had just seven hits—four for Chicago and three for Milwaukee—and still as many runs as the O’s-Yanks: seven. Oh, and none of the hits in this game was a home run.
Milwaukee scored five times on its three hits, which is really impressive given that the Brewers' hits were a pair of singles and a double. Every hit brought in at least one run, though. Milwaukee also had three hit batters and six walks. For their part, only one of the Cubs hit was a single.
One other type of impressive performance is a player getting more than one homer in a game. That happened a bunch, about 240 times in 2012. Only seven times did it happen to two players in one game, and it never happened more than twice in one game.
Almost all of those 240 incidents were a guy smacking two homers in a game, but nearly a dozen times a player hit three in a game, most notably Dan Johnson of the White Sox. He’s most notable because he did it on the last day of the season, giving him three homers on the year. Yeah, he had none entering the game. Oh, and last but not least, Josh Hamilton had four in a game on May 8.
A day in the life of baseball
Anyhow, I based a scoring system upon all of the above. (See the references and resources section below for the details). It’s nothing perfect or conclusive, but it can be a fun way to look at things. Well, looking at all of the above, what comes off as the most exciting game of the year?
It was the May 8 game where the Pirates topped the Nationals, 5-4, on a walk-off home run after a flurry of late-inning lead changes.
The runner-up is the game where the Braves topped the Nationals, 11-10 in 11 innings, on July 20. After that, you start getting the perfect games and no-hitters and things like that. Also, the walk-off slams score really well, and in retrospect, I might have weighted those games too highly, sinc a walk-off slam in a tie game is really just another walk-off homer.
But that does lead to a final question or two: what were the most exciting days and teams of the year?
In a romp, May 2 wins as the most exciting day of the year with 212.8 points, easily passing runner up May 8, which had 184.2 points.
The highlight of May was the Dodgers-Rockies listed above with an incredible amount of late-inning back-and-forth action. It was also one of three games that day to end with a walk-off home run. Oh yeah, Jered Weaver of the Angels no-hit the Twins that day, too. It was a mighty full day all around.
May 8 had three contests already noted: Hamilton’s four-homer day, Inge’s walk-off grand slam, and the Pirates-Nationals game with plenty of late-inning lead changes.
Dullest day? Let’s look for a day with a full load of 15 games. There were 117 days that had 15 or 16 games played, and the least memorable of them all was May 12. No extra-inning games, no walk-off wins, and only one game had any late drama, as the Dodgers scored their winning run in the eighth for a 2-1 victory over Colorado. Not much else exciting happened, as the 15 games totaled just 28.2 points. Yeah, that’s weak.
Lastly, how do teams score?Tm ALL MIL 1224.1 SEA 1167.5 CIN 1157.7 OAK 1145.7 PHI 1145.6 DCN 1108.9 CWS 1101.9 LAD 1100.4 MIA 1067.0 NYM 1014.4 COL 1010.5 BOX 1009.7 TBR 994.1 HOU 991.6 NYY 988.3 DET 979.8 SFG 970.8 STL 966.1 PIT 957.3 MIN 946.2 CHC 940.9 LAA 915.5 SDP 912.8 KCR 909.8 ARI 886.9 BAL 869.7 TOR 864.5 CLE 851.8 TEX 841.8 ATL 807.9
Milwaukee wins, but that’s not exactly a good thing. The Brewer bullpen always was capable of blowing a game. Look on the bottom and you’ll see Atlanta, which had a terrific bullpen. Not far ahead of them is Baltimore, another team with an excellent relief core.
References and Resources
A one-run game is worth three points, plus an additional point if the final score is 1-0. A two-run difference is worth one point.
A walk-off win is worth 10 points, plus an additional five points if it’s a walk-off home run. (Walk-off homers are the only part you can't find just by looking at the overview for a postseason series on Yahoo's daily game logs.) A walk-off grand slam is worth an additional 20 points. Looking back, that's too much but, oh well.
If a team ties the score in the ninth inning, it’s six points. If they take the lead, it’s seven points. Thus, if a team is down by a run entering the ninth and takes the lead, that’s 13 points total, six for tying and seven for the lead. Technically, a game can get 26 points in one ninth inning. If a 2-1 game entering the ninth becomes 3-2 after the top of the frame, and then 4-3 after it, that’s two ties and two leads taken in the ninth. (Plus whatever additional points you can get for the walk-off hit). No single ninth inning has ever generated 26 points, but it’s possible.
If a team ties the score in the eighth inning, that’s three points. If they take the lead, it’s four separate points. Thus, a team can get seven points if it goes from a one-run deficit to a one-run lead in the eighth. If both teams rally for the lead in the eighth, that’s a maximum of 14 points.
If a game goes into extra innings, that’s three points. To that, add a half-point for every inning beyond the ninth. If a team falls behind in the top half of an extra inning and ties it in the bottom of the frame, that’s two and a half points. If they take the lead, that’s an additional five points.
A series also gets points for its length. Here’s how it breaks down for a best-of-seven game series: 15 points for a full seven games, five points for six games, three points for five games, and no points for a sweep. For a best-of-five series, it’s 10 points for going the distance, two points for going four games, and none for a sweep.
For great pitching, a shutout is worth two points, plus an additional point if it’s a complete-game shutout. A no-hitter is worth 20 points, plus an additional 30 if it’s a perfect game. Holding the opposing team to one hit is worth five points; a two-hitter is three points; one point for a three-hitter; and a half-point for a four-hitter.
An individual player getting three homers in a game nets seven points. If he gets just two homers, it’s two points. But if it's four homers, that's 20 points.
Now for comebacks. There are three steps for it.
First step: The math here depends on progressive addition. Combing back from a one-run deficit is worth one point. Coming back from two runs is worth an additional two points, or three in all. A three-run comeback is worth three more additional points, six in all, and so on.
Second step: The above is nice, except there are two types of comebacks. Some just tie the score (erasing the old lead) and the other has the formerly trailing team take the lead. The latter is given extra points. Actually, it’s double. If a team trailing by one takes the lead, give them an extra point. If a team trailing by two runs takes the lead, give them an additional three points (1+2, again). And six additional points for taking the lead from a three-run deficit (1+2+3) and so on.
Third step: Okay, the above steps are nice but lead to a huge problem: the points from comebacks overwhelm the overall scoring. Simply put, there are too damn many points floating around. Total comeback points based on this are 5,063, which would be a third of the overall score. Yeah, that’s too much. So the third step is simple: take all the above and divide by three. (This is why there are fractional scores, but oh well.)
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail.
Read more great baseball stuff at The Hardball Times.