# Stats Geek: Statistic sheds new light on Big Hit Theory

May 16, 2006 12:00 am

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Jason Bay tripled with two outs and the bases loaded Friday night, getting the Pirates right back in the ballgame. In the radio booth, announcer Bob Walk all but fell to his knees.

Graphic: Win probability chart

"That triple is exactly the base hit that Jim Tracy has been talking about for two weeks now," Walk said.

Indeed, manager Tracy has been talking about big hits in much the way Captain Ahab once spoke of white whales.

I'm not a believer in the Big Hit Theory. The Pirates are more than a few key hits from turning this miserable season around. Yes, they're 4-10 in games decided by a run, but if they had split those they would still be 14-24.

As reader John Greeno of Mt. Lebanon points out, the Pirates' winning percentage in one-run games is about the same as their overall record. The Pirates have been outscored by 50 runs this year, a deficit unmatched in the National League.

This team has hit worse with nobody on (.240) than it has with runners on (.249), runners in scoring position (.249) or runners in scoring position with two out (.258). The Pirates just haven't hit. I'm for the Any Hit Theory.

I, nonetheless, want to share newfangled statistics that attempt to go where Tracy's Big Hit Theory would take us. A Web site called FanGraphs.com plots the course of every game, showing which hits and outs changed outcomes. Bay's two-out, bases-clearing triple, for instance, made a game the Pirates had only a 20 percent chance of winning into one they had a 43 percent chance of winning.

So give Bay 23 points of Win Probability Added there, and 35 on the night, because he also singled, walked and hit a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the eighth as the Pirates won, 12-9.

FanGraphs doesn't stop with game charts. It tallies each player's WPA for the season. In doing so, it answers a prayer most fans didn't know they had made. WPA calls the bluff of every barroom blowhard who ever said something like, "I'll take 50 of Spanky LaValliere's RBIs for every 100 from Bobby Bonilla because Spanky hits 'em when they count."

What's the story this season?

Craig Wilson has done more to help the Pirates win games this season than anyone, and it isn't close. He and Jack Wilson, Ryan Doumit, Bay and Jose Bautista are the only Pirates to have positive numbers this season.

Before I get to season totals, you'll want to know more about Win Probability. So let's check the chart of Friday's victory. The odds line bounced like a dot.com stock at its initial public offering. The Marlins seemingly had the game in the bag early, and then the Pirates seized it, dropped it, then locked it up again only to lose their grip before a throat-tightening victory.

Bay's contributions were obvious, but the second biggest contributor was Craig Wilson, who quietly figured into every scoring inning simply by following the batter's Hippocratic oath: First, don't make out.

In the third, Wilson walked on a full count, moving runners to second and third and setting up Bay's triple.

In the fourth, Wilson singled the bases full, setting up Jeromy Burnitz's two-run single.

In the sixth, Wilson singled in Nate McLouth from third base.

In the eighth, Wilson moved McLouth to second by getting hit by a pitch. Both later scored.

Wilson's average trip to the plate bumped the Pirates' chances of winning only about 4 percent each time, but he never decreased the odds of victory. Mr. Incremental added 22 percentage points by going 3 for 3 with two free passes, one the easy way and one the hard way. Just behind him was McLouth at 20 points, who had a similar game: 2 for 3 with a walk, a hit by pitch, a stolen base and four runs scored.

At the other extreme, Jose Castillo wound up with a negative 7 WPA despite going 3 for 5 because he hit into an inning-ending, bases-loaded double play to kill an early rally.

These win-probability odds stem from a data base of major-league games from 1999 to 2002, according to David Appelman. He launched FanGraphs last summer and the WPA charts only a month ago, getting his data from the noted seamhead, Tom Tango.

In some ways, the WPA rankings are redundant. The Pirates' leaders tend to be the same guys who get on base pretty often and hit the ball a long way. Craig Wilson (90 WPA), Jack Wilson (38), Doumit (32), Bay (27) and Bautista (9) all have done more good than harm.

The bottom four Pirates have been the out machines. They are Chris Duffy (-88), Jose Castillo (-98), Joe Randa (-100) and Burnitz (-181). Burnitz's WPA is the lowest in baseball. Ditto for the Pirates batters' cumulative number of -603. Neither ranking should surprise anyone.

The only WPA that shocked me was a negative 60 for Freddy Sanchez. He's hitting .319 with a .356 on-base average and .511 slugging average and he has done a good job cashing in limited RBI opportunities. But a scan of his games shows he has done most of his best work in early innings or blowouts such as Sunday's loss, when hits hardly move the odds needle. If Sanchez keeps hitting, his WPA should improve.

The best WPA hitter in baseball, by the way, is the Cardinals' Albert Pujols at 395. The Mets' Carlos Delgado is next at 195. Wilson is 19th in the league, 37th in baseball, and the Pirates are more than a few hits shy of a load.

Brian O'Neill can be reached at boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.
First Published May 16, 2006 12:00 am