Another quickie (Note: okay, so it wasn't so quick) before returning to normal tomorrow:
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +14.0%
Biggest Suckfest: Richie Sexson, -6.4%
Most Important Hit: Torrealba double, +8.8%
Most Important Pitch: Rowand triple, -7.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +7.2%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +32.5%
A fun way to look at these numbers is finding out just how much of the game was "given" to the Mariners. Errors, wild pitches, balks, etc. - these are defensive lapses that are included in the win expectancy chart, but for which the Mariners do not earn a positive credit. You can tell how much of the win the Mariners were actually responsible for by adding up the total contributions of the hitters and pitchers and comparing the resultant sum with the team's initial chances of winning.
So, using today as an example:
-The 13 Mariners who appeared in the game made a combined positive contribution of +39.7%
-The Mariners began with a 51.6% chance of winning the game
-Thus, the Mariners needed to add an additional 48.4% (100 - 51.6) from the start to ensure victory
39.7/48.4 = 82.0%
The Mariners themselves were 82% responsible for the victory; the other 18% was given to them by Chicago or, more specifically, Freddy Garcia, when he uncorked a wild pitch that let Willie Ballgame score the go-ahead run in the first. That would be the only real mistake the White Sox made all game (I gave Willie credit for his nabbing of third base on the wild pitch immediately prior, because few runners would have attempted such a maneuver), but it was a costly one. Mistakes made in the field are more important than most people think, and effectively eliminating many of said mistakes helped make the Mariners such an incredibly successful organization between 2000-2003. After all, whenever there's an error, somebody else has to make a good pitch or get a big hit to make up for it; the fewer errors you commit, the fewer good pitches and big hits you need to win. This is all right there in the win expectancy stuff.
With a 2-5 day, Willie upped his season line to .256/.289/.331. This, along with some acceptable defense, has made him the everyday starter at second base.
Jose Lopez, meanwhile, is hitting .328/.361/.523 in Tacoma, and has a career OPS in the Majors just 12 points lower than what Willie's doing this year. He also played acceptable defense at second base in Seattle. A slow 2005 debut in the show earned him an almost immediate demotion to the minors.
It's not the offense - what Lopez lacked in on base ability, he made up for with a little extra power, and he's got an infinitely higher ceiling.
It's not the contact - Willie strikes out a little more than Lopez did in the Majors.
It's not the versatility - the Mariners have capable backups at every position in the field, with Ojeda behind the plate, Dobbs/Hansen at the corners, Morse up the middle, and Strong in the outfield.
It's the baserunning. Where Lopez is something of a "plodder" - equipped with footspeed that is almost certainly worse than the majority of middle infielders around the league - Willie Ballgame is a friggin' dynamo, turning singles into doubles, scoring from second on base hits, and stealing bases at a 93.3% clip, tied with Johnny Damon for second in the Majors among players with 10+ attempts (Jason Bay is 14-14).
How valuable has the basestealing been? In 15 attempts, Willie's picked up a sum Win Probability Added of +29.2%, or roughly +2% per try. Compare this to Jeremy Reed, who was nearly -2% per try coming into the day. The net difference between the two players' basetealing abilities this year is pretty close to 1 win, which would be significant if this team weren't 19 games under .500.
When you're a player as bad at the big things as Willie Ballgame, you need to do as many of the little things as well as possible to keep a spot in the Majors. I think it's safe to say that, at least in the area of baserunning, Willie's one of the best in the league, and this has been enough to keep him floating around Seattle for three years, now. While it's important for the newsmedia to recognize Willie's shortcomings, it's also important for his critics to recognize his attributes, and running the bases is certainly one of his better ones.
Back to work tomorrow night (7:05pm PDT), as Spiroid tries to cool off the streaking Yankees with a jug of chilled gasoline.