Near the end of September, I put together a "Mariners greatest hits of 2014" list. (If you never got a chance to see that, go do it now! Or bookmark it for later. It might be helpful in the coming months to keep the lack-of-baseball blues at bay.) That post was a lot of fun to compile, so I wanted to see if I could also do something analogous for pitchers.
First, a reminder that these plays have been selected based upon their Win Probability Added. WPA isn't necessarily perfect for singling out the most exciting parts of a game/season because it doesn't take individual players into account when determining high leverage situations; it only analyzes the scenario. For example, striking out Mike Trout in the ninth inning with two outs, the bases loaded, and a one run lead would probably feel like a much more significant out compared to striking out Eric Sogard in the same situation, but WPA would assign an equal value to both plays. That being said, it can still be useful for finding some of the pivotal moments in a game/season.
Second, I think it's bit harder to get a fair, representative list of the greatest pitching plays (by WPA) for pitchers. Unlike batters, who get an ~equivalent opportunity to make contributions in the later stages of a games when the leverage is generally higher, starting pitchers are at somewhat of a disadvantage as far as making any single, critical, positive play. This was especially true this season, which saw only two Mariners complete games (by Walker and Elias, of all people). And, as fun as it might be to take a quick, nostalgic ride with the FRE, I didn't want this list to be dominated by Fernando Rodney getting into and then escaping trouble. Therefore, I've decided to put together three separate lists/tables to try and give equal representation to the Mariners rotation. I will warn you that these plays aren't quite as exciting as the ones listed in the other post detailing the greatest offensive moments, but it's still fun to reminisce about some of the good times from the 2014 season.
(Links to video highlights of these plays have been included for those that were available. If you need a little off-season Mariners pick me up, feel free to do some clickin'.)
1) Most important plays for starters
|5||Iwakuma||6/4||7-B||0||1__||0-1||Chris Johnson grounded into a double play to second (Grounder). Evan Gattis out at second.||0.157|
|4||Iwakuma||5/25||2-T||1||123||0-0||Carlos Corporan grounded into a double play to second (Grounder). Alex Presley out at second.||0.160|
|3||Iwakuma||7/7||7-T||1||_23||1-0||Chris Colabello grounded out to third (Grounder).||0.162|
|2||Felix||7/11||8-T||0||1__||3-2||Josh Donaldson grounded into a double play to third (Grounder). Stephen Vogt out at second.||0.173|
|1||Paxton||8/9||5-T||1||1_3||1-0||Tyler Flowers grounded into a double play to second (Grounder). Paul Konerko out at second.||0.177|
Not too many plays by Mariners starters cracked a WPA of 0.100. This isn't too surprising considering the fact that Mariners SP only faced ~13% of the total number of batters in the eighth inning and just 2.6% of batters in the ninth/extra innings all season. (Making an appearance later in a game isn't the only thing that contributes to the chance for a larger impact on the WPA, but it's definitely an influential factor).
2) Most important plays for relievers
|5||Furbush||5/5||7-B||0||12_||2-4||Alberto Callaspo grounded into a double play to shortstop (Grounder). Josh Donaldson advanced to 3B. Brandon Moss out at second.||0.197|
|4||Farquhar||8/24||7-B||1||1_3||5-6||Christian Vazquez lined out to pitcher (Liner). Mookie Betts out at second.||0.253|
|3||Wilhelmsen||4/3||8-B||0||12_||1-2||Jed Lowrie grounded into a double play to second (Grounder). Coco Crisp advanced to 3B. Josh Donaldson out at second.||0.265|
|2||Rodney||7/20||9-B||0||123||5-5||David Freese grounded into a double play to shortstop (Grounder). Albert Pujols out at home. Josh Hamilton advanced to 3B. Howie Kendrick advanced to 2B.||0.305|
|1||Rodney||4/25||9-T||1||123||6-5||Adrian Beltre lined out to first (Liner). Elvis Andrus out at second.||0.440|
Oh, Smoaky. You snagging that liner to win the game against the Rangers is how I'm going to choose to remember you. There were actually eight plays by relievers that increased the M's WPA by more than 0.177 (the most by any M's starter).
3) Mariners most important strikeouts
Finally, just for fun, I've also compiled a bunch of the most impactful K's of the season. We'll call these POWER PUNCHOUTS; below I've listed all of the strikeouts that resulted in a WPA of at least +10%. The Mariners recorded 25 such K's this season.
|25||6/2||Felix Hernandez||4-B||1||_23||0-2||Alfonso Soriano struck out swinging.||0.100|
|24||7/18||Danny Farquhar||9-B||2||_2_||2-2||C.J. Cron struck out swinging.||0.102|
|23||7/19||Brandon Maurer||9-B||2||_2_||1-1||Chris Iannetta struck out swinging.||0.102|
|22||4/20||Dominic Leone||5-B||1||1_3||1-2||Jeff Mathis struck out swinging.||0.104|
|21||4/8||Fernando Rodney||9-T||0||12_||5-3||Ian Stewart struck out swinging.||0.105|
|20||8/1||Roenis Elias||6-B||1||1_3||1-1||Chris Davis struck out looking.||0.106|
|19||5/2||Tom Wilhelmsen||6-B||2||_23||3-4||Dexter Fowler struck out swinging.||0.107|
|18||5/3||Fernando Rodney||9-B||1||1__||8-9||Matt Dominguez struck out looking.||0.107|
|17||5/7||Yoervis Medina||9-B||0||_2_||4-4||Josh Donaldson struck out swinging.||0.112|
|16||7/19||Brandon Maurer||9-B||0||_2_||1-1||David Freese struck out looking.||0.112|
|15||7/11||Fernando Rodney||9-T||2||__3||3-2||Nick Punto struck out looking.||0.113|
|14||5/6||Charlie Furbush||8-B||2||12_||3-4||Brandon Moss struck out looking.||0.119|
|13||7/7||Hisashi Iwakuma||7-T||2||_23||1-0||Sam Fuld struck out swinging.||0.121|
|12||6/8||Felix Hernandez||7-B||1||__3||0-0||Matt Joyce struck out swinging.||0.122|
|11||5/3||Fernando Rodney||9-B||0||1__||8-9||Jason Castro struck out swinging.||0.123|
|10||9/13||Felix Hernandez||7-T||1||__3||1-1||Derek Norris struck out swinging.||0.124|
|9||5/31||Fernando Rodney||9-T||1||12_||3-2||Rajai Davis struck out swinging.||0.129|
|8||5/8||Fernando Rodney||9-T||1||12_||1-0||Billy Butler struck out swinging.||0.129|
|7||6/20||Charlie Furbush||8-B||2||123||5-5||Alcides Escobar struck out swinging.||0.130|
|6||8/10||Fernando Rodney||9-T||2||123||4-2||Jordan Danks struck out swinging.||0.134|
|5||8/24||Tom Wilhelmsen||8-B||2||1_3||6-7||Allen Craig struck out looking.||0.140|
|4||4/3||Charlie Furbush||7-B||2||123||1-2||Sam Fuld struck out swinging.||0.155|
|3||5/31||Fernando Rodney||9-T||0||12_||3-2||Andrew Romine struck out swinging.||0.163|
|2||8/24||Fernando Rodney||9-B||2||123||6-8||Kelly Johnson struck out swinging.||0.170|
|1||9/13||Fernando Rodney||10-T||1||123||2-2||Brandon Moss struck out looking.||0.178|
- - -
All in all, the combination of plays listed in these tables feel somewhat imperfect. A lot of them are wonderful moments, but some of them are just kinda sad. For example, it's hard to get excited about second "biggest" play of the season, which came during a Fernando Rodney meltdown (the one where he prematurely fired an arrow into the Angels dugout), when you know that he's going to blow the game just two hitters later. Similarly, the single "biggest" strikeout of the year came in the midst of Rodney's worst inning of the season (the one where he walked FOUR men in the tenth against the A's). It's particularly trying to recall events like this after a season that saw the Mariners miss the playoffs by a single game. Oh well.
In any case, this serves to reinforce the idea that pitching in the majors, especially in the final inning(s) of a close ballgame, is quite difficult. Being a reliever is a relatively thankless job because your performance is much more likely to be remembered if/when you mess up. You can make the best pitch of your life, dramatically improving your team's chance of winning, but unless the out that you've just recorded is the final one of the game, there are still many potential pitfalls that could cost you the game. Fortunately, knowing this makes it that much easier to enjoy the good moments in baseball.