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The 5 biggest game-changing plays of the night

October 30, 2017

It feels as if it might take years to unpack everything that happened in Sunday night's wild 13-12, 10-inning Astros victory in Game 5 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park.Films have been made about less, honestly. While the mere bias of recency makes it too easy to say

It feels as if it might take years to unpack everything that happened in Sunday night's wild 13-12, 10-inning Astros victory in Game 5 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park.
Films have been made about less, honestly. While the mere bias of recency makes it too easy to say that every great thing is "the best this" or "the most that," it really does seem as if this game was nearly unprecedented.
As it turns out, it very nearly was. In terms of huge game-changing plays, this one tied a record set all of four days ago, in Game 2 on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. In terms of the overall back-and-forth, Game 5 is one of the six most exciting World Series games of all time. It's one of those cases where a game felt like absolute insanity, and the historical context backs that up.
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But how do we even begin to quantify such a thing? For that, we turn to a tool called Win Probability, which is a very useful way to help explain the value of a play, in terms of winning a game. All it does is to measure the change of a team's odds of winning from one event to the next, based on how likely teams historically win in those situations -- given inning, outs, score and runners.
Think about it this way: While all homers count the same on the back of a baseball card, certainly a game-winning homer in a tie game matters a lot more than a solo shot in a blowout. That's how we can say that Jose Altuve's three-run homer in the fifth inning that tied Game 5 at 7 added +34 percent Win Probability (WPA), as it turned the game from a 17.5 percent chance of a Houston win to a 51.5 percent chance.
Since we can do that for every play, already we know a lot about Game 5. It had five plays that changed the win expectancy by 25 percentage points or more, something that had never happened before Game 2. Since we can add up the total WPA of every play, we can also see which World Series games have had the most total Win Probability Added.
Another way to think about it is "excitement added." Based on the back-and-forth swings and the huge plays, this was one of the six most exciting World Series games ever, and in a virtual tie with the fourth and fifth games on this list.

Top 6 World Series WPA games of all-time
+7.78: 2005, Astros/White Sox, Game 3 (14 innings)
+7.28: 2011, Cardinals/Rangers, Game 6 (11 innings)
+6.70: 1973, Mets/A's, Game 2 (12 innings)
+6.34: 2000, Mets/Yankees, Game 1 (12 innings)
+6.31: 2015, Mets/Royals, Game 1 (14 innings)
+6.30: 2017, Dodgers/Astros, Game 5 (10 innings)
For some context, when the Dodgers blew out the Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the total WPA was just +1.2, or one-sixth of the excitement of Sunday night's game. If that 2005 game atop the list doesn't ring any bells, it ought to; that was the game in which the White Sox were down 4-0, scored five in the fifth, then blew the lead in the eighth, only to draw back ahead on Geoff Blum's 14th-inning home run.
That list is showing the changes in WPA in totality, and the top five games above went at least 11 innings; on a per-play basis, Sunday's game was the second highest in baseball history, behind only that historic 2011 Game 6, in which the Cardinals became the first team to come back from deficits in both the ninth inning and extra innings of a World Series game. It's not premature to talk about this game, and this Series, among the most exciting that we've ever seen -- and there's still at least one game left, potentially two.
It was, as we mentioned, only the second World Series game (and second of this Series) to have five plays that changed the win probability by at least 25 percentage points. Given that so much happened in Game 5, it can be easy to forget just what mattered. Before we count down those five enormous plays, realize that George Springer's seventh-inning homer in a tie game doesn't make the top five. Yuli Gurriel's fourth-inning, three-run blast to tie it at 4 doesn't make it. It's not that they weren't important. But so, so much happened.
Let's count down those five enormous plays from Game 5.
+25.8 percent WPA: Cody Bellinger's seventh-inning triple
Dodgers' win expectancy goes from 49.7 percent to 76.1 percent

Entering the seventh, the game was tied, and so was the win expectancy, at 49.7 percent, after Enrique Hernandez's fielder's choice put him at first with one out. But Bellinger's drive to center put the Dodgers up by a run with a man on third, and road teams in that position in the seventh inning go on to win 76.1 percent of the time. That's where Bellinger's +25.8 WPA comes from, the fact that he changed the game from a 50/50 toss up to a situation where his team comes out ahead three-quarters of the time.
They wouldn't maintain that, obviously, but the play had huge value. It's also worth noting that Springer was playing Bellinger tremendously deep, 341 feet away as opposed to the usual 322 feet that center fielders defend Bellinger, and that his 32 percent Catch Probability meant that other outfielders make that play about a third of the time.
+28.5 percent WPA: Bellinger's fifth-inning home run
Dodgers' win expectancy goes from 45 percent to 83.5 percent

Bellinger's triple wasn't even his biggest hit of the game, which tells you a lot about how this game went. In the fifth, before we knew how nutty this was going to get, the story was how Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda had allowed an early 4-0 lead to turn into a 4-4 tie. After Seager and Turner walked, and Hernandez struck out, Bellinger's 378-foot homer put the Dodgers up, 7-4. Most road teams hold on to that lead eight times out of 10. This was hardly "most" games, of course.
+30.6 percent WPA: Chris Taylor's ninth-inning single
Dodgers' win expectancy goes from 26.4 percent to 57 percent

After having blown multiple leads, the Dodgers weren't finished trying to come back. Down 12-9, Yasiel Puig's ninth-inning homer drew the Dodgers within one. Then, with two outs and Austin Barnes on third, Taylor's RBI single tied the game. Since that also left Los Angeles with a man on, it give them back a slight edge in win expectancy, back up to 57 percent, or essentially a tie.
+34 percent WPA: Altuve's fifth-inning home run
Astros' win expectancy goes from 17.5 percent to 51.5 percent

The Astros had two huge game-tying three-run homers, but Altuve's was slightly more valuable than Gurriel's, since it came later in the game, and with a more difficult baserunner situation to drive home. (He had men on first and second, while Gurriel had men on second and third.) At the time, it seemed as if it turned the momentum in Houston's direction, though of course, it just turned a bad situation for the Astros back into a 50/50 proposition -- itself a huge win.
+39.1 percent WPA: Alex Bregman's 10th-inning single
Astros' win expectancy goes from 60.9 percent to 100 percent

The game-ender isn't always the most important play; consider a game where a go-ahead grand slam is in the the top of the ninth and then three relatively stress-free outs follow in the bottom of the ninth. In this case, the game-ender was everything. It ended (as all walk-offs do) with a 100 percent win expectancy, and it started with the Astros only 60 percent likely to win, as there were two outs and two on, creating a potential force at any non-home base.
Bregman's single to left raised Houston's win expectancy by nearly 40 points. It wasn't just the highest WPA moment of the game; it was the second highest of the postseason (behind Hernandez's game-tying single in the 10th inning of Game 2) and the sixth highest in Astros postseason history.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.