Win Probability Added is a statistic used, at its most basic level, to determine the direct contributions an individual player to a team’s chances of winning a game. For instance, if a player comes to the plate with his team at exactly a 50% chance of winning a game and he gets a hit which brings the team’s Win Probability up to 60%, he added 10% to the win probability, signified by 0.1 added to his WPA total.
It is not necessarily a measure of a player’s overall productivity—for instance, despite Albert Pujols’s dominance in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, his WPA was a relatively pedestrian 0.209 (which was tied for 10th among St. Louis Cardinals WPA performances just in the 2011 postseason) as the Cardinals already had a very high chance of winning the game when he hit his three home runs.
But it is a way of measuring a player’s single-game “clutchness”, and whether or not you believe that clutch is an actual, tangible quality, it is a fun way of looking at Cardinals postseason heroics. So without further adieu, here is a look at the ten greatest offensive performances in Cardinals postseason history as measured by Win Probability Added.
10. David Eckstein, 2006 World Series Game 4 (0.491)
In a tightly contested game in which the Cardinals crystallized a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series lead, Eckstein earned his World Series MVP trophy with a 4-for-5 game against the Detroit Tigers. A majority of his WPA came from his go-ahead RBI in the bottom of the 8th, in which he doubled to bring home Aaron Miles (with an assist from Craig Monroe), bringing the Cardinals’ chances of winning from 58% to 85%.
9. Daniel Descalso, 2012 NLDS Game 5 (0.493)
Although it was Pete Kozma who drew the lion’s share of ire from Washington Nationals fans, it was Daniel Descalso whose two-out single in the top of the 9th inning tied this game, bringing the Cardinals’ win probability from 14% to 50% (his subsequent steal of second base gave him an additional 1%, for good measure). He also nearly doubled the team’s odds of victory in the top of the 8th with a solo home run off of Tyler Clippard, and had a not-insignificant double to lead off the top of the 5th.
8. Carlos Beltran, 2013 NLDS Game 3 (0.516)
The thing about WPA is that while it skews heavily towards victories, for fairly self-explanatory reasons, sometimes players can contribute heavily to a victory that never quite materializes. This was Carlos Beltran in Game 3 of the 2013 NLDS, a painful loss at the time later redeemed by the team’s eventual series victory. Beltran had two of the game’s three highest WPA moments: a two-run single in the top of the 5th (30% to 53%) and a solo home run in the 8th (23% to 50%).
7. Brian Jordan, 1996 NLDS Game 3 (0.550)
In addition to a go-ahead single in the top of the 1st and a single which led to a stolen base which led to a run scored in the 6th inning, the two-sport superstar hit a go-ahead two-run home run off of legendary closer Trevor Hoffman (which brought the Cardinals from 50% to 92% to win the game) in the 9th to give the Cardinals a sweep of the San Diego Padres in their first postseason appearance since 1987.
6. Albert Pujols, 2005 NLCS Game 5 (0.573)
Pujols had the worst offensive game on this list, going 1-for-5 with a strikeout. But until you were just reminded of it, you probably did not remember the 0-for-4 that Pujols carried into his 9th inning plate appearance at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. However, what you do probably remember was the moment in which the Cardinals’ chances of winning a game which, had they lost, would have ended their season, went from 7% to 81%.
He hit it off the train track.
5. Jack Clark, 1985 NLCS Game 6 (0.578)
While it tends to be somewhat overshadowed by Ozzie Smith’s walk-off in the previous game, Jack Clark’s pennant-clinching 9th inning homer (once again off of Dodgers reliever Tom Niedenfuer) caused a similar WPA jump to Albert Pujols in Houston, with the tie-breaker being Jack Clark’s third-inning single.
4. Larry Walker, 2004 World Series Game 1 (0.600)
The 2004 World Series, coming off the heels of a memorable NLCS against the Houston Astros, was an abrupt thud which ended the season of the 105-win Cardinals. Unfortunate as the series was, August acquisition Larry Walker had a memorable Game 1 in a losing effort. While his 1st inning double (4%), 3rd inning home run (8%), and 4th inning single (3%) caused surprisingly minor dents in the team’s Win Probability, his WPA jumped considerably with his 6th inning double (15%) and, most bizarrely, after a Manny Ramirez error on a ball hit by Walker which tied the game (a 31% jump).
In a largely forgotten performance, Larry Walker had the 35th highest WPA in postseason history, and the highest of all-time by a player in a losing effort.
3. Terry Pendleton, 1985 World Series Game 2 (0.663)
Although he had a third-inning single, it was Pendleton’s ninth-inning double off of Kansas City Royals reliever Charlie Leibrandt which cemented his spot on this list. The two-out double, which scored Jack Clark, Tito Landrum, and Cesar Cedeno (who had been intentionally walked to get to Pendleton), gave the Cardinals a 4-2 lead which they did not relinquish, boosting the Cardinals’ Win Probability by 69%, from 23% to 92%.
2. Lance Berkman, 2011 World Series Game 6 (0.828)
Lance Berkman arguably deserved World Series MVP in 2011, a season in which the 35 year-old had his best career offensive season by OPS+. And in Game 6 of the World Series, Berkman had the game of a lifetime—facing elimination from the World Series at the hands of the Texas Rangers, his WPA was the 5th highest in postseason history. His game was defined by three enormous hits: a 1st inning two-run home run (causing a 41% to 62% Win Probability shift), a 6th inning single which eventually led to his scoring the tying run, and most famously, a 10th inning, two-out two-strike single which caused a 47% Win Probability jump (16% to 63%). The gray beard won.
1.David Freese, 2011 World Series Game 6 (0.964)
WPA is a fickle stat. The difference between a subpar WPA game and a legendary one is razor thin. And, not even including his 5th inning error on a routine pop-up, David Freese was one strike away from having a negative WPA in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. This shouldn’t be a surprise—although he drew a fairly timely walk, his bat had been otherwise silent until the 9th inning.
And then Freese launched his legendary two-out, two-strike triple to tie the game, improving the Cardinals’ odds from 8% to 62%, a moment so dramatic that the normally stoic Joe Buck’s voice cracked.
And then in the bottom of the 11th, Freese hit his immortal walk-off home run, representing a 37% WPA jump (from 63% to 100%) in what was only the 4th highest WPA of the game (behind, respectively, Freese’s triple, Berkman’s aforementioned single, and Josh Hamilton’s 10th inning two-run home run) because Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was a real life fever dream.
Freese’s 0.964 WPA is the highest in postseason history. Only fifteen regular season games this decade have surpassed what David Freese accomplished facing elimination from the World Series, and only four have surpassed it in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals.
And with those two swings of the bat, a man who has earned nearly $20 million in Major League Baseball will never have to buy another drink in St. Louis for the rest of his life.