It’s been just about three weeks since the Yankees were eliminated by the Astros. That feels like an appropriate time to get nostalgic about the 2019 regular season, which was one of the most fun seasons in recent Yankee history despite the bitter ending. There is, of course, quite a bit to relive.
It is a fun annual tradition to look back at the biggest hits of the season by Win Probability Added (WPA), a useful metric that captures the change in win expectancy from one at-bat to the next. In other words, it measures one individual play’s impact on the outcome of a game.
Baseball-Reference’s Play Index makes it super easy to sort every hit by WPA, so, without further adieu, here are the 10 biggest hits of the 2019 Yankee regular season.
10. DJ LeMahieu Walks It Off (0.39 WPA)
It makes sense for there to be a walk-off on this list, obviously, but what’s more surprising is that this is the only one. Baseball is wild. Anyway, on May 7, DJ LeMahieu delivered one of his first big hits in pinstripes with a two-out line drive single into right field. It was positively Jeterian, if I do say so myself.
The hit sealed an 5-4 win over the Mariners for the Bombers, who improved to 21-14. This was a very fun game, as the Yankees scored four runs in the final two innings, including three in the 9th after a rain delay. More on this game in a bit!
Despite the win, the Yanks remained two games out of first place, though this was their 16th win in their last 22 games. The early struggles of April were already a distant memory, and LeMahieu was hitting 330/.385/.443 (121 wRC+). What a player.
9. Austin Romine Homers at the Deadline (0.41 WPA)
Trade deadline day was a weird one for the Yankees, who made zero moves despite a general expectation that they would. Adding to the weirdness is the fact that they were facing Arizona’s Zack Greinke…who would be traded mid-game to the rival Houston Astros. With fans upset over the lack of action, the Yankees also looked lifeless at the plate.
That is, until savior Austin Romine came up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 7th. The Yanks were trailing 3-2 but had one man on base, and Romine drilled a go-ahead, two-run home run. The Yankees didn’t look back and won the game 7-5. That home run propelled the Yanks to a nine-game winning streak and, more broadly, into a stretch where the Bombers won 16 of 19.
8. Brett Gardner Ties it in the 9th (0.43 WPA)
The A’s were a menace to the Yankees this year, with the Yankees seemingly struggling against them quite a bit, especially in Oakland. Brett Gardner made sure to put a stop to that on September 1, when he came to the plate with the Yanks trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th. He drilled this homer off Liam Hendricks, setting the stage for Mike Ford to keep Truck Month rolling into September.
The Yanks’ 5-4 win was their 90th of the season (90-48) and kept their lead in the American League East at 10 games. Ford’s walk-off homer in the next at-bat was the Yankees’ second consecutive walk-off win over the A’s after DJ LeMahieu’s (who else?) 11th inning walk-off the day prior. The 2019 Yanks. They were fun, folks.
7. Gary Sánchez’s Three-Run Blast Seals the Deal (0.46 WPA)
The Yankees went 17-2 against the lowly Orioles this season, and a huge reason why was the barrage of home runs they hit against them. Only one (more on that in a moment) was bigger than the Kraken’s missile on May 20. The Yankees trailed in this game 6-1 and 7-3 but managed to win 10-7 anyway. It was their second win in a seven-game win streak and stretch during when they won 11 of 13.
Givens’ fastball came in at 98 mph, but it was no match for our Gary. His three-run blast down the line was the clinching blow and it extended the Yankee lead in the ALE to one-game. They would only be in second place for one day in the season after this game. At the time, Gary was hitting .265/.341/.646 (151 wRC+) on the season, serving as a reminder of what he’s capable of when it’s all clicking.
6. Brett Gardner’s 100th HR Comes in Grand Fashion (0.46 WPA)
I covered Brett’s grand slam in detail just the other day, so I won’t spend too much time on it here. This homer is my personal favorite of the year, though. I love Gardner and this blast was a personal achievement for him. It also clinched a two-game sweep over Boston. You love to see it. I was sitting in the bleachers for this one, and let me tell you–it was a playoff-like atmosphere out there. It was only April 17! Just great stuff. Remember when the narrative was that the new Stadium didn’t get loud?
Anyway, the Yanks were trailing 3-1 in the 7th and sat at just 7-9 on the season. After Gardner’s slam, they won 5-3 and improved to 5.5 games out of first. As we all know, that didn’t last very long.
5. Didi’s Double Torments the Twins (0.47 WPA)
Without a doubt, this was the game of the year. There’s another highlight from this Game MVP Aaron Hicks below, but let us not forget Didi’s contributions to this insane game. Our guy had five hits and seven RBI in the wild affair, and none were bigger than this double.
With the Yankees trailing 9-8 with two outs in the top of the 8th, Sir Didi came to the plate and delivered a huge at-bat. Check out the strike zone plot from this one:
The seventh pitch of the AB was right over the plate and Gregorius did not miss it. Two runs scored and the Yankees had a 10-9 lead that they would not hold for very long. More on this game, obviously, in a moment.
4. Gio Urshela, The Most Happy Fella (0.47 WPA)
In the very same inning as LeMahieu’s walk-off single, Gio Urshela had an even bigger hit. With the Yanks trailing 4-2 with one out in the bottom of the 9th, Giodude came to bat with Gleyber Torres on base. Despite being down 0-2 in the count, Gio managed to blast one to dead center that tied the game.
That set the stage for LeMahieu to be the night’s ultimate hero, but, if we go by WPA alone, it was Gio Urshela who had the biggest blow. What a season for Gio. I still can’t believe it.
3. Clint Frazier Breaks the Orioles’ Hearts (0.57 WPA)
It feels like a lifetime ago now, but the Yankees were really scuffling on April 6. Although it was early in the year, the team under .500 and were already dealing with a barrage of injuries. It was a frustrating time to be sure. The Yankees called on Clint Frazier for support, and boy did he deliver.
He came to the plate with the Bombers trailing 4-3 with two-on (including Gleyber Torres) and two-out in the inning. He worked a five-pitch at-bat and, on a 2-2 pitch, hit a blast into the left field seats that gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead. My favorite part is the reaction of Pedro Severino behind the plate. He was just so frustrated. I love it when the Yankees do that to the opposition. I love it so much.
The Yankees won this one 6-4 and improved to .500 (5-5). I think it’s fair to say that this was the very first instance of Next Man Up in 2019, and it sure was a big one.
2. Aaron Judge Puts the Rays on Ice (0.59 WPA)
Pretty wild that the Yankees won 103 games on the season but their best player on has one of their 10 biggest hits, isn’t it? But boy was it a satisfying one. On July 16, the Yankees were 60-33 and held a five-game lead over the Rays in the AL East. They lost to the Rays the night before in the first game of a pivotal four-game set in the Bronx.
The next night, it looked like the Rays might do it again. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees trailed 3-2, though Torres was on base. That brought Aaron Judge to the plate against Colin Poche, who threw him seven (!) consecutive fastballs:
The seventh was low and inside on the hands, and Judge absolutely drilled it to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead. What an at-bat in an absolutely huge moment for Judge. If the Yankees lose this one, their lead slips to four games in the division–but instead it climbed back to six games. The Rays never got this close again for the rest of the season.
They’d eventually load the bases and Gregorius would stab the Rays in the heart with a majestic grand slam four batters later. The Yanks would win 8-3 and take three of four from the hated Rays in what was my favorite game of the season. Just great stuff.
(Side note: the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd biggest hits of the Yankees all had one thing in common: Gleyber Torres was on base. Even though he didn’t deliver any of the hits himself, our man Gleyber was in the center of all of the action. What an absolute stud.)
1. Aaron Hicks Breaks the Twins’ Hearts…For the First Time (0.71 WPA)
Was there a more memorable game in 2019 than this one? It featured two of the top 10 biggest hits of the season, as well as Aaron Hicks’ absolutely incredible catch to seal the victory. But it’s easy to forget that Hicks had another huge moment in this game: his two-out, two-run, go-ahead home run in the top of the 9th inning.
Rodgers’ 97 mph fastball stood no chance against Hicks, who hit a rocket into the bullpen to give the Yankees an 11-10 lead. Although it would not hold, it ended up being fine…again because of Hicks. I can’t talk about this game and NOT show this one:
What a night for Hicks (and Gregorius). Anyway, the Yankees would win this one 14-12 in the end, and I’m not sure there has been a more fun Yankee game since the ridiculous comeback against the Orioles in April 2017. It’s only fitting that a moment from this one tops this list.
I wish the Yankees season ended with champagne and not a bitter defeat, but I love doing exercises like this. It reminds me of all of the good times and clutch hits we got to witness during the regular season. This was a hell of a fun season. Even if I extended this list to the top 20, all of those hits would be memorable or have come in memorable games.
The 2019 Yankees were a joy to watch, and doing this leaves me with one final question: is it 2020 yet?