After the Yankees were eliminated a few weeks ago, I took a look at the 10 biggest hits of the 2019 regular season by Win Probability Added (WPA). As a brief reminder, that metric that captures the change in win expectancy from one at-bat to the next. In other words, it measures an individual play’s impact on the outcome of a game.
With some spare time over the holiday weekend, plus the dog days of the offseason, I used Baseball-Reference’s wonderful Play Index to pull all of the Yankees’ regular season hits from 2010-2019, made a spreadsheet with the data, and sorted them by WPA. It turned into a fun exercise that brought back quite a few memories. Surprisingly, the hit I expected to top this list came in only at number two, while the decade’s biggest hit was one I’d forgotten about entirely. Baseball, man.
Before we get into it, here are a few fun facts:
- The Yankees had 14,174 hits from 2010-2019, with the most coming in 2019 with 1,493.
- Of those, 1,259 came off Brett Gardner’s bat, leading the 134 players who came to bat for the Bombers.
- The team recorded hits against 1,068 pitchers in the decade, with 275 coming against David Price.
- The Yankees had 48 walk-offs in the decade.
Anyway, with that in mind, let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
10. Frazier Punishes the Brewers
I remember this game well. In early July of 2017, the Yankees were just four games over .500. They were scuffling after a hot start to the season and felt like they were coming back down to Earth a bit. Before this July 8 game against Milwaukee, they’d lost 6 of 8 games, falling from one game out of first to 4.5.
Luis Severino gave up 3 runs on a home run in the first inning of this one but settled down after that. Down 3-0 in the 7th, Clint Frazier smashed a triple that brought the score to 3-2, scoring Jacoby Ellsbury. In the 9th, following walks to Didi Gregorius and Ellsbury, Frazier came to the plate and delivered the walk-off blow.
9. Sánchez Crushes the Twins (0.66 WPA)
This is another game I remember very well, coming in as one of my favorites of the 2018 season. Winners of 8 of 10 before this one, which came in late April, the Yankees were on a roll. The Twins, though, had other ideas–or so it seemed. Jordan Montgomery and Domingo Germán surrendered 3 runs while the Yankees couldn’t get anything going against Kyle Gibson.
Aaron Hicks would bring the score to 3-1 in the bottom of the 7th on a sac fly that scored Giancarlo Stanton, but the Yanks went down quietly in the 8th. In the 9th inning, Gregorius reached on an error, Stanton added a hit, and Sánchez absolutely unloaded on the second pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney. The good times kept rolling, and this was among the most fun games of a stretch in which the Bombers won 17 of 20.
8. McCann Buries the Rays (0.67 WPA)
This one clocks in as the first truly wild game on our list. On July 3, 2015, the Yankees hosted the Rays at Yankee Stadium while they sat 6 games above .500. The Bombers fell behind 3-0 early and then rallied in the bottom of the 8th on a Mark Teixeira 3-run home run. That tied the game and set up extra innings.
Chasen Shreve was tagged for two runs in the top of the 12th inning, which brought the score to 5-3. Shreve escaped further damage, stranding two Rays on base. In the bottom half of the inning, Brett Gardner walked, A-Rod delivered a single, Teixeira delivered another RBI blow, which made it 5-4 Rays with one out and runners on first and second. On the second pitch of his at-bat, Brian McCann made sure this game went no further.
7. Hicks Shocks the Twins For the First Time (0.71 WPA)
This is a fresh one, having topped the 2019 list and coming in as one of the most memorable Yankee games of the last decade. Of my lifetime, really. Anyway, while Hicks’ game-saving catch is the main story from this one, his two-out, two-run, go-ahead home run in the top of the 9th inning was one of the biggest hits of the last ten years.
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 the lead would not hold, it was a huge piece of the puzzle in an all-time Yankee game that will air on YES Network for years to come.
6. Chris Young Stings the Rays (0.72 WPA)
Here is our first “oh yeah, this guy was a Yankee” moment of the list. I expected there to be more of these, to be honest. Anyway, with the Yankees 11.5 games out in September of a busted 2014 season, Alex Cobb brought a no-hitter into the 8th inning with a 4-0 lead. It would not last. Martin Prado drilled a 2-run homer in that frame to bring the score to 4-2, where it held until the bottom of the 9th.
After Headley reached base on a hit-by-pitch and Ichiro doubled, Zelous Wheeler struck out. That brought up Chris Young, who ended the game with a 3-run home run that capped a 5-run rally for the Yankees. It was a memorable game in a lost season.
5. Gardner Stuns the Cubs (0.73 WPA)
This is my personal favorite game on the list, and possibly of the decade. It came in early May 2017, with the Yankees at 17-9 and facing the defending champs in Chicago. Michael Pineda was tagged for two runs and the Yankees were blanked through 8 innings in Wrigley. That made the score 2-0 going into the top of the 9th.
A one-out Chase Headley single was sandwiched between a groundout and a strikeout. Ellsbury worked a two-out walk, which brought up Brett Gardner. He then worked a classic Gardner at-bat, lasting 7 pitches, and delivered a laser 3-run home run that is instantly one of the most memorable and unexpected moments of the decade. Gardner’s emotion rounding the bases still fires me up. This was one of many “oh my god” moments of the ridiculously fun 2017 campaign. I could relive this one all day.
4. A-Rod Puts the Yankees Ahead (0.74 WPA)
Here’s A-Rod’s first and only appearance on this list, coming on September 17, 2010. This is another one of those games that I really remember. Down 3-1 in Camden Yards and facing Koji Uehara, it seemed like defeat was in order for the Yanks. Jorge Posada hit a leadoff single, followed by a strikeout, a Curtis Granderson single, and a Teixeira pop-out.
That brought A-Rod to the plate with two outs. He worked a 5-pitch at-bat and then unloaded on the Uehara pitch, launching a 3-run home run that made the score 4-3 Yankees and flipping the script in this one. Mariano Rivera would come in and close the door behind him in an easy 1-2-3 9th inning, and the Yankees won the game.
3. Swisher Walks Off the Orioles (0.78 WPA)
A week before A-Rod’s big blow off Uehara, it was Nick Swisher’s turn. After a string of three consecutive losses, the Yankees hosted the Orioles at the Stadium on September 8, 2010. It looked like another loss was in order, as the Yanks mustered just one run in 8 innings against the Orioles. That changed in the 9th inning.
A-Rod led off the frame with a single, followed by a long fly out by Robinson Canó to dead center field. That brought up Nick Swisher, who hit a walk-off blast with one out to seal a memorable 3-2 Yankee victory. It was the start of a good week against Uehara–and more dominance of the Orioles at the hands of the Yankees.
2. Teixeira’s Walk-Off Grand Slam (0.82 WPA)
Coming into this exercise, I was certain that this would top the list. It is, along with the Cubs and Twins games highlighted above, the other most memorable game of the decade to me. The Yankees were ten games behind Boston on September 28, 2016 and their season was over. But that didn’t mean the games they still had to play couldn’t be fun, and boy was this one fun.
Scoreless until the 8th, Boston scored 3 runs off Adam Warren and Tommy Layne. They held the Yanks in the bottom half of the inning, too, which kept it 3-0 going into the bottom of the 9th. Gardner would log a base hit off Craig Kimbrel, while Ellsbury and Sánchez each worked walks. Kimbrel walked McCann with the bases loaded, knocking him out of the game and making the score 3-1 Boston. Joe Kelly came in and quickly recorded two outs, but Mark Teixeira had other plans. He delivered a massive walk-off grand slam off Kelly. It was great, even in a lost season. This is another one of those I could watch over and over again.
1. Beltrán Walks it Off Against Britton (0.84 WPA)
And here it is, folks: the biggest hit of the decade by WPA. I’ll confess again that I didn’t even remember this one, but hey–that’s baseball. Anyway, the Yankees trailed 3-1 in the 9th inning on June 20, 2014 against the Orioles. With the imposing Zack Britton on the mound, this one likely felt like a sealed deal. It was not.
Gardner led off the frame with a single, which was promptly followed by two consecutive outs. Teixeira walked, followed by a McCann single. That made the score 3-2, and it brought up Beltrán. He crushed the 5th pitch from Britton and sent the Yankees’ faithful home happy. Who would have guessed at the time that this would mark the biggest hit of the decade? Not I.
And that’s that, folks. The decade may not have delivered a World Series like we all hoped, but it was filled with a ton of memorable games and moments. It was a fun decade. May the next one be just as fun–but may it also be capped off by World Series win number 28.