Every year in October, we look at the biggest games by White Sox hitters in terms of Win Probability Added. If you’re unfamiliar with WPA, the name of the stat does most of the explaining. At any point, the Sox have a probability of winning the game reflected by a percentage based the situation (score, innings, runners, outs, etc.). WPA measures how much a hitter adds to (or subtracts) from the team’s chances of winning a game.
The easiest way to compile WPA? Late-inning hits, preferably with two outs that either tie the game or give the Sox the lead. The Tyler Flowers Game from 2014 stands out as the clutchest game in decades because he doubled up on WPA bonanzas. He hit a game-tying solo shot with two outs in the ninth, then led off the 12th with a walk-off blast. Walk-off hits are the shortcut to big WPA totals, especially walk-off homers when the winning run is at the plate.
Perhaps that latter factor is why this year’s list of biggest WPA games is short on walk-offs. The White Sox had seven walk-off winners in 2016 -- three against Detroit alone -- but there wasn’t a homer in the bunch. That’s the first time the Sox went a season without ending a game on a dinger since 2009.
Rather, eight of these 10 clutchest games came on the road. Also, the five longest homers happened on the road. Maybe they just want Hawk Harrelson to be around to holler all about ‘em.
No. 10: Jose Abreu
June 23 | WPA: 0.392
Abreu’s WPA — which he achieved primarily with a go-ahead three-run homer over the Green Monster in the seventh inning off Junichi Tazawa — wouldn’t have come close to cracking the top 10 last year, due to the players who came off the bench to deliver big hits without earlier outs getting in the way. This game is also the only loss on the list, as the White Sox bullpen couldn’t hold the lead.
No. 9: Jose Abreu
June 20 | WPA: 0.393
Abreu terrorized the Red Sox in this series. In the opener, he hit a two-run double off Craig Kimbrel in the 10th inning to give the White Sox a lead David Robertson closed out. This was supposed to be the start of Abreu’s in-season comeback, but the one that took came a month later.
No. 8: Brett Lawrie
May 23 | WPA: 0.405
Lawrie delivered a big hit — a three-run homer off Mike Clevinger -- but it wasn’t the kind of big late-inning hit that allows a guy to crack this list. It came in the fifth inning, giving the Sox a 6-3 lead they barely hung onto. Lawrie ended up making it No. 8 because he only helped the Sox over the course of the game. He went 2-for-2 with three walks, a stolen base, three RBIs and two runs scored.
No. 7: Dioner Navarro
July 2 | WPA: 0.428
Dioner Navarro hit two triples in a season for the first time in 2007. One of them came at Minute Maid Park in this game, a drive to right center that took a funny bounce off the wall and gave the Sox a 2-1 lead. Likewise, he turned a one-run deficit into a one-run lead when he shot a two-run single through the right side in the fifth. Those two swings counted as the two biggest events of the game in a 7-6 victory.
No. 6: Todd Frazier
May 9 | WPA: 0.441
Frazier hit a go-ahead grand slam in the 12th inning to give the White Sox an 8-4 victory to improve their record to 23-10. But because the Sox loaded the bases with nobody out, the White Sox had a win probability of 83 percent before he swung the bat, so the homer didn’t swing the game like one normally would. Frazier still cracks this list because he compiled a strong game. The slam was his fourth hit and his third run-scoring one, as he hit a solo shot off Colby Lewis in the sixth and an RBI single off Tony Barnette in the eighth. The White Sox bullpen kept having problems with the Rangers, setting up the heroics.
No. 5: Adam Eaton
Aug. 17 | WPA: 0.471
Here’s another go-ahead slam in the top of an inning for contrast. Eaton’s blast off Cody Allen swung the game more than Frazier’s because the Sox trailed by one run with one down in the top of the ninth. According to win probability, the Sox only had a 46 percent chance of winning the game under those circumstances because home-field advantage wasn’t in their favor. After Eaton’s fateful bubble-blowing swing, they had a 96 percent chance.
No. 4: Todd Frazier
Aug. 25 | WPA: 0.508
Speaking of home-field advantage, here’s the only walk-off hit on the list. The Mariners chose to attack Frazier by intentionally walking Jose Abreu. It wasn’t an insult -- one out and all that -- but Frazier still made them pay by yanking a single down the left field line to end it. Better yet, Frazier set up his own situation by delivering a two-run game-tying single off Steve Cishek with two outs two innings before.
So why is Frazier only fourth on this list while delivering two huge hits? He struck out in his first three at-bats, twice with runners on, so he dug himself out of a hole.
No. 3: Melky Cabrera
June 22 | WPA: 0.515
Compare Frazier’s late-game heroics to Cabrera’s during this game in Boston. Cabrera tied the game in the eighth with a two-run homer off Koji Uehara, then extended the lead to two runs with a single off Robbie Ross in the ninth. Neither of those hits were as dramatic as Frazier’s two hits, and a road game made it impossible to walk it off, but Cabrera had a stronger front half of the game. In fact, he delivered an RBI double in his first at-bat to give the Sox a quick 1-0 lead, the first of his four hits on the night.
No. 2: Tyler Saladino
May 31 | WPA: 0.540
Before looking at this list, I thought The Tyler Saladino Game might’ve been the clutchest by WPA. He went 2-for-2 with two walks and two stolen bases, so he had no outs getting in the way. Both of his hits were with the Sox trailing, and one was a go-ahead two-run homer off Hanser Robles in the eighth inning, the kind of blast that will turn the chances of victory from 26 percent to 73 percent. So what kind of effort does it take to top a name game?
No. 1: Melky Cabrera
July 30 | WPA: 0.599
The kind of game in which a demoralizing loss transforms into an exhausting victory. Cabrera’s line in the box score is strong -- 3-for-5, a double and three RBIs — but he did make two outs, so how did he still blow the field away in terms of WPA? A Matt Albers meltdown in the bottom of the eighth gave Cabrera an extra hero situation.
Third at-bat: Cabrera delivers a two-out, two-run double in the fifth inning to boost the Sox’ win probability from 50 percent to 74 percent.
Fourth at-bat: Cabrera flies out to end a 1-2-3 inning, but the Sox were still leading 4-1 entering the bottom of the seventh, so it didn’t make a dent (88 percent).
Fifth at-bat: With two outs in the ninth, a runner on second and the Sox trailing 5-4, Cabrera singles home Tim Anderson to tag a blown save to Brandon Kintzler (11 percent to 47 percent).
Navarro ended up playing the hero in the top of the 10th with a one-out RBI double off Fernando Abad for the game-winning run, but according to WPA, the hit that tied the game loomed larger. Two outs is bigger than one, and the same can be said for two hits.