FanPost

More Than You Ever Want To Know About Walk-Off Victories

It is interesting that the now very common term "walk-off" first appeared in print just 23 years ago on Apr. 21, 1988 in the San Francisco Chronicle. According to Wikipedia, it was in an article about the unique terms that A's closer Dennis Eckersley had coined. Eck called game-winning home runs in the last at-bat of the game "walk-off pieces", referring to how he (and other pitchers) would have to walk-off the field with heads hung while the batter circles around him to join the joyous victors' celebrations at home plate.

The word's meaning now has morphed to basically include any home victory where the winning run is scored during or after the ninth inning. It has now a custom for the entire team to run out onto the diamond, often before the play has officially been completed, to celebrate. Now, while it was not until the late 1990s or early 2000s that the term "walk-off" entered vogue, the huge database of baseball statistics over at Baseball Reference can be mined for cool facts about these very special wins.

The 2011 Blue Jays certainly had a flair for the dramatic, having completed a franchise record-tying 13 walk-off wins (the 1987 Jays also had 13 walk-off victories). They more than doubled last year's 5 walk-off wins--in fact, no Blue Jays team had had 10 or more since 2000. This FanPost is here to celebrate Blue Jays' record-tying season so it will be light on analysis and heavy on bite-sized facts straight from statistics, little pieces of trivia that will make you the centre of any party. More after the jump.

Including the 13 from this year, the Blue Jays have had a total of 245 walk-off wins in franchise history, while Jays pitchers have had to walk off the field in shame 278 times (.468 winning percentage in games featuring a walk-off). Let's get rid of the sad stats first then we can proceed on to the wins.

Walk-Off Losses

  • Tom Henke leads the list no one wants to be on with 17 walk-off losses, followed by Mike Timlin with 9, so even "legitimate" closers screw up some times. Pitchers with 8: Jim Acker, Tom Buskey, Dennis Lamp. Pitchers with 7: Joey McLaughlin, Tom Murphy, Paul Quantrill. Pitchers with 6: Miguel Batista, Kelvim Escobar, Roy Lee Jackson, B.J. Ryan, Mike Willis.
  • The first Blue Jay to do give up a walk-off win to an opponent was Pete Vuckovich against Jerry Hairston, Sr. (CWS) on April 16, 1977 in the franchise's 9th game. The last Blue Jay to do so was Brian Tallet against Ryan Adams (BAL) on August 30, 2011. Vuckovich and Tallet each gave up 3 walk-off losses in their Blue Jays career.
  • The hated New York Yankees have had the most number of walk-off wins against the Jays with 25, followed by the A's and Rangers with 24, and the Angels with 23. Funny with all the AL West teams there--I wonder if there is a bias due to the change in time zone!
  • The years with the most walk-off losses were 1984 and 2009 with 13 each. The Jays have given up just 9 in 2011. The year where opponents had the fewest walk-off wins against the Blue Jays was in 2006 (the year B.J. Ryan was lights out) when they only had 2. Milton Bradley (OAK) and Jhonny Peralta (CLE) both hit walk-off home runs off of Ryan.

Now let's turn that frown upside down and look at Blue Jays walk-off victories!

Walk-Off Fashion

  • The single is the most common type of plate appearance that results in a walk-off. This makes sense, because the game ends when the runner representing the go-ahead run scores. So even if a batter could have reached second base on a gapper, he would only be credited with a single. The next most frequent is the home run, followed by the double (I would assume that many of those were ground rule doubles, but Baseball Reference does not differentiate between "regular" and ground rule doubles).Vmq2p4_medium
  • Of course, we all remember that the last walk-off home run was hit by Edwin Encarnacion on Sept. 22 against the Angels. The one before that was Brett Lawrie's home run in the 12th inning that broke a 0-0 tie on Sept. 5. Two other Jays have had a walk-off homer to break a 0-0 tie: Buck Martinez in 1985 and Rick Bosetti in 1980.
  • Looking at the pie chart, it can be seen that "walk-off walks" are quite rare (because they require bases to be loaded), as are errors (they almost always require runners to be in scoring position; only one exception: Joe Carter scored from first on a Jim Thome throwing error on Aug. 22, 1995). The rarest walk-off types are the triple and fielder's choice. 
  • In 2011 the Blue Jays had 3 walk-off singles, 1 walk-off double, 6 walk-off homers, 1 walk-off fielder's choice, and 2 walk-off sacrifice flies (Rajai Davis scored on both of them).
  • The last time a Jay had a walk-off triple was on Sept. 26, 1987 when Juan Beniquez hit a bases-loaded triple with the Jays down 9-7 to the Tigers in the bottom of the 9th with 0 outs. The play was worth +0.480 WPA . 
  • The last time the Jays won with a walk-off fielder's choice was just a few days ago on Sept. 20 when Adam Lind came up with runners on the corners in the bottom of the 9th, 1 out, with the Jays and Angels knotted at 2. Lind hit a grounder to the right fielder (Torii Hunter was playing between first and second base in a 5-man infield defensive alignment)  who elected to throw home to try to get Mike McCoy. Needless to say, the throw was not good and McCoy scored for the Jays penultimate walk-off win in 2011. I wonder if people in the future looking at the boxscore would be confused about how this play ran down.
  • The Jays have never had a walk-off from a hit-by-pitch; however the Jays' Ken Dayley gave up a painful walk-off RBI to Alex Cole (CLE) on June 11, 1991. Since 1950 there has only been 53 games in the Major Leagues that were ended by a hit batsman.
  • All the 9 walk-off wins caused by an error were faulted to an infielder. There were 2 E-1's, 1 E-4, 3 E-5's, and 3 E-6's.
  • The most frequent game situations for a walk-off are with runners at 1st and 2nd (57) and when bases are loaded (51).

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  • The Jays have broken a tie game with a solo home run 33 times.

Walk-Off-ten

  • As mentioned in the preamble, the 2011 Jays had 13 walk-off wins, tying their franchise record first set in 1987. In the Jays' 35 seasons of play, the team has averaged 7 walk-off wins per season (both mean and median are 7).

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  • The Jays only had a single walk-off in 1977, when Bob Bailor hit a 2-run homer against the Tigers to break a 6-6 tie in the bottom of the 13th on July 15 for the franchise's first walk-off win. The Jays also only had one in 1981, but it was a strike year.
  • It is interesting to see the rugged up-and-down terrain from 1977 through 1995 turn into the flat lands with the occasional hill and valley of the late 1990s and 2000s, before being punctuated by 2011's huge peak.
  • The Jays currently lead the Major Leagues with 13 walk-off victories. The Giants are second with 12, followed by the Rays, Royals, and Indians with 11. The A's and the Yankees are tied for last with just 3 walk-off wins in 2011.
  • This past week, the Jays had two walk-off wins two days apart (Sept. 20 and 22), something that they have done 12 times in franchise history. The Jays have actually had back-to-back games with a walk-off win 15 times, but have never done it three games in a row.
  • Between Sept. 5 and Sept. 22, the Jays had 5 walk-off wins within 17 days (14 home games). The only faster pace in franchise history was between Sept. 14 and Sept. 23, 1990 when the Jays had 5 within 9 days (9 home games).
  • The longest number of days between walk-off wins was between May 23, 1994 and May 2, 1995, but there was a players' strike in between. Interestingly, the Jays had another walk-off one day later on May 3. The longest streak in a non-strike period was between Sept. 29, 1989 and Aug. 23, 1990. The next walk-off after that started a run of 5 within 9 days.

Heroes

  • The man who was responsible for the most important walk-off win for the Blue Jays in the World Series also holds the record for the most regular season walk-off plate appearances in franchise history with 10. Carter had 6 walk-off singles, 1 walk-off walk (1996), and 3 walk-off homers (1994, 2 in 1996) in the regular season. In fact, the homer in 1994 came just 5 games after he trotted around the bases in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. It was a two-run shot that broke a 6-6 tie against the Mariners, with Paul Molitor scoring the winning run.
  • 21 Blue Jays were at the plate for 4 or more walk-off wins, including current Jay Adam Lind (6) and recent Jays Aaron Hill (7) and John McDonald (4):2ljn8ec_medium
  • If we take that list and normalize it by the number of games played as a Blue Jay, we see that Tony Batista was the game hero most frequently, averaging a walk-off every 65 games. Among players who have played more than 1000 games wearing a Toronto jersey, Joe Carter did it most frequently, averaging one every 104 games.

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  • Players who walked off in 2011 (in chronological order): Yunel Escobar, Travis Snider, John McDonald, David Cooper, Corey Patterson, Adam Lind, John McDonald, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, Jose Molina, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion.
  • Players who walked off in 1987 (in chronological order): Rich Leach, Jesse Barfield, Tony Fernandez, Rob Ducey, Jesse Barfield, Garth Iorg, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield, Cecil Fielder, Willie Upshaw, Ernie Whitt, Lloyd Moseby, Juan Beniquez.
  • The mean WPA value for a walk-off hit is +0.343 with an average of +0.360.
  • Walk-off plate appearances with the highest WPA:
    • +0.91: Roy Howell (May 26, 1979) hit a 2-out, 3-run home run against the Red Sox with the Jays down 6-4 in the bottom of the 9th.
    • +0.89: Joe Carter (July 25, 1996) hit a 2-out, 2-run home run with the Jays down 3-2 against the A's in the bottom of the 9th.
    • +0.84: Kelly Gruber (June 12, 1989) hit a 2-out 2-run double in the bottom of the 11th with the Jays down 4-3 against the Tigers.
  • 11 plate appearances share the record for a walk-off play with the lowest WPA of +0.06. All occurred with the game tied with 0 out, 7 had the bases loaded while 4 had runners on the corners, so the Jays basically had a victory guaranteed. Sacrifice flies accounted for 5 of the wins, singles for 3, a walk for 1, and a 3-run homer for 1.
  • There was a period between May 2, 2009 and June 6, 2010 where the Jays had 5 walk-off wins, credited to Aaron Hill and Adam Lind alternately. After that streak, Fred Lewis hit one, and the pattern repeated again with Aaron Hill and Adam Lind hitting the Jays' next two walk-off wins.

Goats

  • During that Hill-Lind streak mentioned above, there were a string of 3 consecutive walk-off wins against one team, the Baltimore Orioles (all in 2009). That ties the longest opponent team streak in franchise history. In 1990, the Jays also had 3 consecutive walk-off wins against the poor O's.
  • The Orioles and the Red Sox had to watch the Blue Jays celebrate a walk-off 26 times, more than any other opponent. The Tigers suffered 23 times, Mariners 19 times, and White Sox 19 times. Among current AL teams, the Jays the least number of walk-off wins (11) against the Rangers and the Rays, but they've played 376 games against the Rangers while just 239 against the Rays.2q0lnaf_medium
  • The pitcher who had to walk off the field most often with the Jays celebrating was Gregg Olson (6 times), the Orioles' closer in the late 1980s and early 1990s, followed by the Chicago White Sox closer from the same era, Bobby Thigpen (4 times).
  • The Blue Jays have never had a walk-off victory with Dennis Eckersley on the mound. (edit: oops I forgot the word "never")

Obviously, there is still a lot more questions about walk-off wins that could be looked into, but I am out of good ideas (that would be easy to research) right now. Feel free to suggest something for me (or anyone with access to Baseball Reference's Play Index) to look up.

Source of most of the raw statistics: baseball-reference.com. Note: these "walk-off" stats are all based on plate apperances that result in a walk-off win. If no plate appearance is recorded for a play (ie. a "balk-off", a steal of home, a ball thrown away by a catcher, passed balls, etc.), it is not recorded here.

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