Over the last five games, David Ortiz has hit .733/.750/1.267. This would be a crazy line for any stretch of the season, much less the fucking World Series, and it's brought his career line in the Fall Classic up to .465/.556/.814, which is good enough—the best of any hitter with at least 50 plate appearances—to back an argument for him as the greatest Series hitter of all time.
Slash lines don't make for a complete measure of postseason hitting, though, because they don't account for timing. Mickey Mantle hit just .257 in 12 World Series, but he hit three home runs in the seventh inning or later when the Yankees were tied, or losing. Shouldn't that count for something?
Win Probability Added (WPA) is a statistic that accounts for situational impact by measuring the difference every plate appearance makes to the team's chances of winning. An example: When Kirk Gibson went up to bat in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, the Dodgers has an estimated 13 percent chance of winning. His home run improved those odds to 100 percent, so the play gets a WPA of 0.87. That's the largest in World Series history.
The chart above shows the 17 players, going back to 1903, who have accumulated at least 1.0 WPA in their World Series plate appearances (click here for a larger version, data via Baseball Reference). Plate appearances that increased a team's chances of winning by at least 20 percent (WPA ≥ 0.2) are marked with the result and inning, and colored by the impact the hit had on the game. Ortiz isn't, by this measure, even the best Series hitter of his generation—Lance Berkman and his .410/.520/.564 World Series line comes in third. Still, he's clearly in among the greats.
Ortiz hasn't had too many killer shots in the World Series. His two-run, go-ahead homer off Wacha in Game 2 this year netted a WPA of 0.33, but his next best hit was worth just 0.17 WPA. Ortiz has accumulated WPA through volume—30 of his 54 World Series plate appearances improved the Sox's chances of winning, versus just 18 that decreased their chances. This is the sort of Ortiz we've seen this Series, less a big moment slugger than a relentless hitter who seems to get something started for Boston every time he gets up to plate.
This measurement isn't completely fair; it's dependent on opportunity, and since great hitters reliably improve their teams chances of winning, the top of the list largely indexes the great hitters who played in the Series most often. (Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Babe Ruth all had more than 150 World Series plate appearances.)
If we look at WPA per plate appearance, the leader is Geoff Blum, who came up to bat just once but managed to make the most of it. Setting a minimum of 50 PA, here are the 20 players (out of 279) who increased their teams chances of winning by at least one percent per plate appearance, on average:
|Home Run Baker||97||1.56||0.016|
|Shoeless Joe Jackson||57||0.63||0.011|
Berkman, Ortiz, and Charlie Keller lead the pack by a fair amount; they're the only players who improved their teams odds by an average of two percent per PA. Just for the hell of it, below are the players who've accumulated the lowest WPA during their World Series appearances.
The worst single plate appearance belongs to Cliff Bolton, who grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th, down 2-1 in Game 4 of the 1933 World Series. The Senators had an estimated 55 percent chance of winning when he got up to bat. By the time he was done, it was down to zero.