I was watching the April 20th game between the Oakland A’s and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim a couple days ago, and I enjoyed watching it.  The A’s won the game 6-3, despite the fact that starting pitcher Kendall Graveman only lasted three innings.  Without a true longman in the pen, the A’s turned to middle reliever Dan Otero to try and give them some solid innings out of the pen.  Otero ended up pitching four shutout innings, while only allowing one hit and striking out four, earning his first win of the year despite the fact that the A’s had the lead his whole tenure.  It was a career high in innings for Dan Otero, and the TV crew gave the Player of the Game award to Stephen Vogt, who went 1/3 with a walk and a three run home run.

Now I love me some Stephen Vogt, and he played a heck of a game, but I wondered what Dan Otero would have to do to get that little honor other than what he did.  It occurred to me that Dan Otero may have just pitched the best game of his MLB career, and it may stay that way.  Four scoreless innings out of the pen is nothing to scoff at, especially for a guy who rarely goes longer than an inning or two.  I did a quick scan of Otero’s game logs, and if you go by Base-Out Runs Saved (RE24 for short), which measures difference in Run Expectancy at the beginning of a play vs the end of a play and credits it to the pitcher, it was in fact Dan Otero’s best outing ever.  He had 2.7 RE24, which also beat Vogt’s 2.0, so he was probably the best player in the game.

Yeah, but nobody really cares.  Otero came into the game with a lead, and he left with the lead, so his wPA (Win Probability Added, which is like RE24 but takes context of the game into account) was just .388, so it was relatively low leverage.  I had just witnessed possibly the greatest performance (context excluded) of Dan Otero’s career, and nobody cares.  That got me to thinking; how often does this happen?  How many other players have these amazing performances in mopup duty that nobody cares about? I used the Play Index from Baseball Reference to check for games where relief pitchers had a higher RE24 than Otero’s game while still having a lower wPA.  In the history of time there were actually 1,822 games where this occurred.  1,822 games where a relief pitcher might have had the game of his life and it’s likely nobody cared.  Well I’m going to highlight some of these games and give these fellas their due.  I can only imagine these poor guys coming into the dugout looking for high fives and not getting many, either because the game was well in hand or may have even been a loss.  Well, we’re here to give some of these guys a belated pat on the back.

The greatest game by RE24 in this camp came on June 5, 1950, in a game between the White Sox and the Red Sox at Fenway.  In this game, Ellis Kinder started for the BoSox, but he left the game after getting just one out in the first while leaving runners on first and second.  In came Mickey McDermott.  McDermott had a middling career as a swingman, compiling a 69-69 record with a 3.91 ERA.  1950 was his worst season; he’d finish the year with a 5.19 ERA.  That day, though, he pitched eight and two thirds scoreless innings, allowing just four hits.  The Red Sox won that game 12-0, and as a result, it really didn’t matter much who was on the hill for the Red Sox.  His RE24 score in that game was a crazy good 6.05, and his wPA was just .206.  It was the second best game he’d ever pitch in a fourteen year career, only short of this ridiculous 17 inning/2 run effort on July 13th, 1951, and even that was only .55 RE24 points better.  That was the most impressive Mopup Duty effort ever, and we salute you Mickey McDermott.

The greatest game since the strike came on June 19, 2004, between the Devil Rays and the Diamondbacks.  Dewon Brazelton started the game for the Rays, but he didn’t have his best stuff and left the game in the third having given up his fourth run on a Chad Tracy single.  Enter stage left Rob Bell.  Rob Bell stuck around in the league for a long time despite pitching very poorly, accumulating a 34-37 record with a 5.71 ERA over seven years.  He was a rotation mainstay for a long time, but he was in the pen at this point in his career.  Bell came into the game with a 7-4 lead, two on and nobody out.  He got the double play, and finished that game with the Rays winning 11-4.  Bell’s final line was seven scoreless innings with four hits and five strikeouts.  He accumulated 4.83 RE24, which was in fact, the best game of Rob Bell’s career.  Alas, an interleague blowout between the 23rd and 30th best teams in the league in 2004 was not a highlight machine, so few recognized the accomplishment.  Well, if you’re out there Rob Bell, we see you.  Here’s a virtual High Five.

On September 9, 1953, the Dodgers were away at the Reds.  The Dodgers took an early 1-0 lead, but trouble came as starter Johnny Podres had to leave the game with just two out in the first inning.  From the bullpen came swingman Bob Milliken.  Milliken only pitched two years in the MLB, going 13-6 with a 3.59 ERA.  Milliken shut down the Reds that day, pitching eight and a third innings without giving up a single hit and just one walk.  That’s ridiculous.  Everybody knows about the day Ernie Shore threw a perfect game in relief of Babe Ruth, but this was nearly as good.  Milliken’s effort was worth 4.8 RE24, and his eighth win that year, but just .291 wPA as the Dodgers won 6-0.  Milliken didn’t have a single other game above 3 RE24; these eight plus innings were the highlight of his baseball life.  Alas, the Reds were horrible, and the Dodgers were cruising.  Well, nice work anyway Bob.

Probably the lowest leverage complete-game-in-relief came on July 1st, 1942, when the Indians beat the White Sox.  Chicago starter Orval Grove didn’t get a single out in the game before leaving the game with seven runs on the board.  In to try and absorb a few innings was “Whistling” Jake Wade, who had a respectable eleven year career, but just a 27-40 record with a 5.00 ERA.  That day, though, Wade was nearly untouchable.  He scattered three hits across nine scoreless innings in relief, while striking out four.  Run Support was not to be found though, and the ChiSox lost the game 7-2.  The game logs are spotty for games from that long ago, but from what I can tell it was Wade’s best game ever.  Wade accumulated 3.6 RE24, but added a miserable 0.012 win probability to his team’s chances because of the score.  The man pitched a complete game shutout, but got the no decision and his team lost.  What an awkward post game interview.

The last game I’ll highlight came on June 8th, 1977, between Orioles and the Red Sox.  The Red Sox barely managed to pull this one out 14-5, and after all fourteen runs had scored off the O’s pitching staff, our hero Tippy Martinez came in from the pen.  Martinez pitched five and two thirds scoreless innings with just three hits, good for 4.5 RE24.  What’s particularly notable about this one above all the others was that Martinez earned himself a hot 0.000 wPA for that stellar performance.  He literally added nothing to his team’s chances due to the game being well out of hand by the time he arrived.  He threw nearly six scoreless innings against a lineup that included Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, and Carlton Fisk, among others, but none of them really mattered.  Tippy Martinez would pitch for fourteen years, in 545 other games, and never top that performance.  Well, we tip our cap to you, Tippy.  Heck of a game.

There are a ton more games like this, and I’m fascinated by this subject.  Feel free to leave your comments below with what you think the best mopup duty games were, and see if they top any of these.  At the very least, let’s all try to give credit to the mopup guys who really show up; you may literally be watching the best day of a man’s career, and not even know it.

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