I wanted to write something about Ryan Zimmerman today because, you know, he hit the game-winning HR last night. Instead, I’m going to write something about a player whose role in last night’s win probably went unnoticed: Yunel Escobar.
When Yankees reliever Andrew Miller came in the game last night in the bottom of the 10th, I assumed we would all see an 11th inning. Miller is that good. Even though the top of the order was batting, I didn’t expect the Nats to score since Bryce Harper–ordinarily the Nats best chance to end the game with one swing–is a matchup nightmare against Miller. I expected a quick 1-2-3 inning.
Instead, Yunel Escobar worked a hard-fought walk against Miller, allowing Zimmerman to bat with 2 outs. The Nats won 8-6, meaning Escobar’s run didn’t matter since it was Zim’s home run, not the walk before it that was deciding factor. But without Escobar’s on base skills, Zim never gets a chance to hit that inning.
On base percentage and slugging percentage are the most important stats to measure a hitter. On base percentage is the most important statistic of the two, however, because it measures a player’s ability to not make outs. Not making outs not only puts runners on base, it extends innings and gives the other hitters in the lineup more opportunities to create runs.
If every hitter in the Nationals lineup were of equal hitting skill, that latter point wouldn’t matter. That’s not the case, however. Bryce Harper is a measurably better power hitter than the rest of the lineup. The more often the other eight hitters in the lineup get on base—and more importantly don’t make outs—the more plate appearances Harper will see. This same principle applied in the 10th inning last night. Zimmerman, probably the Nats second best power hitter, homered on his fifth plate appearance of the night. He doesn’t get his fifth plate appearance until the 11th inning, though, if Yunel Escobar makes an out against Miller. If Zimmerman never bats in the 10th, who knows what the Yankees do against the Nats bullpen in the top of the next inning?
Last night’s win was a team win. Span’s catch. Difo’s pinch hit single. Ramos’ game-tying homer. But Esobar’s walk last night, while seemingly insignificant, statistically increased the Nats chances of winning the game. Credit Zimmerman for the home run, but don’t forget Yunel Escobar’s role in making it happen.