WPA Analysis: Nationals lose on missed opportunities

Last night’s Braves-Nationals game was marked by missed opportunities. Staked to an early 1-0 lead, the Nationals couldn’t get that big hit to open up the game.
In the 8th inning, the Braves struck. Martin Prado picked up his first Major League hit with a triple off of Gary Majewski to open the inning. Three batters later, Wilson Betemit, filling in for the injured Edgar Renteria, lofted a 1-2 pitch over the right-centerfield wall to give the Braves a 3-1 lead. The Nationals would put runners on base in the 8th and 9th, but the Braves held on for the win.
As part of a new weekly feature, I wanted to take a look at the outcome of this game through a Win Probability chart. (For a primer on WPA, check out The One About Win Probability at The Hardball Times.) Here’s the chart for last night’s game with a few key moments highlighted:

Heading into the bottom of the first with the game tied, the Nationals had a .545 Win Probability. After back-to-back doubles by Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen, the number had risen to .618. It would climb steadily over the course of the next six innings, but each time the Nationals threatened to score and failed, their win probability would drop back a little.
In the fourth inning, it looked as though the Nats were about to break the game open. They had the bases loaded and one man out. After Royce Clayton’s intentional walk to load the bases, the Nats win probability stood at a robust .790. But Brian Schneider hit into a double play, and that number fell back to point .658.
Again in the fifth, the Nats loaded the bases, but this time with two outs. After Jose Guillen was intentionally walked, the team’s win probability reached .745. But a Ryan Zimmerman strike out dropped that back to .682.
In the bottom of the 8th, disaster struck, and the game’s WPA chart certainly shows this sea change. Martin Prado, playing in place of Marcus Giles, reached third on a lead-off triple. The Nats’ win probability went from .771 to .541. An out raised Washington’s WP back to .633, but a walk lowered it to .588.
Then came the biggest blow of the game. Wilson Betemit’s three-run home run was the crushing blow. The Nats went from sitting pretty to dead in the water. The Braves were up 3-1 with one out in the top of the 8th. The Nats’ win probability had gone from a game-high of .790 at the start of the bottom of the 7th to .123 with one out in the top of the 8th. While Washington put runners on in the 8th and 9th, the game’s win probability wasn’t close.
From Sunday’s game’s WPA, we can see just how much untapped opportunities meant to the Nationals. Had they scored another run or two in their bases loaded situations, they could have solidified the game. Instead, the Braves, through timely pitching, were able to stay in the game until they produced their own big blow with six outs remaining for their opponents.

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