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Ranking the Oakland A’s best comebacks by Win Probability

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What was the most unlikely A’s comeback of 2018 so far?

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s are the masters of comebacks this year. They’ve already had 14 games this season in which they’ve been trailing in the 7th inning or later but charged back to take the lead and steal the victory. Twice they’ve been down to their last strike and still found a way to come out on top. No lead is safe, at least until the final out is squeezed.

Even with all of these heroics, the A’s took it up to the next level this week. On Tuesday they were behind by eight runs entering the 7th, but they reeled off 11 unanswered to shock the Rangers. The next night was one of the times they were one strike away from losing, but a last-minute homer flipped the script once again in Texas. In both instances, the historically hot Khris Davis provided the go-ahead dinger.

That got me to wondering: Which of these comebacks have truly been the best? In order to find an answer, I turned to the Win Probability charts on FanGraphs. The concept is that at any given moment in a game, each team has a certain probability of earning the victory. The more you lead by, and the later you lead, the higher your odds of sealing the win.

In total, there have been 13 games in which the A’s faced a 90% probability of losing but came back anyway. That includes 12 of the late-inning comebacks referenced in the intro, but not the two against the Giants — those only got up to around 75% in favor of S.F., since apparently math knows the Giants suck too. In their place is one in which they were down by a lot early but chipped away and erased the deficit midway through. Here are the top five least likely comebacks, all of which happened to come on the road, with links to the rest at the end.

1. The 8-run comeback

Date: July 24, at Rangers
Peak odds of losing: 99.5%

via FanGraphs

MLB teams had won 761 straight games when entering the 7th inning with a lead of at least eight runs, with the last collapse coming in 2012. The Rangers had never blown a lead in such a situation in their entire 58-season history, dating back to their days as the Washington Senators. This one was truly historic.

When Elvis Andrus hit his grand slam in the 6th to make it 10-2, Texas’ odds sat at 99.5% for victory. But their bullpen gift-wrapped a bunch of runs via walk, then Stephen Piscotty tied it with a homer in the 9th, and Khrush delivered the final blow in extras.

2. The Pinder Slam

Date: May 19, at Blue Jays
Peak odds of losing: 96.9%

via FanGraphs

This game was scoreless until the 5th, but Toronto took a commanding 4-0 lead in that frame and held it until the 8th. Their odds peaked twice at 96.9%, once when Oakland was retired to end the 7th and again when the Jays put their own runner on in the bottom of the inning.

But then, in the 8th, the A’s put together a rally. They pushed home a run, then loaded the bases anew, and Chad Pinder stepped up and delivered a grand slam to take the lead. The Win Probability Added for that homer alone was 58.1%, which as near as I can tell makes it the third-most valuable hit of Oakland’s entire season.

3. The Piscotty save

Date: June 19, at Padres
Peak odds of losing: 96.5%

via FanGraphs

The Padres had been cruising along with a 2-1 lead since the 2nd inning. The advantage was slim, but they took it all the way to the 9th. They got the first out, and then the second out, and when Stephen Piscotty stepped up the odds peaked at 96.5% that San Diego would hold on to win. All-Star closer Brad Hand took him down to the final strike, but on the 2-2 pitch PIscotty delivered a homer to tie it. The A’s eventually won in extras.

4. The Tigers collapse

Date: June 26, at Tigers
Peak odds of losing: 95.7%

via FanGraphs

The Tigers pounced early against Frankie Montas, and by the end of the 3rd they were leading 6-0. Their odds peaked at 95.7% in the 4th, when Matt Olson recorded the second out of the inning. But the A’s scratched out a few runs before the frame ended, and then a few more in the 5th, and finally in the 7th they tied it 7-7. One final rally in the 9th sealed it for the A’s.

5. The Khrush Game

Date: July 25, at Rangers
Peak odds of losing: 95.2%

via FanGraphs

This was the night after the big eight-run comeback, and it had all the makings of a ho-hum loss after the dramatic but draining evening prior. Texas took an early lead, then added some insurance later to make it 5-1. Their odds peaked at 95.2% in the 7th, when Nick Martini fanned for the second out with a runner on base. But then Jed Lowrie walked, and Khrush homered, and the lead was cut to 5-4.

Still, that slim advantage held until the 9th. Even with Martini on base, the odds climbed back up to 91.4% when the second out of the inning was recorded. Down to their last strike against Jose Leclerc, Khrush came through again with the two-run dinger to take the lead. The 70.1% WPA from Khrush’s game-saving blast makes it the single most valuable A’s hit of the year.

Best of the rest

Click the link on each Win Probability percentage to see the full chart.

6. July 7 at Indians (94.8%)
7. June 17 vs. Angels (93.7%)
8. June 25 at Tigers (93.4%)
9. April 18 vs. White Sox (92.6%)*
10. July 12 at Astros (90.9%)
11. May 2 at Mariners (90.7%)
12. June 23 at White Sox (90.5%)**
13. March 29 vs. Angels (90.0%)

* The second-most valuable hit of the year came in this game. Down 10-9 in the 8th, Jed Lowrie homered to make it 11-10, worth 61.2% in terms of WPA.

** Not one of the the dramatic late comebacks we’ve come to know and love, but rather a 5-0 lead in the 2nd that was gone by the 5th.

Here’s to many more thrilling come-from-behind-wins! Or just regular wins work too. Either way.