The Tigers' Top Ten most clutch at-bats of the first half

The All Star Game has come and gone, which means it's time to gear up for the second half of the 2016 season. The Tigers have played 89 games so far, and there have been plenty of "big game moments" in the first half. Here are the Top Ten most critical at-bats from Opening Day through the All Star Break, as measured by the Average Leverage Index (aLI).

A few quick notes:

  • An aLI of "1" is considered average, so anything above that is considered high leverage
  • Of these ten at-bats, the Tigers improved their win probability in four of them, so ... that's good? Sort of?
  • Why is Mike Aviles in three of these ten situations? Who needs to get an atomic wedgie for this?

#10 - Mike Aviles, July 7, Tigers vs Blue Jays (2.89 aLI)

This is less of a lesson in game leverage and more of a lesson in how valuable each out in a game really is, because this at-bat came in the top of the ninth inning during a losing game. 

The Tigers had just blown a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning because Brad Ausmus refused to use K-Rod for a four out save, and Mike Aviles led off the top of the ninth. That at-bat was worth seven percent win probability, because when your team is only down by one with three outs to go, that first at-bat is the most valuable.

Aviles grounded out.

#9 - Victor Martinez, June 23, Tigers vs Mariners (2.93 aLI)

Extra innings are always good for some extra leverage, and the Tigers were tied 4-4 with the Mariners in the tenth inning when Victor Martinez came to the plate as a pinch-hitter.

Steven Moya had already walked and represented the winning run, so when Victor singled and advanced the runner to third, the Tigers' win probability jumped from 64 percent all the way to 84 percent.

Sometimes, just setting up the winning play is "clutch" enough, as we'll see when we return to this game later in the list.

#8 - Andrew Romine, April 5, Tigers vs Marlins (3.00 aLI)

Another extra-innings example, Andrew Romine came into this Opening Day game in the bottom of the ninth as a defensive replacement, and found himself batting in the tenth inning of a 7-7 game with the go-ahead run on first base.

Romine drew a walk, advancing the go-ahead run into scoring position, and later advanced to second base himself, representing an insurance run. A walk is as good as a hit, right?

#7 - Jarrod Saltalamacchia, April 22, Tigers vs Indians (3.05 aLI)

Now we're getting into the real clutch stuff. Trailing the Indians by one run in the seventh inning, Nick Castellanos produced a one-out single, advanced to second on a groundout, and wound up on third base after a wild pitch.

With the tying run standing 90 feet away and with two outs, Jarrod Saltalamacchia pinch-hit for Bobby Wilson (remember him?) and ... sigh.

He struck out.

(The value of a K in that situation? The Indians' win probability leaped from 66 percent to 75 percent.)

#6 - Mike Aviles, April 5, Tigers vs Marlins (3.46 aLI)

Back to that Opening Day game ... the Tigers were still tied 7-7 in the top of the eleventh inning, and since this was a National League game, they needed a pinch-hitter for relief pitcher Drew VerHagen. 

Anthony Gose (remember him?) was standing on first base with nobody out, so Brad Ausmus ordered up a sacrifice bunt from Aviles, and he pulled it off. Gose later came around to score the winning run, but I want it noted: the bunt actually reduced the Tigers' win probability from 58 percent to 56 percent. 

Still, if you have to bunt, if you have to play for that one run, doing it in the eleventh inning of a tie game in a National League park is just about as perfect a scenario as you'll find.

#5 - Jarrod Saltalamacchia, May 9, Tigers vs Nationals (3.52 aLI)

You remember this game, much as you'd prefer to forget it. Anibal Sanchez pissed away a 4-1 lead because Brad Ausmus insisted on letting him pitch six innings, and Mark Lowe gave up a walk-off home run to Clint Robinson in the bottom of the ninth.

To make matters worse, Ausmus absolutely bungled his pinch-hitting strategy in the eighth inning. With the game tied and the go-ahead run standing on second base with two outs, James McCann was due up. Ausmus rightly wanted to get a left-handed bat to the plate against RHP Blake Treinen, because McCann couldn't (and still can't) hit right-handed pitching to save his life.

But he went with Victor Martinez as his pinch-hitter when the most obvious answer was to use Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Nationals didn't have to think twice about intentionally walking VMart with first base open, so then Ausmus went with Saltalamacchia as a pinch-hitter for ... Anthony Gose?

The Nationals very quickly went to LHP Felipe Rivero, forcing Saltalamacchia to turn around and bat from his much, much weaker right-handed side. He struck out, of course, and Ausmus was completely out-managed in the inning.

The best part? Ausmus told the press the next day that he'd probably erred in using VMart in that situation, and, given a chance to do it over again, would have let McCann take his at-bat.

Nope. Wrong answer again, Brad.

#4 - Miguel Cabrera, April 24, Tigers vs Indians (3.94 aLI)

This was one of those rare games where Miggy didn't actually start. Down 6-2 to the Indians, the Tigers rallied in the eighth inning by scoring a run and then loading the bases with two outs.

Mike Aviles was due up, and Ausmus quite rightly called on his Triple Crown Winner to pinch-hit in this very important situation, representing the go-ahead run.

Unfortunately, this has been a weird year for Miggy, and he fouled out to first base.

#3 - Mike Aviles, June 20, Tigers vs Mariners (4.38 aLI)

Another extra-innings game with the Mariners! This time, it was a 7-7 tie in the bottom of the ninth, and the Tigers had put runners on first and second with nobody out. Two flyouts later, however, Mike Aviles came to the plate -- he had come into the game in the eighth inning as a "defensive replacement" for Steven Moya, and promptly bungled a base hit that caromed off the side wall in foul territory, turning a Ketel Marte single into a double.

Marte later scored the tying run, which is why the Tigers ended up playing 12 innings that day.

Anyway, the defensive hero of the game (wank-wank-wank) got an at-bat with the winning run on second base and two outs, and struck out.

Get off my team, Mike Aviles.

#2 - Andrew Romine, June 30, Tigers vs Rays (5.96 aLI)

Ok, so that thing I said about these being the Top Ten highest leverage "at-bats"? I lied.

Behind 7-2 in the top of the ninth inning, the Tigers mounted a stunning rally. Five straight singles made it 7-4, a sacrifice fly made it 7-5, and another single made it 7-6 with runners at the corners and only one out.

The runner at first, representing the go-ahead run, was Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Ausmus turned to Romine as a pinch-runner, and Romine promptly stole second base to put himself in scoring position, ready to give the team the lead.

He later did score that go-ahead run, as part of a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double by Cameron Maybin, and his role in the game from the moment he came in to pinch run was off-the-charts as far as leverage.

#1 - Steven Moya/Cameron Maybin, June 23, Tigers vs Mariners (6.39 aLI)

And here we are, full circle and returning back to that June 23 game against the Mariners in which Victor Martinez had such a crucial at-bat.

You'll recall that the game was tied 4-4 in the tenth inning, and that Steven Moya had walked with one out. It was Cameron Maybin who came into the game as a pinch-runner for Moya, and as the runner representing the walk-off run in extra innings, the leverage in this situation was the highest of any Tigers position player in any game so far this year.

Maybin advanced to scoring position on VMart's single, advanced to third on an intentional walk to Saltalamacchia, and scored the winning run on a wild pitch.

So there you have it. The ten highest leverage "at-bats" in the first half that weren't really all "at-bats" after all.

Fun stuff when it swings your way, obviously, but to return to the much more important issue: why is Mike Aviles on this team?
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