Win Probability Added (WPA) is a fun stat that captures the context of a player’s performance. Much of Sabermetric analysis focuses on neutralizing the context of a performance, whether it is for the run environment, ballpark or opportunities. WPA is the ultimate context dependent statistic, where a home run in the 9th inning of a tie game is much more valuable than a home run in the 1st inning. WPA calculates the change in Win Expectancy after each batter’s performance.

I, like most Reds fans, have grown weary of the mediocre (at best) bench players the team has been employing the last few years (I would suggest the last really good Reds group of reserves was in 1995, but the floor is open for other nominations). I thought I would recall happier times, when a pinch hitter and part time outfielder had a WPA season for ages, and helped the Reds win a surprise pennant in 1961.

Jerry Lynch battingJerry Lynch was a left handed hitting outfielder that made his debut with the Pirates in 1954 after serving two years in the Army. The Reds acquired him in the Rule 5 draft before the 1958 season, and he was a typical bench player for that era – a good hitter with a big platoon split, a not so good glove, and a reputation as a good pinch hitter that began to develop in 1960, when he hit .288 in 76 plate appearances in that role. His 19 pinch hits that year was an NL record he would tie in 1961. He entered the 1961 season as Fred Hutchinson’s primary pinch hitter and part time left fielder. The following recounts his clutch games during that season based on WPA, which I have translated to what percentage they improved the Reds chances of winning. A late inning game changing hit can easily be improve a team’s probability of winning by around 30%, depending on the outs, score and inning.

April 13th, Reds 5, Cubs 2. In the season’s second game, Lynch was called on to hit for 2B Jim Baumer in the bottom of the 8th with two on and one out. Lynch promptly homered off lefty Jim Brewer (his only homer off a lefty in 1961) as the Reds ran their record to 2-0 (+30% WPA).

April 26th, Cubs 3, Reds 2. With the Reds down 1-0 in the top of the 7th, Lynch hit for Jim O’Toole with a two outs and a runner on, and homered off Glen Hobbie to give the Reds a 2-1 lead (+38% WPA).   It was a huge hit, except that the bullpen lost the game in the tenth inning.

June 5th, Reds 5, Braves 3. Reds ½ game behind LA. Lynch gets a rare start against Lew Burdette. After doubling in the middle of 2 run rally in the 3rd inning (+11% WPA), Lynch comes up in the 8th inning after Frank Robinson had gone deep to give the Reds a 4-3 lead. Braves manager Chuck Dressen brought in righty Chi Chi Olivo for his major league debut. Lynch played add on with a bomb to right field (+7% WPA).

June 20th Reds 4, Cards 3. Reds up 1.5 games on the Giants. With the Reds down 3-2 with one out in the 9th and Leo Cardenas on second, Lynch batted for Bill Henry and ripped a run scoring single to CF. The Reds won in the 11th on a bases loaded walk to Don Blasingame. I particular enjoy Reds wins against the Cardinals, including those in 1961 (+35% WPA).

June 27th Reds 10, Cubs 8. Reds up 3.0 games on LA. Down 6-4 in the top of the 7th, the Reds had tied the game on singles by Gus Bell and Gordy Coleman. Lynch (the fourth of four straight left handed pinch hitters, a tactic that would not be likely now) hit for Jay Hook with the bases loaded and two out and tripled to RF to clear the bases and give the Reds a 9-6 lead (+36% WPA). The bullpen hung on for the 10-8 win.

July 23rd Reds 6, Giants 5. Reds up 1.0 games on LA. Lynch drew the start in LF against Juan Marichal. After going hitless in his first two at bats, Lynch homered to lead off the bottom of the 7th to cut the Giants lead to 5-3 (+7% WPA). Two batters later the Reds tied the game on a Gene Freese single and Leo Cardenas home run. The game stayed tied until the bottom of the ninth when Lynch led off with (you guessed it) a walk off homer to center (+36% WPA). 1972_Fred_Hutchinson

July 30th Reds 5, Cubs 4. Reds tied for 1st with LA. The Reds were down 4-1 vs. Jim Brewer in the 7th inning. But the Cubs were gonna Cub, surrendering 2 singles, an error, a walk, a sac fly, and a bunt single to close the gap to one. The Cubs brought in righty Bob Anderson to face Leo Cardenas. Fred Hutchinson sent Lynch up to hit. A two run single to left (+34%WPA) gave the Reds the lead, and starter Jim O’Toole came in for the save when the Cubs threatened in the 9th.

August 8th Cards 6, Reds 5. Reds tied for 1st with LA. The Reds were down 5-4 going into the top of the 9th inning and facing Lindy McDaniel, the Cardinals relief ace. Lynch hit for Johnny Edwards and tied the game with a bomb to right field (+33% WPA) but starter Bob Purkey surrendered a homer to Ken Boyer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Cardinals the win.

August 22nd, Giants 5, Reds 3. Reds up 3.0 games over LA. Starting in LF against the Giants Sam Jones, Lynch came up in the 6th inning with two on, two out and the Reds down 4-0. Yet another home run (+23% WPA) closed the gap to one, but the Giants hung on to win.Jim Brosnan

September 26th, Reds 6, Cubs 3. Reds up 4.0 games over LA. It wasn’t quite Clinchmas, but it was close. Lynch was starting in LF against Bob Anderson, and the Reds needed a win and a Dodgers loss to clinch the National League Pennant for the first time since 1940. The Cubs led 3-0 after 5, but Johnny Edwards homered in the 6th and Frank Robinson tied the game in the top of the 7th with a 2 run jack. With two out and Vada Pinson on first, Lynch hit his 13th and final homer of the year to give the Reds a 5-3 lead (+40% WPA, B-R WP chart). Reliever Jim Brosnan got the last nine outs (and added an RBI single in the 9th) as the Reds clinched a tie. The Reds returned to Cincinnati (a trip described by Brosnan in his fine diary of the 1961 season Pennant Race as a “swinging, beer-swigging, song fest”) and a crowd estimated at 30,000 descended on Fountain Square to welcome the Reds back and await the outcome of the Dodgers/Pirates game. The Pirates won 8-0 and the celebration began.

Jerry Lynch Post CardFor the season, Lynch posted a .315/.407/.624 slash line with a Votto like 168 OPS+. In only 210 plate appearances he added 13 doubles, 13 homers, and 50 RBI. As a pinch hitter, he was extraordinary with a .404/.525/.851 line in 59 plate appearances, with 5 homers and 25 RBI (which remains a major league record that was tied by Rusty Staub in 1983). In Late and Close situations (55 plate appearances), his line was .404/.525/.979, or pretty much Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, or Barry Bonds in their prime. He had a 3.3 WPA total for the season, which Fangraphs classifies as “great” for a regular player; Lynch posted it in less than a half a season (MVP Frank Robinson led the team in WPA with 5.5). He put up this remarkable season for a team that was in a tight pennant race the entire season (the Reds never led by more than 6 games or trailed by more than 4), and for a team that was 34-14 in one run games.

Lynch continued to perform well in his role as a pinch hitter/reserve outfielder, posting above average OPS+ figures for the Reds until 1963, when they traded him back to the Pirates for Bob Skinner. Lynch retired after the 1966 season as the all-time leader in pinch hit home runs (18), and still ranks third in that category. His 116 pinch hits ranks 10th. Despite never playing more than 122 games in any season for the Reds, the memory of his magic 1961 season lived on, and he was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1988. Lynch passed away in Austell Georgia in 2012.

Sources: Wikipedia, Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs, Redleg Journal by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder, Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan.