What We Talk About When We Talk About Ownage

Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets left fielder Scott Hairston hits a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field. Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE

Fans of every team have the one or two players they fear. The ones who always seem to come up in big situations and get a big hit to send their team to defeat. We often refer to it as "ownage." We investigate whether it really exists.

Last week, the Giants played the Mets in a four-game series at AT&TPark. The first game, on Monday night, was a see-saw battle. The Mets took an early 1-0 lead. The Giants came back with two. The Mets tied it. The Giants scored twice to take a 4-2 lead after seven. With one on and one out in the top of 8th inning, Mets right fielder Scott Hairston stepped to the plate against Giants reliever Sergio Romo. Before a single pitch was thrown, Giants fans felt pangs of despair.

How do I know this? For one, I’m a Giants fan and I felt a pang of despair. Also, the many Giants fans I follow on Twitter seemed to feeling pangs of despair. Why all the despair? Because it was Scott "Bleeping" Hairston, who just kills the Giants in the worst possible moments.

Hairston has ownage on the Giants.

Boom.

Hairston's home run tied the score, but the Mets added two more. The Giants then rallied in the bottom of the 9th but couldn't push the winning run across with the bases loaded and two outs, sending the game to extra innings tied at six.

And who led off for the Mets in the top of the 10th? Scott Hairston, of course.

Boom.

Ownage.

Hairston’s two home runs, including the game-winner in extra innings, kicked off a discussion on Twitter. Who else has had ownage on the Giants over the years? David Eckstein and Steve Finley were common answers. There was also a vote for Ron Cey.

The discussion got me thinking about what we mean we talk about "ownage." Is ownage when a player hits consistently well against another team for most of his career? If that’s ownage, then Chipper Jones and the Mets come to mind. Or is ownage when a player always seems to produce against one team with the game on the line? If that’s ownage, then Barry Bonds and the Padres come to mind.

I lean toward the second definition, and here’s why. We remember the games with the crazy Win Expectancy charts. The see-saw games. The scoreless games where each team has lots of opportunities but neither can pull the trigger until the end, and then it’s nuts. As fans, we build memories around on our team’s most crucial moments, whether exhilarating in victory or devastating in defeat.

These games, and our memories of them, build narratives. "Scott Hairston always kills the Giants at the worst possible moment. Always." But is that true? I was determined to find out, not just for Scott Hairston and the Giants.

This was no easy task. If you had a list of players who you thought had ownage on another team, then you could look up that player’s lifetime batting statistics against that team. I did just that for Scott Hairston, using Baseball-Reference. Here are the results.

I Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB tOPS+
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 28 25 1 4 0 0 1 2 2 3 .160 .250 .280 .530 7 45
Arizona Diamondbacks 130 121 12 29 10 0 5 23 6 33 .240 .279 .446 .725 54 92
Atlanta Braves 73 70 11 18 4 1 2 8 3 21 .257 .288 .429 .716 30 91
Baltimore Orioles 64 59 9 17 5 0 2 6 5 10 .288 .344 .475 .818 28 120
Boston Red Sox 18 17 3 3 1 1 1 2 0 5 .176 .167 .529 .696 9 74
Chicago Cubs 80 76 8 15 1 1 2 5 4 14 .197 .238 .316 .553 24 49
Chicago White Sox 25 24 3 8 4 0 1 6 1 1 .333 .360 .625 .985 15 159
Cincinnati Reds 96 84 9 21 7 0 4 8 8 23 .250 .315 .476 .791 40 110
Cleveland Indians 23 22 3 3 1 0 0 2 0 5 .136 .130 .182 .312 4 -16
Colorado Rockies 193 174 26 51 12 2 11 34 16 50 .293 .363 .575 .937 100 148
Detroit Tigers 45 39 5 8 1 1 0 5 4 7 .205 .311 .282 .593 11 66
Miami Marlins 89 77 6 18 5 0 4 12 8 21 .234 .318 .455 .773 35 107
Houston Astros 135 121 16 31 8 1 6 13 12 33 .256 .328 .488 .816 59 117
Kansas City Royals 24 24 1 5 1 0 0 3 0 5 .208 .208 .250 .458 6 25
Los Angeles Dodgers 169 151 14 31 5 3 2 7 15 35 .205 .284 .318 .602 48 65
Milwaukee Brewers 55 51 8 11 1 0 2 8 3 10 .216 .273 .353 .626 18 69
Minnesota Twins 33 30 5 10 1 1 1 6 3 2 .333 .394 .533 .927 16 149
New York Mets 63 57 8 17 3 0 3 6 5 14 .298 .365 .509 .874 29 134
New York Yankees 65 59 10 12 4 0 0 3 4 17 .203 .262 .271 .533 16 47
Oakland Athletics 5 5 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .200 .200 .400 .600 2 56
Philadelphia Phillies 116 111 19 34 9 0 11 24 5 27 .306 .336 .685 1.021 76 164
Pittsburgh Pirates 84 74 13 22 3 1 5 9 9 14 .297 .373 .568 .941 42 150
San Diego Padres 80 77 6 14 4 0 1 10 3 15 .182 .213 .273 .485 21 31
Seattle Mariners 62 58 5 11 1 0 1 7 4 9 .190 .242 .259 .501 15 38
San Francisco Giants 245 214 32 53 9 2 14 31 26 50 .248 .324 .505 .828 108 120
St. Louis Cardinals 41 40 5 14 5 1 2 7 1 7 .350 .366 .675 1.041 27 172
Tampa Bay Rays 47 46 3 12 1 0 0 0 1 11 .261 .277 .283 .559 13 55
Texas Rangers 49 46 2 9 4 0 2 9 1 11 .196 .204 .413 .617 19 60
Toronto Blue Jays 41 37 7 10 2 0 2 4 4 6 .270 .341 .486 .828 18 121
Washington Nationals 85 78 12 17 3 1 4 6 5 24 .218 .271 .436 .706 34 87
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/8/2012.

Scott Hairston has a lifetime 120 OPS+ against the Giants. That’s good but it’s not spectacular. He’s been more productive over his career against eight other teams, and he’s done his most consistent damage against the Cardinals, Phillies and White Sox.

But lifetime stats don’t tell you whether Scott Hairston always "kills the Giants at the worst possible moment." For that, we have to look elsewhere. I decided to focus on Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA measures how a player affects his team's Win Expectancy on a play-by-play basis. Win Expectancy is the percent chance a team will win based on score, inning, outs, runners on base and the run environment. The later it is in the game, and the closer the score, big hits will yield a higher WPA.

Scott Hairston’s game-tying home run against the Giants in the 8th inning last Monday night raised the Mets’ chances of winning the game by 32 percent, according to Baseball Reference. His home run to lead off the top of the 10th inning, giving the Mets a 7-6 lead, raised the Mets’ chances of winning the game by 36 percent. Hairston posted a cumulative .601 WPA for the game. That’s the 49th highest WPA this season.

But how many times has Hairston done that to the Giants before last Monday night’s game? Do the numbers support the feeling that Hairston has ownage on the Giants when the game is on the line?

Not really.

I found only one other game in which Hairston posted a cumulative WPA higher than .500 in a game against the Giants. It was August 3, 2007. Hairston was on the Padres at the time, and the Giants were playing San Diego at PetcoPark. Hairston came to the plate in the bottom of the 8th with two on two on and two out and the Giants leading 3-0. Boom. Game-tying home run. Hairston then followed that up with the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 10th. He posted a cumulative .828 WPA for the game.

Why use .500 WPA as the cutoff?

From 1992 through 2011, there were approximately 110 games each season where a player posted a .500 WPA or higher and his team won the game. In the overwhelming majority of those games, the player had a big hit in the 7th inning or later to change the course of the game. The method isn't foolproof, however. There are games where a player gets a big hit in the 7th inning or later in a close game and doesn't accumulate .500 more more in WPA for the game. Moreover, I looked only at regular-season games. Many of our gut feelings about ownage derive from postseason games, when wins and losses leave a more indelible mark.

Even with all these caveats, I wanted to look back 20 years and see if I could identify which players had real ownage on certain teams, and using games with .500 WPA or greater seemed like a good, if crude, measure. I identified those players who had posted a .500 WPA or greater against the same team in at least three games over the course of their career. There were only 14 such players.

Player

Team Against Whom Player Posted .500 WPA or Greater At Least Three Times In His Career

Total Number of Games Posting .500 WPA or Greater In Player’s Career

Edgardo Alfonzo

Atlanta Braves (3)

4

Jeff Bagwell

Pittsburgh Pirates (3)

12

Barry Bonds

Montreal Expos (3)

8

Charlie Hayes

Houston Astros (3)

4

Andruw Jones

San Diego Padres (4)

14

Brian Jordan

New York Mets (3)

6

Jason Kendall

Chicago Cubs (3)

9

Hal Morris

Pittsburgh Pirates (3)

4

Rafael Palmeiro

Seattle Mariners (3)

7

Mike Piazza

Colorado Rockies (3)

12

Gary Sheffield

Los Angeles Dodgers (3)

11

Coco Crisp

New York Yankees (3)

3

Brian Giles

San Francisco Giants (3)

6

Bill Hall

Cincinnati Reds (3)

4

It turns out that David Eckstein only had one regular-season game against the Giants in which he posted a .500 WPA or higher. Barry Bonds had two against the Padres. And Chipper Jones had none against the Mets. None.

Is this the definitive answer on ownage? No, of course not. My goal was to get the conversation started. And hopefully that's what I've done.

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