Following the news that George Springer agreed to a six-year, $150 million deal with the Blue Jays on Wednesday, I spent the better part of the week reflecting on his Astros career. A journey that began way back as the eleventh overall pick in the 2011 draft. Time has flown by and a lifetime of memories was made with the World Series MVP right in the middle of the action. There were extraordinary highs and calamitous lows, plus plenty of moments in between that better represent the grind known as baseball.
I thought back to all of those moments as I try to put together the framework of this article. For example, Springer’s performance in the 2017 World Series, even in the aftermath of the sign-stealing scandal, is impossible to ignore. How about his incredible 2019 season, which culminated in a second World Series appearance? Or the fact that he is currently tied with Albert Pujols in fourth place on the all-time postseason home run list with 19 dingers? An entire article can be devoted to only Springer’s postseason accomplishments as an Astro.
But I am not particularly interested today in rehashing all of the postseason heroics. Although vital to Springer’s legacy in Houston, it has been written about plenty of times by much better writers. I’m sure we’ll have more retellings in the coming months and years. Instead, I wanted to put my own spin on how I’ll remember Springer’s time in my hometown. Something a tad bit different. Since Springer is synonymous with dingers in my mind, I decided to look up some of his best. But choosing the best is rather subjective. Sometimes the “best” is more of an emotional take rather than a logical one. People are more likely to associate positive — or negative feelings — to certain events based on a large swath of circumstances.
To help avoid that subjectiveness, I decided to utilize Leverage Index listed on play logs at FanGraphs, which quantifies how critical a situation truly is. Or, you know, the possible change in win probability of an event within certain variables. Keep in mind that win expectancy and the run environment for a season do exhibit some influence on the Leverage Index as this search spanned across multiple seasons. Here is how FanGraphs breaks down leverage by low, medium, and high.
- Low: 0 to 0.85
- Medium: 0.85 to 2.00
- High: 2.00 or higher
Ultimately, I did a search by home runs in those play logs for each of Springer’s seven seasons, including the postseason, then sorted by Leverage Index. To be fair, it is a bit of an apple and oranges comparison between the regular season and the postseason. The postseason, after all, is a continuous series of high leverage events unlike a random game at Camden Yards in the first week of June. But Springer wasn’t just about the postseason as the Astros needed him to perform at a high level daily to help achieve their goals. That is why I included regular season “Springer Dingers” in my search as there were multiple moments when Springer stepped up and changed a game. In other words, it just didn’t feel right to ignore seven years of moments to highlight only the postseason.
Springer Dinger No. 5
Pitcher: Brandon McCarthy
Situation: Top of the eleventh, runner on second, 0 outs
Score: 5-5, tied game
But the first one on our list is a postseason moment. By Leverage Index, Springer’s two-run shot in Game 2 of the 2017 World Series was the only one of his 19 postseason home runs that cracks the top five. This find was a bit of a surprise, to be honest. While the 2017 season — including the postseason — is now under the dark cloud of sign-stealing, it doesn’t mean that this moment didn’t happen. It is very possible the Astros lose this game in the bottom half of the frame if it wasn’t for Springer’s home run. Don’t forget that the series kinda represents the official start of Chris Devenski’s decline and the solo shot by Charlie Culberson in the Dodgers' last half-inning gave fans serious heartburn. Ironically, this isn’t the “dinger” that Springer is most known for in this unforgettable series.
Springer Dinger No. 4
Pitcher: Clay Buchholz
Situation: Top of the second, bases loaded, 2 outs
Score: 1-0, Red Sox lead
There wasn’t much worth remembering about the 2016 season, which was ultimately an aberration during the Astros renaissance of the last half-decade. It was a slow start in April with a 7-17 record that proved to be the difference-maker. I frankly don’t remember much about this season other than the Carlos Gomez drama that ensued later in the summer. However, Springer did put together his second-best season in 2016 and it represents the only time where he has appeared in all 162 games in a season. In this particular instance, Buchholz tried to sneak a cutter past on the middle-inside part of the plate in a 3-1 count. Springer, in turn, destroyed that offering as was deserved for a grand slam. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as the Astros lost 6-5 in eleven innings that day.
An interesting note about this home run was that it occurred quite early in the game. The second inning, to be exact. Leverage Index is partially calculated by the current base-out situation along with the inning and score. As presented in The Book by Andrew Dolphin, Mitchel Lichtman, and Tom Tango, the table of the crucial situations for the Leverage Index comes in handy to understand why that was the case.
Springer Dinger No. 3
Pitcher: Hansel Robles
Situation: Top of the ninth, runner on second, 2 outs
Score: 3-2, Angels lead
We were only six games into the season during the heart of a worldwide pandemic when the Astros took their first road trip to Anaheim to play the Angels. The 2020 season itself was just a strange one on the whole. But Springer’s play during the shortened campaign occasionally provided a momentary reprieve from the current affairs of the world. This home run, for example, that put the Astros back on top in a close game in the bottom of the ninth. Robles left a hanging slider over the heart of the plate and Springer promptly crushed it. However, the Astros lost the game in extra innings (again!) as the bullpen couldn’t close it out. But it serves as a great reminder of what Springer can accomplish with one swing of the bat in a crucial situation.
Springer Dinger No. 2
Pitcher: Heath Fillmyer
Situation: Top of the ninth, runners on first and second, 2 outs
Score: 1-1, tied game
Springer’s career in Houston featured plenty of glories, but the center fielder didn’t have a better season as an individual than 2019. With a career-high of 39 dingers, none occurred with more pressure than this three-run shot against the Royals that September. In a tied 1-1 affair with each game possibly holding some influence for home-field advantage throughout the entire postseason — all for naught, I might add; see the outcome of the 2019 World Series — the Astros came away with an important win against a rebuilding Kansas City. Springer was the prime reason why this game ended up in the win column.
Springer Dinger No. 1
Pitcher: Chase De Jong
Situation: Bottom of the thirteenth, runners on first and second, 2 outs
Score: 3-2, Mariners lead
I remember this game well as the Astros felt like a team ready to take off in that opening series against the Mariners. After all, the club spent in free agency that previous winter to help supplement a roster featuring a quartet of rising young stars in Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman. On the cusp of putting it all together, the team was poised for a strong season. This game, in particular, did put the baseball world on notice early on with an exclamation point thanks to this three-run dinger by Springer to walk it off.
Springer Dinger Honorable Mention
Pitcher: Brandon Morrow
Situation: Bottom of the seventh, bases empty, 0 out
Score: 8-7, Dodgers lead
Come on, you didn’t think I would forget about this one, right?