August 31, 2012
Do You See Every Pitch of Every Game?
At the start of the season, I introduced you to Ben Rouse, the 25-year-old Brewers fan who is attending all 162 Brewers games this year in an effort to raise awareness for "Be the Match", the bone marrow donor registry that helped save his life a few years ago. Ben is still going strong, having sat through the Brewers-Cubs 12-11 ugly-fest on Thursday for his 130th game of the season. And this despite the immensely unsatisfying season the Milwaukee club has trotted out for Ben lo these 130 games. When Manny Parra and then Francisco Rodriguez each blew a save in Thursday afternoon's game, they accounted for the 32nd and 33rd blown saves for the Brewers this season. That's a painful stat to experience for any fan who happens to watch their team on occasion; I can't imagine how hard that must be to experience live and in person night-in and night-out.
Even better, Ben is experiencing this Brewers season with an even more ambitious goal: to physically witness every pitch of every game. That is an impossible goal, of course, but it doesn't keep Ben from giving it his all. To help illustrate the difficulty of that goal, here is a stat that Ben tracks each and every game: through the first 129 games of the season, there had been 38,411 pitches in Brewers games; Ben had seen all but 93 of them (99.8%).
This goal raised an interesting question in Ben's mind that I have been pondering ever since: on any given night, considering the entire crowd in attendance, what percentage of pitches in the game does the crowd actually see? That is, if 10,000 people show up to the Rays game in Tampa Bay and 5,000 stay glued to their seats for the entire game, never taking their eyes from the mound, and the other 5,000 hang out in the concourse, drinking beer and never looking toward the field, then 50% of the game's pitches have been witnessed. I guessed that the number was somewhere below 80% when you consider the entire crowd, but Ben was a bit more optimistic. The more I think about it, though, the more I think even 80% is too high.
Consider all the times that any fan might miss a pitch:
And so many other ways to miss pitches! Turning around to inform the person behind you that, no, that isn't Jose Uribe out there; it's Juan Uribe. Fans forcing you to stand up as they make their way back to their seats as Felix Hernandez drops a deuce on Josh Hamilton. Fans taking inopportune times to get a photo down by the railing, completely obscuring your view of the game. A fan going down to the team store to get a new shirt after someone told him this "Mike Trout kid" might be pretty good. A fan lingering his gaze in the crowd for a few seconds too long as he tries to figure out who got hit by the foul ball. Someone hopelessly gazing around at the seventeen different scoreboards, trying to get an official ruling on whether Darwin Barney just ended his errorless streak or not. Fans treating the bleacher seats like an outdoor bar, talking and flirting with each other. Knocking away (or puncturing) a beach ball that found it's way into your section. Booing the previous ownership who drove the franchise into the ground. Zealously busting out the second verse to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" after the seventh-inning stretch had already ended...
Really, the list could go on and on.
Now, take the various reasons fans might miss a few pitches in any given game (even the most diligent fan, remember) and try to come up with a percentage of pitches seen (or missed) among the entire crowd. It's probably much lower than you think.
My guess? Being conservative here, I'd say: ten percent of fans show up in the second inning, missing approximately 10% of the games pitches (that's 1% overall); another five percent of the crowd leaves at least an inning early (and that's in a close game); five percent probably have zero interest in the game completely, missing maybe 75% of the game's pitches; let's say a quarter of the crowd misses a full inning going to the bathroom and concessions (we'll call these the "designated parents"); another half of the crowd misses another half-inning in the restroom; and then there's just the general missed pitches from having conversations, watching birds fly, complaining about the weather, trying to figure out who threw that peanut at you, etc., which probably amounts to 2-3 pitches per half-inning, per person, or, roughly, 20% of the game's pitches. Adding that up and that I'd say at least 30% of pitches are missed in a single game. And, remember, that's being conservative. It still feels a bit low to me.
Am I wrong? Considering all the distractions at a baseball game and the mixed nature of the crowd, exactly what percentage of pitches are seen on any given night?