February 15, 2017
Taking the Weirdness Out of Baseball
Let me begin by laying my cards on the table. I have a soft spot in my heart for post-apocalyptic survivalist fiction. What would happen if it were really the end of the world as we knew it and we didn’t feel fine? What would happen if all of the phones and lights and motorcars on which we have come to rely were taken away suddenly and we had to survive off the land, Gilligan’s Island style? Now, I’d never want to actually live that way, but it’s fun to torture the edges of anything, including our notions of civilization.
And the same impulse that draws me to watch Tiny House Hunters makes me love a good extra-inning game. By definition it’s a close game, but in baseball there’s the possibility that the game could go on until sunrise. I suppose I can say that because I’m not the one who has to drag himself back to the team hotel through a nuclear wasteland after losing 5-4 in 19 exhausting innings. But the truth is that baseball teams aren’t made to last 19 innings and it’s fun to watch them try. We usually end up with pitchers pinch-hitting and position players pitching and someone trying to play a position he’s played as many times as I have in a major-league game.
But last week, a little bit of news came out about a potential change to the game to try to curtail my survivalist fantasies. This season, in rookie-ball, when a game gets to the 10th inning, rather than starting with no runners on base each team will be given a free runner on second base with the price of admission. The goal is to make it easier for teams to score and thus get the game over with. It wouldn’t set a hard cap on innings after which the teams would settle the matter with a home run derby, but in theory it would encourage games to come to an end more quickly, and someone can still throw a shaving cream pie in someone else’s face.
Whether you think the art of it is appealing or not, this is one of those things that lends itself quite well to a little #GoryMath.
Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!
Let’s set the landscape for a moment. From 2012-2016, 91.2 percent of all games finished in the ninth inning (or earlier for a few rained out, partially-completed-but-still-official games). So, the average team during those years played 14 extra-inning games. Of those 1,064 games that went extra innings, here’s the breakdown of when they ended. On average, teams played an extra 2.3 innings.