Bottom Of The Inning Not Tops For Hitters

Apr 05, 2010 By Chris Gorski, ISNS
Comerica Park. Credit: Dave Hogg

For most teams, Major League Baseball's season opens today, and for some diehard fans there are few things more sacred than statistics.

Part of the fabric of , stats have made immortals of the players who reach landmark numbers like 500 (career home runs), 300 (career wins for a pitcher) and 3,000 (career hits). Researchers are now using statistics to challenge something that generations of fans have taken for granted: that it's best to bat last.

Baseball has a relatively small home field advantage compared to other major U.S. sports, which is a bit strange considering that unlike the standardized dimensions of a basketball court or football field, most baseball diamonds have widely-varying fence distances and heights. Teams have the opportunity to specialize their rosters to suit their home parks. Baseball also features a unique turn-taking structure offering the home team the chance to bat last. It's hard to imagine a team choosing to bat first, but more than 100 years ago some major league teams had the choice to do just that.

For Theodore Turocy, a baseball fan and economist specializing in who will soon be leaving the U.S. to work at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, his recognition of the absence of this advantage provided a refresher lesson in how science challenges assumptions. While developing a baseball game he recognized an opportunity to compute the advantage of batting last. He found none.

"Here was something that I accepted my entire life that I actually didn't have a reason for why other than 'everybody knows,'" said Turocy. "When this first happened I was convinced for about a week that there was a bug in my program."

Baseball is the rare game in which the offense is not the team with the ball. The pitcher is part of the defense. This may be the crux of the problem, which team can be said to make the last move?

The offense can make strategic decisions aimed at improving their chance to score runs, such as stealing bases or various maneuvers in which the batter attempts to prioritize moving the runner to the next base instead of reaching base himself. But there's another factor to consider.

"The defense is not a passive participant here, this isn't bowling," said Turocy. "You can make a choice that you have a lot more buttons to push when you're on defense in baseball than offense."

"That leaves an open question as to whether the defensive or offensive strategies are stronger," said Stephen Shmanske, an economist at California State University - East Bay in Hayward.

The defense can choose which pitch to throw and where, intentionally walk a batter, and position their players in a way to discourage bunting among many other strategies.

Working with colleague Franklin Lowenthal, Shmanske looked at the problem by considering games that enter extra innings or are tied after eight innings, when it might be expected that an advantage would be most pronounced. They found that although home teams still won a majority of games, that they won slightly fewer of these close games than the remainder of home games.

"What we found out was that there's certainly not a strong [last at bat advantage]," said Shmanske. "If anything the effect goes the other way."

Other researchers have shown that in tournaments where teams play multiple games at a neutral location, such as in college baseball and softball tournaments, being the last team to bat has negligible significance on which team wins the game.

In most games in which participants take turns, such as bowling or horseshoes, there's an advantage to going last. In baseball, the pitcher and the defense both have numerous strategic choices that affect the other's success, whereas in horseshoes, no one's trying to catch the final throw.

The fact is that home teams win more baseball games than visiting teams. They also perform better than the visitor throughout every statistical category, and it's more likely that behind that is some potentially unquantifiable factor having to do with playing at their home field, not the order of batting said Turocy. "I don't think that has anything to do with batting last. It has everything to do with being at home."

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croghan27
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2010
Amazing that having an extra half inning, an extra three batters, 9 extra strikes (given no fly outs) would not make for a major (as in statistically significant) difference.

I would like to see his computations on this.
Temple
not rated yet Apr 05, 2010
In most games in which participants take turns, such as bowling or horseshoes, there's an advantage to going last..


Citation needed.

I don't see how there could be any strategic advantage in going first or last in bowling, horseshoes, or other similarly symmetrical games.

In both bowling and horseshoes, there is only one strategy that benefits you most, score more than your opponent. Whether you take all your turns first, or last, or alternate, it comes down to the same strategy: score the most points.

I can see some sort of psychological advantage in going after your opponent (providing your opponent doesn't do really well, and add too much pressure), but certainly no strategic advantage.

No matter what your opponent does, your best move is *exactly the same*. In such a game, order doesn't factor into strategy.
Temple
not rated yet Apr 05, 2010
Amazing that having an extra half inning, an extra three batters, 9 extra strikes (given no fly outs) would not make for a major (as in statistically significant) difference.


Both teams have the same number of outs and innings available. There's no 'extra half inning'.
croghan27
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2010

Both teams have the same number of outs and innings available. There's no 'extra half inning'.


This is so in theory - but in practice it is often the home team that loses an extra half inning. In a game that is between even teams one the score will favour one than another side.

Last night Boston lead NY going into the 9th. When the Yankees failed to score in the bottom of that inning the game was over. Had they pulled ahead the Sox would have had an inning to even the score.

Saying "Whether you take all your turns first, or last, or alternate, it comes down to the same strategy: score the most points." misses a many of the nuisances of the game.
Temple
not rated yet Apr 06, 2010
This is so in theory - but in practice it is often the home team that loses an extra half inning. In a game that is between even teams one the score will favour one than another side.

Last night Boston lead NY going into the 9th. When the Yankees failed to score in the bottom of that inning the game was over. Had they pulled ahead the Sox would have had an inning to even the score.


First, I think you meant that the Yankees failed to score in the Top of the inning (the first half). Had they tied it up or taken the lead, then the Red Sox wold have had a *half* inning (the rest of the last inning) to even the score or win. (Nuances, right!)

Boston *did* have the Bottom of the 9th available to them, but they didn't need it. They had already scored enough points to make that at-bat pointless.

Regardless of what would have happened in the Bottom of the 9th, the result would have been unchanged: Boston victory.

You never 'lose a half inning'. Both teams have equal outs available
chrismac
not rated yet Apr 06, 2010

Last night Boston lead NY going into the 9th. When the Yankees failed to score in the bottom of that inning the game was over. Had they pulled ahead the Sox would have had an inning to even the score.


All that means is that in that game, boston scored more with 3 fewer outs. They wouldn't have received and 'extra' half inning, because they were half an inning short.

Even if batting last doesn't help the team statistically, it sure is more exciting to have that one last chance on your home field!
Temple
not rated yet Apr 06, 2010
Saying "Whether you take all your turns first, or last, or alternate, it comes down to the same strategy: score the most points." misses a many of the nuisances of the game.


I don't think you've demonstrated basic knowledge of baseball, let alone the nuances, but you'll note that I didn't say that about baseball.
croghan27
1 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2010
Oh - well, I did not think you were speaking of curling where the 'last rock' is so important it has a name of its' own, "The Hammer".

If you cannot see how having the final half inning to even or exceed the score of the other team, so important that teams pay million to specialists for pitching(Papelbon, one-year $6.25 million) we have no basis to discuss the matter.
Temple
not rated yet Apr 07, 2010
Oh - well, I did not think you were speaking of curling where the 'last rock' is so important it has a name of its' own, "The Hammer".


That's a terrible example. Curling isn't a symmetrical game where each team has identical opportunities to score.

If you cannot see how having the final half inning to even or exceed the score of the other team, so important that teams pay million to specialists for pitching(Papelbon, one-year $6.25 million) we have no basis to discuss the matter.


The point you're missing is that the team *always* has the bottom of the 9th available to them. It's exactly symmetrical that way. The only time it is not played, the only time their opponent plays an 'extra' half-inning, is when the game has already been won by the team who is to bat in the Bottom of the 9th.

There is no 'extra' half-inning in baseball. Sometimes a team declines their last half-inning, because they've already won the game, and playing it wouldn't mater.
Temple
not rated yet Apr 07, 2010
Is it that you're not clear that the team who bats in the bottom of the inning *always* gets that at-bat if they are losing or if the score is tied?

The only time the home team doesn't use their last half-inning is when they've already won the game. No team *ever* loses a game after receiving fewer outs than their opponent.

Whether you believe it or not, it'll still be true.