Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |

One run innings not the key to glory


By Roger Weber


On average, an MLB baseball team scores about .55 runs per inning. This is an average, of course. So scoring a run per inning will almost surely grant a team many wins. The average score of every baseball game ever played is 5 to 3. That figure has risen steadily over the years to the point where teams now score closer to five runs per game than the four that could be assumed from that average game.


In baseball today there is a fixation with small ball. With all the home runs being hit many fans and managers seem to long for a game of singles and bunts, trying to advance the runners to score a run by the time the third out is made. And there is a beauty to this "small ball." But the question is if it really is the best path for a team that wants to win.


Scoring a run per inning, which more or less is the goal of the bunting and trading outs for bases involved with playing small ball, is a pretty solid plan for a team that wants to win. The problem is that scoring a run is more difficult than it seems. If a player gets on first base it is tough to get him home through small hits no matter how many outs in the inning. In order to score the average four or five runs this way, a team must succeed in getting that run across home plate 45 to 60 percent of the time – a tough task.


But say that a team scores three runs in one inning. Then over the eight (or seven depending whether they need to bat in the ninth) other innings the team needs just one or two more runs to meet the average score, an easier task.


The best teams do not score just one run several times. They generally score in bunches. If an average game is broken into half innings many of those half innings have no scoring. But of those in which one team scores, the winning team generally holds a lower proportion of half innings in their favor than they do runs of total runs scored in the game. For example, if a team wins a game 5 to 3, they might score in two innings while their opponent scores in two as well. But the winning team averaged more runs per inning in which they scored.


The winning team averages more runs per inning than its opponent 70 to 80 percent of the time. This means that a team that tries to score only a run several times during a game wins less than a team that plays "big ball", trying to have big innings, having players swing away for doubles or home runs. Usually a team playing "big ball" will end up with zero runs but if they can have just a few innings in which they score several runs they have a good chance of winning. A team's goal in an inning should not to score one run as many statisticians base much of their research, but instead to have a big inning and score several runs. They might sacrifice a run in some innings but the statistics say they should make that up with several runs in another inning if they keep swinging to their ability instead of reducing the scope of their play to advance runners.


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