One of the marks of a smart baseball writer is the ability to sense a trend, research its existence and nature, place her findings in context, and present her conclusions in a way that meaningfully educates readers. Inherent in this ability is the wherewithal to know when to stop researching a trend or pressing on a concept, realizing that the fruits of the work have been or soon will be exhausted. Sometimes a person who is not a “smart baseball writer” by the foregoing definition will noodle about on an idea for so long, he’ll end up with a small pile of research that no longer has any bearing on any meaningful conclusions.
Two years ago, I decided to investigate a hunch that the Detroit Tigers were having trouble scoring runs late in games. My initial research mostly seemed to support my hypothesis, and a follow-up look appeared to confirm it more strongly. More than merely interesting (and fleetingly self-satisfying), it also was informatively concerning, because it placed the team’s well-known bullpen problems in a more nuanced light: relief-pitching woes alone weren’t the problem, because the lack of late-game scoring was compounding the problem of surrendering leads during the final frames. As strange as it seemed, the Tigers had interrelated shortcomings on both sides of the plate.
One comment I received in the course of sharing those findings stuck with me: I needed to place this information in context. After all, there are plausible reasons to believe that all teams might, perhaps to varying extents, experience decreased run production in the late innings.
And so it was that, two years later, I finally discovered Retrosheet, a site that compiles inning-by-inning scoring data to a more useful degree than the resources I’d utilized back in 2013. What follows are two graphs of the inning-by-inning scoring of sixteen teams for the 2014 season. The first charts the eight playoff teams, and the second charts the eight worst teams. Each also has a plot (the black line) for the league average per-inning scoring.
(Click both to enlarge)
An obvious thing to do would be to plot these numbers as averages of total runs scored, but then we wouldn’t get to see the Rockies soar above the league in the second graph, and, for the purpose of comparing teams, viewing the actual number of runs scored does make some sense.
I’ve been sitting on these for about a week, and the best use for this data I’ve come up with is as a sort of baseball RunPee. If you’re a Tigers fan, make sure you’re in your seat before the third inning. If you’re in L.A., do not leave to get a Dodger Dog in the sixth inning. If you like the Royals, though, the sixth would make a great time for a dip in the Kauffman Stadium fountain.
If there’s any visually detectable trend between the two graphs, it might be that the successful teams did more of their scoring early, and less of it late, than the unsuccessful ones. All the Twins’ above-average production in the seventh, eighth, and ninth earned them was a 70-92 record and last place in the AL Central. Of course, returning to the Tigers, Detroit may have a case for the most solidly above-average late-game scoring amongst the playoff teams, and they won the AL Central. Who knows? Maybe you do, or maybe you at least have an idea. If you do, leave a note in the comment section. If you’re just planning your in-game bathroom break and hot-pretzel run, that’s fine too.