November 15, 2010

Do Leadoff Walks Lead To More Runs?

Tim McCarver, during a playoff game in 2002:
The one thing I would tell a young pitcher is never walk the leadoff man. He always scores; he always scores.
David Smith, the man who started and runs Retrosheet, thought he would check that out (though, obviously, a leadoff batter who walks does not always score). Smith looked at 29 years (1974-2002) worth of data: 61,365 games, 1,101,019 half-innings, more than 4.5 million plate appearances.
     Reached   Scored  Frequency
BB 82,637 33,002 39.9%
1B 183,468 72,841 39.7%
2B 48,364 30,961 64.0&
3B 6,573 5,753 87.5%
HR 27,205 27,205 100.0%
HBP 6,217 2,543 40.9%
E 12,105 5,298 43.8%
A leadoff batter who walks does not score at a significantly higher rate (statistically speaking) than a leadoff hitter who singles.

In August 2006, McCarver said:
There is nothing that opens up big innings any more than a leadoff walk. Leadoff home runs don't do it.* Leadoff singles, maybe. But a leadoff walk. It changes the mindset of a pitcher. Since he walked the first hitter, now all of a sudden he wants to find the fatter part of the plate with the succeeding hitters. And that could make for a big inning.
* - Sorry, Tim.
     Leadoff    0R       1R      2R      3R     4R      5R    6+R
1B 183,468 104,074 35,868 22,726 11,329 5,375 2,415 1,681
BB 82,637 46,794 15,837 10,481 5,167 2,503 1,100 755
The percentages for that chart:
     Leadoff    0R    1R    2R    3R   4R   5R  6+R
1B 183,468 56.7 19.6 12.4 6.1 2.9 1.3 0.9
BB 82,637 56.6 19.2 12.7 6.2 3.0 1.3 0.9
Whether a leadoff batter singles or walks has no correlation with how many runs his team will eventually score in that inning.

Smith, from The Baseball Research Journal 35 (2006):
[A]necdotal observations and gut feelings are just that and have no inherent credibility, no matter what the source. Since we can now check these opinions with evidence, and McCarver definitely has at his disposal the talents of people who can do such checking, then we should expect him and other announcers to get it right.
It is not only McCarver. In May 2008, Blue Jays announcer Rance Mulliniks estimated that a leadoff walk comes around to score 60-65% of the time. But why estimate when the facts are available with a little bit of effort (even as little as asking an assistant to do some research)?

More recently, plen had a similar post at Fangraphs in September. Looking at the data from 1952-2009:
      Leadoff   Scored   Frequency
1B 325,455 122,662 37.69%
BB 150,570 57,189 37.98%
HBP 11,865 4,600 38.77%
E 19,260 7,270 37.74%
Again, leadoff singles and leadoff walks come around to score at the exact same rate, statistically speaking.
Example
Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star has a lengthy Q&A with Blue Jays manager John Farrell.

10 comments:

L-girl said...

Cool. Thank you.

"Joy of Sox. We like facts."

nick said...

There you go again with facts. who needs 'em?

FenFan said...

100% of leadoff batters score if they hit a home run? You're kidding? :D

Nice work by Mr. Smith there.

johngoldfine said...

Maybe the whole point of color commentary is to discourage thinking and understanding and to promote myth, shibboleth, and proud ignorance....

Rasputin said...

Two questions:

1) Now that Joe Morgan is out of the picture, is Tim McCarver far and away the worst combination of baseball stupidity and bulliest pulpit?

2) I vaguely remember seeing some numbers somewhere indicating that the likelihood of a run scoring in a given inning increased if there was a walk in it. I would be very interested to see the results by base/out situations with IBB split out.

I will however, not surrender the joy that is bitching when my pitchers walk the leadoff guy.

9casey said...

johngoldfine said...
Maybe the whole point of color commentary is to discourage thinking




in this case it promoted a lot of thinking and research.......Idiots make smart people work a lot harder... Problem is the airwaves are full of idiots........

Jere said...

"100% of leadoff batters score if they hit a home run? You're kidding? :D"

Tim McCarver himself once hit a home run but didn't score. On the USA bicentennial. He passed a runner on the basepaths. It wasn't a leadoff HR, obviously, and didn't even go in the books as a HR, but I think it's funny that he's on the short list of players who did that.

Michael Holloway said...

johngoldfine said,

"Maybe the whole point of color commentary is to discourage thinking and understanding and to promote myth, shibboleth, and proud ignorance...."

Yes, that's interesting!

After all, some leaders (politician, cult leader, advertiser) might not care why you follow - only that you do. 'Facts' that only the follower-ship know (because they're not true) would tend to strengthen the cohesiveness of a group.

Shibboleth is my 'new word of the day', thank you.

Shibboleth: "..features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group." (Wikipedia)

L-girl said...

shibboleth: a common saying or belief not grounded in truth

L-girl said...

Now that Joe Morgan is out of the picture, is Tim McCarver far and away the worst combination of baseball stupidity and bulliest pulpit?

Rick Sutcliffe