Announcers are always saying, “Isn’t that amazing! Dokes just made that incredible play, and sure enough, here he is leading off the next inning. That sure seems to happen more often than not.”
Of course, the probability that the player who made a great play in the previous inning coming up to bat lead-off is one out of nine. There are nine lineup positions and there’s a one-in-nine chance his lineup position is due up first. But does it actually happen more often than that? I recently had an email conversation with Craig Wright on this subject where he said “We have the old adage that when you make a great play you often lead off in your team’s next at-bats. It seems like a false connection simply made up in our minds, but who really knows without actually checking it out? Maybe the more distant we are from our last at-bat the more focused on defense we are and likely to make a great play.”
We can check that! Baseball Info Solutions tracks plays defensively on a scale of one to five, with five being impossible plays (hits that fall in that no one could possibly have fielded) and one being the most routine of plays. The most difficult playable plays are scored a four. Last year, plays scored a four were only turned into outs about once per game. This is truly a great play.
Looking at our data, if we exclude plays made in the final half-inning of the game (where there was no opportunity to bat the next inning) and plays that occurred in the same inning as each other (such that one player could preclude the other from leading off the next inning), there were 2290 times during the 2013 season that a fielder made an out on a play scored a four. How often did that player bat lead-off the next inning? 233 times. That’s 10.2 percent, or a little less than the one out of nine (11.1 percent) chance he had of leading off the next inning anyway. If we limit ourselves just to plays that were scored a four and were the third out of the inning, there were 735 of those, after which the fielder that made the play led off the next inning 70 times. That’s 9.5 percent. So it doesn’t look like there is any truth to that old adage after all.
P.S. Craig Wright just came out with a really cool new book called Pages from Baseball’s Past. Even if you are not into baseball history, I assure you that you will love these stories. Check it out!
“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”