Monday, April 19, 2010

The Big Inning

On my way to work yesterday morning I got a chance to listen to my favorite sports talk radio announcer, Soren Petro. For reasons I cannot control, I haven't gotten a chance to listen to sports radio 810 in awhile, let alone Soren.

Soren is my favorite radio personality (on all formats) for many reasons, but none more than his no b.s. tone when it comes to the inadequacy of the Chiefs and Royals. Maybe it was his time away from Kansas City at Syracuse University that helped shape his view of what we, as fans, can and should expect out of our local teams. In any event, I guess I just feel like my level of frustration with the professional teams in Kansas City is echoed during his show.

Anyway, in the first segment of his program, which happens to be called "The Program", he discussed the Royals 10-5 victory over the Twins on Sunday. The game was more or less decided by the six spot the Royals' offense posted in the third inning. I caught only a couple minutes of the segment, but the general point of Soren's spiel was that the team that scores the most runs in any one single inning, or more generally the team that has the biggest inning, will usually win the game.

Soren cited that after Sunday's win, in all Royals games, the team that had the biggest inning was 10-1-1 in those 12 games (the tie being when neither team had a bigger inning than the other). Pushing further, he raised the possibility that teams like the Royals, who often play "small ball" and sacrifice and move runners to maximize their chances of scoring at least one run in an inning, are actually hurting, not helping, their chances of winning.

So after the Royals' forgettable 8-1 loss in Toronto Monday night, I decided to research it a bit. After checking on Soren's tally and adding in Monday's game, the team that has the biggest inning is now 11-1-1 in all Royals games.

I wanted a bigger sample, though. Reviewing all Major League games through Monday, the team that has the biggest inning is 132-19-46. That's an .874 winning percentage.

I wanted to see if the trend changed from good teams to bad teams, so I researched what the records were for the teams with the best and worst records in baseball. That would be the Rays (best) and Orioles (worst). But because those two teams have played eachother six times already this season, therefore making the comparison between the two fairly obsolete, I ditched the Rays for the Phillies, who are probably the best team in baseball, anyway.

For Philadelphia's games, the big inning team was 8-2-2, and for Baltimore it was a glaring 10-0-4. So the trend continues.

Managers like the Royals' Trey Hillman will often cite the team's lack of power (lack of talent) as to why they play small ball. More or less, they're saying, "We don't hit well enough to count on the big inning, so we ought to make sure and at least score one when we can."

Soren, naturally, has a different take. He actually looks at it the opposite as Hillman or any other small ball defender does. He believes that teams like the Royals, who openly admit they're at a talent disadvantage basically every night, can even less afford to ignore a glaring trend like this, because, as previously stated, they don't have the talent to make up for it. In other words, teams like the Phillies and Yankees can win in spite of the numbers (or in spite of not "playing the numbers") more often than a team like the Royals because they're more talented.

I don't know if any of this means anything. I, as much as any other baseball junkie, have this thing with numbers. You see, it doesn't matter what the numbers are, or really, how relevant they are. You just have to have numbers, and we're happy.

I do know I'll be thinking about this the next time the Royals play for one run in an inning. Especially in a game that ends up being decided by two or three runs. "What if they didn't bunt him over? That guy might have singled, and the extra guy up in the inning would have hit the three-run home run we needed!" And so on.

I also know that with the way the Royals' bullpen has pitched, they'll be the ones GIVING UP the big inning more often than not. Actually, that's already true so far, given the Royals' record is 5-8 through Monday. Okay, so maybe the talk should be more about minizing the big inning while pitching.

And so there you have it. Another trend directly correlating to victories that can be traced back to the bullpen's struggles. Many a Royals manager have tried and failed at solving that riddle. My guess is, possibly to no fault of his own, Hillman won't find the answer, either.


  1. Posnanski wrote an article about LaRussa and his patented "overmanaging" of games (really great, went through about 10 sequences where LaRussa overmanaged that 20 inning game with the Mets). I think that this is what Hillman does a lot. He has to put his stamp on the game, to say we won it his way. Small ball and moving runners is good and all, but when your team's leading the majors (before yesterday) in batting average, let them play! By the way, Mendoza has to be re-assigned to American Legion ball or something. Just awful. Good article man, keep them coming.

  2. I read that Posnanski article, it was great. I think small ball has its place in baseball, but it's situational. In a tie or one run game, maybe 7th inning or later, I'm bunting a guy to second to try and get him around. Especially if the game is low scoring.

    Early in games, I think you're throwing at-bats away and over the course of a season it will end up costing you runs and wins.