Monday, May 21, 2007

La Russa on "scoring in three innings"

Recently, the Cardinals had a spell in which all their runs were coming in a single inning.

Manager Tony La Russa decided that's not good:

"… We want to (score) in three innings. That's the goal. But the bigger goal is to win the game."
A follow-up article reported:

La Russa said back in Oakland Jim Lefebvre said a team’s chances of winning dramatically increase when it adds a third inning of scoring in any game. They started keeping track of such things and found the three-inning rule true.

The article shows that teams scoring in only two innings have a winning percentage of .417, but if they score in three innings, they jump to .623. If you score in three *or more* innings, you'll be .711.

But that's irrelevant. Obviously, only runs are important. If your opponents score more runs than you, you lose. Even if they scored them all in one inning, you still lose. And it's not like "scoring in at least three innings" is a skill you can teach your team indpendent of scoring runs in general. So what's the point?

In the game La Russa complained about, his team scored four runs in the seventh and won 4-1. Someone should show him page 173 of the 1986 Bill James Baseball Abstract, where James found that if you score four or more runs in a game, you'll be .747. (It's probably lower now in this high-offense era, but the point still holds.)

In any case, I don't think this is anything that La Russa can screw up the team with ... there are few reasonable managerial strategies that increase the number of scoring innings while decreasing the number of runs. And maybe La Russa didn't really mean what it sounds like he meant; perhaps he was just making conversation for the reporter.

But still ...

(Hat Tip: Bob Timmermann)



At Monday, May 21, 2007 4:51:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think the point is that run scoring follows a set distribution (Weibull/ tango/ whatever ... it doesn't really matter).

I haven't done the math but I strongly suspect that the probability of scoring, say 2 runs, 2 runs and 3 runs in any 3 of 9 innings of ball is higher than scoring 7 in a 1 of 9.

Nothing a bit of permutations/ combinations analysis wouldn't fix


At Monday, May 21, 2007 5:35:00 PM, Blogger Tangotiger said...

I remember Howard Stern was reading analysis from these radio doctors as to how to usurp his numbers. The basic summary was: "Be funnier and wittier than Howard". Which is akin to saying "hit more HR and draw more walks than Pujols".

So, Phil's basic point stands: this is not a skill that you turn on/off (scoring spread over three innings). The only thing the batter/pitcher controls is the actual batter/pitcher matchup. His approach, when/where/how hard to swing.

At Monday, May 21, 2007 6:05:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Agreed completely ... I think La Russa was being a bit stupid but was also subtly clever (without knowing it)

At Monday, May 21, 2007 7:31:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Games where you score (say) 3 runs in one inning have a good chance of being games where you got only a few hits, but bunched them all together. Games where you score the same 3 runs, but over 3 innings, have a better chance of being games where you had more baserunners.

So score-in-one-inning games have "worse" offense by batting line than score-in-three-inning games. Managers might therefore feel better about the latter than the former, which might contribute to a bias in their favor.z

Just a thought.

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