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39 is the magic number

Feb 12, 2013, 11:32 AM EDT

Rick Peterson

Fascinating stuff from Joe Lemire of Sports Illustrated. Actually, it’s fascinating stuff from Orioles’ pitching coordinator Rick Peterson, which Lemire passes along: if you face more than 39 opposing hitters, you’re screwed. If you face fewer than 39, you’re probably going to win.

There is an easily intuitive element to this of course: duh, the more hitters a team faces, the more likely your team is to be giving up a lot of runs.  But that’s not the takeaway. The takeaway is how critical that 39th hitter is. How the odds of winning or losing shift so dramatically when that 39th batter comes to the plate.

Go read Lemire’s piece. It’s fascinating stuff. Baseball, because of it’s isolated data sets and stops in the action allow for all kinds of fascinating things like this to be studied. And every time I read about a new one, I love the sport even more.

  1. natslady - Feb 12, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    and in another of your posts (regarding journalism school), “then”.

    • natslady - Feb 12, 2013 at 11:53 AM

      P.S., Craig, I absolutely LOVED this article! The more I think about it, the more obvious it seems. Regardless of what happens in a particular inning, the less often the best hitters hit, the better for your chances of winning. Davey’s not mentioned, but that is really, really his style of managing. He hates giving intentional walks, and doesn’t like bunting except for the pitcher or for a speedy guy like Bernadina who is bunting for a hit. He has a quick hook, and rarely lets the starter go deep into games unless the bullpen is tired.

  2. dowhatifeellike - Feb 12, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    But does knowing this now alter the approach to the game? Teams could find a way to mitigate the issue, thus changing the “magic number” in short order.

  3. plmathfoto - Feb 12, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Apparently he used this magic formula to see how great Victor Zambrano was.

    Interesting info that I never realized about that clown by the way: In 2003 he led the American League in walks, wild pitches, and hit batsmen, and in walks and wild pitches again in 2004, despite being traded to the National League at midseason.

  4. cur68 - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    Great read. Makes sense, too. I’m forced to go over my rooting interest’s 1-2-3 hitters: Reyes, Cabrera, Bautista (in all likelihood).

    Respective OBP: .342 -.338 -.362 (and, given OPS: .782 -.752 -.848 means these guys get on base, but not necessarily hit their way on. So, good eyes on The Beavz 1-2-3). The odds then in favour of My Boyz showing the oppo pitcher more than 39 hitters are pretty good. Given that the 4th guy is E5, (OBP: .344 & OPS: .815), this is looking even better.

    Well. THAT’S comforting.

    Go Beavz.

    • proudlycanadian - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM

      I am a big fan of Beavers.

      • cur68 - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:04 PM

        Well, how anyone NOT be? If you don’t like Beavers you’re either a zombie or a commie.

      • sophiethegreatdane - Feb 12, 2013 at 5:42 PM

        Thanks. I just had it stuffed.

  5. phillyphreak - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    This is cool stuff. I think Tango et al. touched on this in The Book, looking at wOBA and times through the order too.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:40 PM

      Him and MGL did in Chapter 7 on Starting Pitchers.

  6. sportsdrenched - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    Lies, Damn Lies!
    -Ned & Dayton

  7. nolanwiffle - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    The “Csonka Line”. Live it, learn it, love it…..and you too will be a successful major league pitcher.

  8. bisonaudit - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    Interesting use of numbers to support what we’ve known for a long time. Turning over the opponent’s line up is bad and you should try not to do it. There’s an old story of Cal Jr. and Sr. going over a table top baseball game that Jr. had lost and Sr. pointing out a managerial mistake in the middle innings that turned over the opposition’s line up and cost him the game late. That’s just old school baseball being confirmed by new school analysis.

    On the flip side the story points out that the biggest difference in OBP is, on average between the 2nd and 3rd hitters. This is a line up construction problem that devotees of advanced stats have been aware of for quite some time but that the baseball establishment hasn’t let go of yet.

  9. nightman13 - Feb 12, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    I thought that 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 were the magic numbers…

    • wihalofan - Feb 12, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      I thought it was “3”

    • fanofevilempire - Feb 12, 2013 at 4:52 PM

      seven, you left out seven.
      why, because seven eight nine………………..


      I couldn’t resist.

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