So How Important Are First Inning Runs?
The Braves outstanding 1st inning performances lately made me think: is there some value to a first inning run that is different from other runs? So let’s look at the raw data from 2001-2022:
First, as the graphic at the top shows,teams almost always score more runs in the first inning than any other inning. This is unsurprising. If it weren’t true, you ought to question whomever made the batting order. So if you don’t score in the first inning, you have a 56% chance of losing the game. Every team that scores in the first inning, all things equal, has a greater than 50% chance of winning. And every extra run increases your chances of winning. (There is a small random reversal, since once a team scored 10 times in the first inning and lost. That was this game. That cannot have been fun for the 12,671 fans who had to watch it.)
But that doesn’t mean that first inning runs are either more important or less important than any other runs. We can simply look at all runs. Did they come in a win or a loss? As it turns out (and as you might have expected) first inning runs are almost exactly as valuable as runs in innings 3-8. When you think about it, the average value of 1/3 of a win per run makes sense in a world in which it takes about 6 runs to win an average game.) Second inning runs are slightly more valuable, since they are either runs scored with the bottom of the order, or with the top of the order when you’ve already had a good inning. Ninth inning runs are less valuable, because most of the runs in the bottom of the ninth occur in losses. Runs in extra innings are much more valuable. (They are somewhat less valuable since 2020, since the first run in every extra inning is now easier to get and therefore contributes less to winning than it used to.)
Now the Braves are scoring a lot of runs, so they’re getting a lot of wins, but those first inning runs, just like in the general data, don’t appear to be any more valuable. The most striking thing about the Braves record this year is that they have won 60% of their games in which they don’t score in the first inning. That’s a phenomenal rate considering that it’s like giving the other team a free half-inning. In fact, the Braves are slightly underperforming in their first inning results, since they’ve lost two games (out of 6) in which they scored 4 first inning runs and one game (out of two) in which they scored five runs in the first inning.
There could be a dynamic effect of first inning runs in that they shorten the expected stint of the opponent’s starter and therefore force the use of more bullpen pitchers, but a half-season of data isn’t enough to figure out whether that’s happening or not.
Ah, for those years when the Braves just sent their catcher as a backup for one at bat and maybe an inning played. Bliss.
Ego Vigilo Custodes
The Latin phrase Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? translates to Who will the guard the Guardians? Well, if the Guardians were a basketball or soccer team, they’d be guarded by the players on the other team. But they’re not. They’re a baseball team in Cleveland. So this recap is actually an example of Ego Vigilo Custodes — I Watch the Guardians.
I was in Cleveland once for a wedding about 35 years ago. We had a great time and the couple is still married. I can recommend the Tick Tock Tavern…. unless it’s made any changes in the last 35 years. Then you’re on your own.
So last week I reminisced about Minnesota and 1991. It is much more pleasant to bask in 1995 and the Cleveland Proto-Guardians. As Tolstoy opened Anna Karenina — “All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Such to me are baseball seasons: all years you win the World Series are alike but the ways you lose them are unique. Hating Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris for what they did to the Braves brings abck memory after memory. The ~500 OPSing performances of Eddie Murray, Sandy Alomar, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga combine in warm miasma of futility. They combined for 108 AB and 19 hits, and just 7 for extra bases. All 5 were good players, and they all had negative WPA in that Series.
The Braves didn’t score in the first, but neither did Cleveland. Same in the second inning. The third found two runs on a Michael Harris II homer (I told you he was back) and a Ronald Acuna jr. – Ozzie Albies paso doble. (Ronald did one of those things where he tweaked his shoulder and acted as if his arm had been amputated. I love you Ronald, but this has to stop.) Ozuna followed up with a homer in the next inning. Harris’ second homer in the fifth made it 4-0. Someone said it last week, but it is no accident that Harris’ second gear coincides with Atlanta’s recent success.
Bryce Elder and his magical mirror act went 6 2/3, chased by a two run single from Amed Rosario. A.J. Minter closed out the 7th and pitched 2 outs in the 8th before being relieved by Nick Anderson with the tying runs on base. He retired Myles Straw, taking us to the 9th.
Raisel Iglesias pitched the 9th: 1-2-3. 9 in a row. Baseball is not this easy. Even recapping isn’t this easy, but it’s pretty easy in these circumstances. Two more games in the series. Then maybe we’ll face them again in the World Series.