Making a Great Defensive Play Then Leading Off the Next Inning

November 5, 2013

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!


COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

Just another thought:

The % of people who are up to lead off and inning may be slightly lower than one out of nine because the pitcher/catcher rarely make the last out if it's a fielding play and there is also the presence of the DH in the AL, therefore making the making the probability of a batter leading off after a great play 0% when they are due up the next inning - a reduction of 0.6% (1.2%/2 to account for only AL data) from the expected total. Kind of explains the difference in data (11.1% - 0.6% = 10.5%). Pretty close to 10.2%. Factor in pitchers and catchers and I'm surprised that number isn't even lower.
7:10 PM Nov 10th
I love the idea and the article. This is why I subscribe to this site. Before I even clicked on the link to read it, the title got me thinking: Is it really a one out of nine chance that each position in the batting order leads off an inning? I'm not very adept at using sites like baseball reference to create databases of material and check this myself, but it seems to me like certain positions in the batting order would have a higher/lower likelihood of leading off based on the the other hitters in the order and how often the first inning plays out 1-2-3.

I'm not going to break down each position in the batting order, but first inkling is that in the NL the lead-off man would also lead-off more innings because the pitcher so often makes the last out. Is that flawed logic, or am I onto something? Maybe that could be the next article: "Who most often leads off an inning?" Only including innings 2-9 of course.
7:02 PM Nov 10th
Pennant Race (1962) is one of my favorite baseball books, right after The Long Season by the same author, Jim Brosnan. He writes about an April game, Reds at Dodgers, in which there was

a diving catch by Willie Davis of a line drive hit by Jay in order to stop one Red rally.

"Willie Davis will lead off the next inning," announced Scully as the Dodgers ran to their bench, where Davis was applauded. "Naturally."

Scully meant this as an aside, probably, but it's eerily true that a man, after he's made an outstanding defensive play, will often bat first in the next inning, earning fresh, loud applause. (Abner Doubleday and Destiny apparently agreed on this matter when they formulated the rules of baseball.)

Innocent days.
5:25 PM Nov 6th
One of the funniest things I've ever heard in a baseball broadcast was uttered by Lanny Frattare, the Pirates' broadcaster, sometime in the late 1980s I believe. Some one came up with two outs in the bottom of an inning after making a spectacular play in the top of the inning.

"Have you ever noticed," said Frattare with a straight face, "how often a guy who makes a great play comes up third?"

7:47 AM Nov 6th
I screwed up. Erstad hit his home run in the sixth game of the 2002 WS.
11:46 PM Nov 5th
John, I'm sure your numbers are good. Let me tell you how these things start. August 22, 2000. Listening to the Angel-Yankee game on the radio, in the back yard. Hot summer night in SoCal. The neighbors are there, talking. I'm listening to them and the game, the beer is cold. The Angels are getting there ass's kicked down 8-3. Clemens pitching. He loses it in the ninth the Angels come back. Mo Vaughn hit's a 3 run home run to tie the game at 8, off Mariano Rivera. In the bottom of the 10th, 2 outs, men on second and third, Posada hits a screamer to left center, Darin Erstad, takes off at the crack of the bat, lays out and like a wide receiver, dives, parallel to the ground and catches the ball. Clemen's says, it was the best catch he's ever seen. I turn up the radio and listen to it again. The crowd is silent, the Angel announcers are going crazy. I tell the wife, Darin Erstad, who in 2000, is having one of the most amazing seasons that I have ever followed, has just made a spectacular, game saving catch and he's going to lead off the top of the 11th and he's going to hit a home run to win the game. Which he did. 9-8. I learned later that when Erstad came back to the dugout, Shigetoshi Haseqawa, who threw that pitch, tried to hug Darin and was jumping up and down. Darin said, "Stop it. I've got to hit." Haseqawa, probably, pumped up beyond belief, pitched a shut down 11th and the Angels won. Erstad, a player I paid to see. He hit a home run in the seventh game of the 2002 WS. Made the score 6-4. Caught the final out, all with a broken hand. He had the winter to heal.
9:30 PM Nov 5th
Maybe you should include the threes, too? Don't really think it would make any difference, but since you prefaced the article with saying it was an announcer's cliché announcers often call plays great that are only very good.
8:27 PM Nov 5th
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