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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Catch-up rule in baseball

I missed this paper by two game theorists (one at NYU) and some news stories about it. It proposes the following change to baseball's rules: A team that is leading gets only two outs in its turn at bat. The goal is to shorten games and to make games more competitive by giving trailing teams an opportunity to come back. It then applied the rule to all MLB games from 1967-2017, finding that it shortened the average game by about five outs (about 24 minutes) and the average score difference by more than one run. I am not sure what to think about this, although WSJ sports columnist Jason Gay is a fan (subscription required).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 13, 2018 at 12:21 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


@Jr I just made that example complex to ensure it had a definite outcome. However, all you really need is for the next two batters for the other side to really really suck and pitching to be really really lousy so runs are easy to make. Anytime that happens tieing up the game is a negative.

Of course, that rarely will happen in baseball but it isn't absurd.

Posted by: Peter Gerdes | Oct 17, 2018 3:44:39 PM

@Jr Yes, that was what I meant to convey: It's not obvious that it couldn't be negative. I didn't mean to suggest that if one did the math it actually was. Merely that such a possibility wasn't ruled out.

But on reflection you can create a hypothetical in which this occurs. (I'm assuming if you pull

Suppose you are the home team and behind 7-6 at the bottom of the 8th inning with two outs and no one on base. The next two batters in both line ups suck and will strike out. The next three batters (i.e. batters 3,4,5) on the other side's batting order are all amazing and will certainly all make it home (1 and 2 get on base and 3 hits a homer) but the batter after that will almost surely strike out. The next two batters on your side (batters 4,5) are also great and will all make it home (#5 hits a homer) but following them is another certain strike out.

If you strike out then the other team scores no points in the 9th because it's first two batters strike out and that's it. But after your first two batters strike out #4 gets on base and #5 hits a homer giving you the win at 7-8. If you instead hit a home run you tie up the game at 7-7. The other team's first two batters strike out but 3,4 get on base and #6 sends them home making it 10-7. You still score 2 points when you get to bat but that makes it a loss for you at 10-9.

So at least theoretically it can be negative. I suspect it can practically as well but that would require a computer and stats to work otu.

Posted by: Peter Gerdes | Oct 17, 2018 3:41:18 PM

I think it’s not necessary to change the rules. It was still great in baseball, wasn't it? I think this is the same thing as changing the rules for writing an essay, for example, then resources such as https://domymathhomework.org/ cannot function normally. And this will lead to the fact that many students will remain without proper assistance

Posted by: Kerry | Oct 17, 2018 5:42:19 AM

Peter Gerdes: It is not totally obvious if a run would be worth a negative amount or not. I tried to look at some run expectancy statistics but it is kind of tricky to analyze. An out is generally worth less than a run in expected value terms, but if you take the lead you may give up the chance to have more than 2 outs in several innings, including having less chance of scoring many runs at the same time, which I think complicates analysis.

But I suppose that could add a fascinating strategic component to the games.

Posted by: Jr | Oct 15, 2018 2:36:17 PM

The newspaper you cite mention soccer penalty kicks (as a tie-breaker.) A number of soccer competitions have tried changing the order of kicks taken, but in a different way, the so-called ABBA format. (Also inspired by research.)

To me the catch-up rule for baseball seems silly at first reflection.

An alternative idea: if a team is trailing it will always bat next, until its nine innings have been used up. The bottom of the ninth is not played if not necessary to decide the result and this would be a strengthening of that idea, where innings are not played until we are sure they are needed for the result.

To put it in cricketing terms, I suggest baseball introduces the follow-on.

Posted by: Jr | Oct 15, 2018 2:28:06 PM

Change the game needs: How about 7 innings and put the first player due up each inning on first base?

That would distill the game into it's best parts for me - the game doesn't necessarily need higher scores (even if that might still be a side effect despite eliminating an out) ... it needs more fielding and display of the athleticism you get with a person on base more frequently. And the strategy choices of pitch outs and sending the runners and bunting etc are all choice.

I guess it would tear up the "all-time" stats irreparably which is why it won't happen - and, I would guess that a lot of the portion of the country that still likes the game appreciate the watching the paint dry with random rewards heightening the serotonin rush when you do occasionally get the action.

Posted by: Mike | Oct 15, 2018 1:53:00 PM

Heard this on a podcast recently. Idea is not limited to baseball.

I'd be for anything that makes games more competitive and shorter. As far as I understood, it would create no disincentive to scoring runs.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Oct 14, 2018 9:17:26 PM

What about instead just making sure that the later innings count for something even if a team losses the overall game. For instance, one could give the team with more runs in innings 7-9 a 5th of a win so it doesn't count for nothing.

Posted by: Peter Gerdes | Oct 14, 2018 12:09:09 AM

We could also count runs twice in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. It's a bad idea for the same reason. It essentially makes the game more competitive by discounting earlier efforts in comparison to late ones. If that's what one wants then make it more competitive just by eliminating some innings.

It's less obvious that it does so in this case because it's phrased in terms of being ahead and behind but think about it game theoretically. A run scored in an early inning is much less valuable now (and could even theoretically be negative in some circumstances) because it comes along with a cost to scoring future runs.

Posted by: Peter Gerdes | Oct 13, 2018 11:59:49 PM

The teams should play under the same rules throughout the game. A team should not be punished for being in the lead. Also, retroactively applying this proposed rule to previous games commits the fallacy of the predetermined outcome. If this proposed rule was in effect in previous season, teams would have played differently in response and so the results of such games is unknowable.

Posted by: Stefan Privin | Oct 13, 2018 6:57:20 PM

I am hesitant. This would mean that late runs would have more weight than early ones, right? I guess I should now read the article.

Posted by: Chris Lund | Oct 13, 2018 2:10:38 PM

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