New York Mets v Minnesota Twins

During the long, cold off-season, a tiny morsel of info leaked out from the Orioles front office. Turns out some tall foreheads in the O’s analytics department pounded their keyboards to the bone to learn that there is a “magic number” as it relates to winning ball games: 39 batters faced. If, when pitching at home, a team can keep the total plate appearances of their opponents under 39, they stand a great chance to win.

In the interests of due diligence, let’s check in on this phenomenon as we near the end of May. Does the 38 batters faced threshold still make the difference between winning and losing? Spoiler: of course it does!

Using the trusty Play Index, we can track which teams played the most games in which they allowed the opponents to come to the plate 38 times or fewer. Would you believe it? When they do this, they win! The left is games with 38 and below, the right is 39 and above.

38 Batters Faced and Under
39 Batters Faced and Up
Rk Tm Year #Matching W L W-L% ▾
1 STL 2013 15 14 1 Ind. Games .933
2 SFG 2013 15 14 1 Ind. Games .933
3 CIN 2013 14 13 1 Ind. Games .929
4 LAA 2013 9 8 1 Ind. Games .889
5 DET 2013 16 14 2 Ind. Games .875
6 NYY 2013 15 13 2 Ind. Games .867
7 TBR 2013 14 12 2 Ind. Games .857
8 CLE 2013 13 11 2 Ind. Games .846
9 ARI 2013 13 11 2 Ind. Games .846
10 TEX 2013 12 10 2 Ind. Games .833
11 SEA 2013 15 12 3 Ind. Games .800
12 SDP 2013 13 10 3 Ind. Games .769
13 COL 2013 13 10 3 Ind. Games .769
14 ATL 2013 13 10 3 Ind. Games .769
15 PIT 2013 16 12 4 Ind. Games .750
16 LAD 2013 16 12 4 Ind. Games .750
17 BOS 2013 15 11 4 Ind. Games .733
18 OAK 2013 14 10 4 Ind. Games .714
19 CHW 2013 14 10 4 Ind. Games .714
20 WSN 2013 17 12 5 Ind. Games .706
21 HOU 2013 10 7 3 Ind. Games .700
22 PHI 2013 15 10 5 Ind. Games .667
23 NYM 2013 15 10 5 Ind. Games .667
24 BAL 2013 12 8 4 Ind. Games .667
25 MIL 2013 13 8 5 Ind. Games .615
26 MIN 2013 10 6 4 Ind. Games .600
27 CHC 2013 14 8 6 Ind. Games .571
28 TOR 2013 13 7 6 Ind. Games .538
29 KCR 2013 13 7 6 Ind. Games .538
30 MIA 2013 12 6 6 Ind. Games .500
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/29/2013.
Rk Tm Year #Matching W L W-L% ▾
1 ATL 2013 5 4 1 Ind. Games .800
2 CIN 2013 7 5 2 Ind. Games .714
3 PIT 2013 9 5 4 Ind. Games .556
4 TOR 2013 14 7 7 Ind. Games .500
5 TEX 2013 10 5 5 Ind. Games .500
6 DET 2013 7 3 4 Ind. Games .429
7 BOS 2013 12 5 7 Ind. Games .417
8 WSN 2013 8 3 5 Ind. Games .375
9 SFG 2013 8 3 5 Ind. Games .375
10 COL 2013 8 3 5 Ind. Games .375
11 TBR 2013 11 4 7 Ind. Games .364
12 MIN 2013 10 3 7 Ind. Games .300
13 OAK 2013 7 2 5 Ind. Games .286
14 ARI 2013 12 3 9 Ind. Games .250
15 NYY 2013 8 2 6 Ind. Games .250
16 BAL 2013 8 2 6 Ind. Games .250
17 MIL 2013 13 3 10 Ind. Games .231
18 KCR 2013 9 2 7 Ind. Games .222
19 CHC 2013 9 2 7 Ind. Games .222
20 SDP 2013 10 2 8 Ind. Games .200
21 CHW 2013 6 1 5 Ind. Games .167
22 NYM 2013 13 2 11 Ind. Games .154
23 LAD 2013 13 2 11 Ind. Games .154
24 LAA 2013 13 2 11 Ind. Games .154
25 PHI 2013 8 1 7 Ind. Games .125
26 CLE 2013 9 1 8 Ind. Games .111
27 HOU 2013 18 1 17 Ind. Games .056
28 MIA 2013 10 0 10 Ind. Games .000
29 SEA 2013 8 0 8 Ind. Games .000
30 STL 2013 5 0 5 Ind. Games .000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/29/2013.

It is slightly amazing to me that the Braves have a winning record in these games, though their terrific run prevention limits the number of games in which they get to the 39 threshold. Conversely, the bad teams with bad pitching staffs are constantly pushing past this limit and losing many games because of it. Bad offenses have a harder time squeaking out wins even when the pitching plays along. The Blue Jays are cursed/just plain bad.

Less stunning: no team has a losing record when holding their opposition under 39 batters faced. Even the Astros were not able to lose games in which they received decent starting pitching. League-wide, teams have a 299-103 record when holding opponents to 38 PAs and below. When they go over? 78-210.

I don’t exactly know why but this entire concept fascinates me. It isn’t a hard and fast rule, as the Braves record when allowing 39 batters faced and above shows. But just as keeping batters faced below 39 correlates nicely with winning, so does scoring a tonne of runs. The Braves averaged six runs per game in this five-game sample. Teams that score six runs are 402-67 in 2013. It’s all related. Fewer base runners means fewer runs, even in this homer-happy day-and-age.

Interestingly, if you take this to the individual level, it works as a beefed-up version of WHIP. Creating a total batters faced per nine innings column doesn’t follow the WHIP leaderboard directly, though Matt Harvey, Clayton Kershaw and Hisashi Iwakuma lead the way in both. Iwakuma and Harvey both face just 34 batters per nine innings pitched, which seems like a pretty terrific way to win baseball games to me. Poor James Shields deserves better than his Royals lot in life. But you and I already knew this.

Comments (7)

  1. So do you invest in pitching an fielding to keep your opponent’s at bats down and increase your team’s chance of winning?
    Or, do you invest in hitting to ensure that your team’s at bats are elevated past that threshold to indirectly increase your chances of winning by directly decreasing your opponent’s chance of winning?

  2. I’m probably missing something, but shouldn’t the two records (over and under 39) add up to the team’s overall record?

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