Monday, October 14, 2013

Walk-off Wins and Momentum

After Sunday night's improbable Red Sox comeback, many Red Sox and Tigers fans claimed that the momentum was now on the Red Sox side.  It's certainly true that it's better for the Red Sox to be tied 1-1 in the series than down 2-0, but does the walk-off win make them more likely to win game three on Tuesday?

It is widely believed that a walk-off win or sudden victory creates a boost for a team that carries over to the next game more often than not. I wanted to see if this was true, so I went to the retrosheet database and found all walk-off wins between 1995 and 2012. There were 3,769 of these sudden victories during the period which comes out to about seven per team for a season. My goal was to see if walk off winners had a tendency win the next game after their walk offs.

Twenty-eight walk offs fell out of the sample because they occurred in the final game of the season and thus were not followed by another regular season game. That gave me 3,741 games with which to work. I discovered that teams won 52.6% of the games immediately following walk off wins. That's more than 50% so at first glance it seems that there is a bit of a tendency for teams to win games following walk offs.

Before jumping to conclusions though, there are a couple of important factors to consider. First, walk off wins only happen at home so chances are (85% of the time to be exact) that the next game would also be at home. Since teams win 53.9% of their home games, you would expect them to have a good winning percentage in games after walk offs even without a carryover effect. Also, teams with good winning percentages tend to have more walk off wins. For both of these reasons, one would expect a win the next game after a walk off more than 50% of the time even if walk-off wins had no influence on future games.

I calculated the expected winning percentage in games after sudden victories as follows: For each walk off, I calculated the winning percentage of the specific team for that year and site. For example, the 2012 Tigers won 61.7% of their home games. Thus, they would have a probability of .617 of winning a home game the day after a walk off assuming no carryover effect. I did this for each of the 3,741 walk offs and then calculated the average probability to be .528. This means, that assuming no carryover effect, we would expect 52.8% of the games after walk offs to have resulted in wins.

Since the expected winning percentage (52.8%) for games after walk offs was almost exactly the same as the actual winning percentage (52.6%), I can conclude that, in general, a walk-off win has no effect over the result of the following game. As cautious as I am about accepting intangibles, this result is still surprising to me. I was not expecting a dramatic effect but I thought that sudden victories would have a small influence over ensuing games.

Another question is whether walk-off losses create negative momentum.  This is, of course, relevant to the Tigers-Red Sox scenario since the walk-off winner is facing a a walk-off loser in Game three .

As with walk off wins, there are there are two factors to consider. First, walk-off losses happen on the road and are followed by road games 86% of the time. Since teams win just 46.1% of their road games, you would expect them to have a low winning percentage in games after sudden losses even without a carryover effect. Also, teams with low winning percentages tend to have more walk off losses. For both of these reasons, one would expect a win in the next game after a walk off loss less than 50% of the time even if walk off losses had no influence.

The expected winning percentage in games after sudden losses is calculated the same way as for walk-off wins.  It turns that a team would be expected to win 45.7% of the time after a walk-off loss if there is no carryover effect.  Since, this is almost the same as he actual winning percentage of 46.4%, I can conclude that,  in general, a walk off loss has no affect on the result of the following game.

Based on these analyses, the Tigers heart-breaking loss should not affect their performance in game three any more than any other result. Tigers manager Jim Leyland's theory is that "Momentum is only as good as the next game's starting pitcher".  If that's the case, then the Tigers should be in a favorable position with red hot Justin Verlander facing Red Sox right hander John Lackey on Tuesday.

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by
Retrosheet.  Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at "www.retrosheet.org"

12 comments:

  1. Kind of poetic justice though that Fielder got screwed by fan interference after the Tigers screwed Oakland. The commentating there was so awful, it was clear that Fielder's arm had mad contact with arms there and his momentum was indeed affected and he didn't miss that ball by much. Heck even a chance for a bounce off the glove and a second try was possible let alone a clean catch. In other words, take away all the people, does he make that catch? You're darn right he does. Even if he believes the crowd is there but they aren't such that he has the same hesitant approach. So just make the arms vanish at the last possible instant before contact and I think he catches the ball with a very high probability.

    So things are even. But we still wasted a lot of time and took a goofy route for getting back to square one. It isn't necessary nor in good spirit for what should be considered a PROFESSIONAL game. I mean business. Shoot, let's stick with it's just a game for now. Until the powers that oversee it can grow up and take things seriously.

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    1. I just have to add one more thing about that play that has been bothering me. I have reviewed this several times now and I can't fathom thinking that Fielder could have walked away from that play thinking that he wasn't interfered with. I have brought up many times in the past about his general lack of awareness at the finer points of playing defense at the 1B position, but this is another example. Now I don't know what was in his mind, it's possible that he interpreted that play as no way he could have made it or just felt it was a fair call within the confines of the rules that maybe he didn't have knowledge of anyhow. But I still can't see how he could have felt that way from watching it unfold. Therefore, the DUTY as a First Baseman is to uphold your position and make the play and he had to MAKE THAT CATCH! He couldn't make that catch because he was interfered with. So to complete the play he needs to be aware of his role and that in the game of baseball the sanctity of truth is supposed to be upheld, and the RULE is that when an umpire perverts the justice of the game with an INCORRECT call you stand up and you make sure it's DAMN CLEAR! He should have protested and hopped up and down and got into that UMPIRE'S FACE until Leyland could run his 4.6 40 yard dash to interrupt and resume with a level of fierceness that would have on it's own level blown away Fielder right out of the mix.

      But that's what it takes to win and be the best, you have to fight hard, do your very best, and stand up for what's right, and when something goes wrong in baseball you stand up and SHOUT OUT and tell them to get the DAMN CALL RIGHT!

      That's how you play First Base. Or Support a First Baseman as a Manager. Which is ironically the best dang trait that Leyland has which Fielder needed to rely upon there.

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    2. Plus you always have Don Kelly just in case Fielder gets kicked out of the game. This is what he is here for, moments just like this just in case! :)

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  2. In lamen's terms, this is what Prince should have said to the Umpire:

    "Are you frakkin kiddin' me? You are going to blow that obvious call? You saw the arm hits right? Oh no you don't. You think I'm mad now, well all I have to say to you is nothing because my course of action is I'm telling my manager on you, it's this guy over here named Jim Leyland, now you gotta deal with that motherfrakker. So you and your crew better talk about this, and the head guy in charge better ask the right questions to you such as 'did you see arm contact blah blah the frakkin blah blah' and come to a consensus that somebody supports this allegation such that the call is correctly made. Or screw us and go to war with Leyland fighting for baseball justice and the MLB can take another paycut for being full of BS."

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  3. It is tough to be completely analytical here (as not all "walk off wins" are devastating to the losing team. That said, the Tigers managed to bounce back ofter equally (if not worse) collapses by Valverde last year (2012 ALDS G4 vs. Oak, 2012 ALCS G1 vs. NYY). Other teams (the 1986 Red Sox in WS Game 7, as Bill Simmons called them "Dead Man Walking") didn't fare as well. That said, I think the Tigers will bounce back, having been through this before, and persevered.

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  4. All the Tigers need to bounce back is a good start by Verlander. Then we can go back to worry about the usual things - the bullpen, the defense and the base running.

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    1. Good thing Verlander saved himself in the regular season. It worked out well in the last game!

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  5. I don't think it was quite as simple as saving himself during the regular season and then turning it up a notch for the playoffs. I do believe he was trying to save himself during the regular season, but I also think he screwed up his mechanics in the process and got frustrated. Thankfully, he got himself together in September and even better in October.

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    1. I agree. I was being somewhat facetious given that has been a hot topic and a possible theory that he was saving himself more for general longevity of his career which doubles as a strategy to having more left in the tank for the big-money postseason games. So I suspect Verlander has thought that through and trying to do something to this effect. This was also an especially good year to try to do that since we were likely to have a chance to win the division by as much as a 10 game spread. If this was a tighter division then perhaps he would have had a different season strategy plan.

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  6. Curious whether your conclusion holds when just examining playoff games. Did you look at that angle?

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  7. AD, I'm not sure the sample of walk-off wins in playoff games would be large enough to prove anything one way or the other. I would look at it, but I don't have a convenient post-season data set.

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  8. That's exactly what people will say "the playoffs are different ". And then they will add in some name-calling disguised as Bill Simmonesque quip

    ReplyDelete

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