The Ninth Inning Rally, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Deal With a Likely Loss

Drama queens they are not. In fact, when it comes to the 2007, there is simply no drama at all.

That’s Tony Massarotti’s accusatory lede to a story in yesterday’s Herald, about the lack of late-inning theatrics for this year’s Red Sox squad.  Massarotti cites the Red Sox’ 1-32 record when trailing entering the ninth to illustrate that this team has no flair for fireworks.  Doug Mirabelli, when asked about this late-inning failure, said "I don’t know. That’s all I can say…I wouldn’t be able to explain why we won those games in other years, either.”

There’s a reason for Mirabelli’s inability to explain this: comebacks are extremely rare when entering the ninth.  And that is true for every team in the league, regardless of their position in the standings.  We looked at the best (and the worst) in the AL for the numbers. Baseball Reference, as usual, provides the backup, after the jump.

  • The Red Sox are 1-32 when trailing entering the ninth.  They are 6-32 when trailing entering the eighth.
  • Yankees: 2-39 (9th), 4-36 (8th)
  • Indians: 4-30 (9th), 5-30 (8th)
  • Tigers: 3-28 (9th), 3-26 (8th)
  • Angels: 1-32 (9th), 3-31 (8th)
  • Mariners: 0-37 (9th), 4-34 (8th)
  • Devil Rays: 4-42 (9th), 2-44 (8th)
  • Royals: 2-46 (9th), 4-42 (8th)

So the Royals have come back as many times in the ninth inning to win as the Yankees, more times than the Red Sox, Angels, and Mariners.  Though the worst teams have trailed many more times entering the ninth (duh!), their gross number of comebacks tracks the best teams, and while their winning percentage in late-inning trailing scenarios is lower, they have still been able to pull off comebacks in quantities matching the best teams.  Interestingly, if you add in the seventh inning, the patterns don’t change much.  Looking at the "entering the 7th inning tied or behind" numbers, we see that the aforementioned teams have won the following number of games:

  • Red Sox: 11
  • Yankees: 6
  • Indians: 15
  • Tigers: 10
  • Angels: 12
  • Mariners: 11
  • Devil Rays: 10
  • Royals: 9

The glaring outlier is the Yankees, and this late-inning comeback deficit might explain their being 9 out instead of, say, four or five (maybe Maz should go write for the Daily News?).  But in general, the rule is that if you trail entering the seventh, you win quite infrequently. If you trail entering the ninth, you win almost never.  This basic pattern is something that a number of baseball fans — perhaps Sox fans especially because of some of the high profile comebacks of the last few years — do not recognize. 

13 comments… add one
  • Yeoman’s work, Paul. Note that the low Yankee number is not so much a reflection of a lack of clutch hitting (Derek and Alex have been plenty clutch in late inning situations), but the poor record of the bullpen, especially in the first couple of months of the season.

    YF July 17, 2007, 4:36 pm
  • Pardon me. Yeoman’s work SF!

    YF July 17, 2007, 4:37 pm
  • one thing about the Yanks low number. Certain Torre critics cite Torre’s bullpen mismanagement as a key reason for the team’s failures in 1-run games. Perhaps, we’re not looking close enough at the offensive side of things. Not to say they’re offensive failures in late and close games is not related to decisions made buy Torre, but these numbers seem to imply that people are overrating his bullpen mismanagement when accounting for the 1-run and close losses. Just an idea.

    Nick-YF July 17, 2007, 4:37 pm
  • That’s why saves are an overrated stat. No knocks on Mo or Paps, just saying.

    Lar July 17, 2007, 4:38 pm
  • going back to class.

    Nick-YF July 17, 2007, 4:38 pm
  • Bad grammar = me be speaking English good!

    Lar July 17, 2007, 4:38 pm
  • To some extent, 1-run games are luck. But the Yanks also have an awful record in 2-run games, which really highlights the point. The Pythoras Win-Loss also reflects this, to some extent, as we’re way under it.

    Lar July 17, 2007, 4:40 pm
  • YF:
    Not sure I understand why the bullpen has much to do with the Yankees’ failure. (Or are you saying that a sixth inning one run deficit was frequently being turned into a three or four run deficit?)
    It seems like for the Yankees it was more of a starting pitching issue earlier in the season: too many games in which the offense was handed a comeback situation, and as we can see late comebacks, in general, are rare. Get behind early or even in the middle, and losing is in the cards, very frequently. What can the bullpen do about that?

    SF July 17, 2007, 4:52 pm
  • Nick: Good point. Joe’s late-game strategies have hurt. They hurt last week when Melky failed to squeeze home a tying run.
    SF: The stat in question was for games entering the 7th TIED or behind. The Yankee pen was actually stupendously good for the first couple of weeks, but as was noted on this site–and just about everywhere else–the failure of the injury riddled starting staff to stay in games led to overuse, and a long period of massive crapitude. At the same time, while the team was losing, Mariano was not getting into games, was not his usual self when he did play, and, as Nick suggests, Torre generally keeps him out of tied late inning games–which is less than ideal strategically.

    YF July 17, 2007, 5:05 pm
  • Torre generally keeps him out of tied late inning games–which is less than ideal strategically
    Not necessarily, as this post might show, right?

    SF July 17, 2007, 5:11 pm
  • Hard to manage a bullpen well when you only have one or two guys in it that can actually pitch.
    I disagree SF, it might not win you the game, but with Mo it might not get a lot worse, at least making a comeback slightly easier, 1 run is a lot easier to get than 3, right?

    LocklandSF July 17, 2007, 5:44 pm
  • Lockland:
    It seems like the better teams win half the games that are tied in the 7th or later (this is a generalization, but the numbers show something like this), and that number drops to like 10% when the team is behind in the 8th. Clearly it’s hard to come back on other teams’ closers (the comeback number would probably rise a little if every closer was used in the 7th inning of tie ballgames!), but the stats seem to show that coming back is unlikely in any case, late in the game.
    This gets at the whole “closers are overrated, anyone can do it, just look at Todd Jones and Joe Borowski” debate. Not using Rivera at the expense of keeping him fresh on the chance he has to close a one run game (almost anyone should be able to hold two+ run leads, at least statistically speaking) might not be the best usage at this point. Certainly it is debatable.

    SF July 17, 2007, 5:56 pm
  • It’s posts like this that make me wonder why beat writers don’t spend the five minutes researching and save themselves the hour or so of typing time (even longer when considering interview time). I mean, honestly. The Sox don’t come back in the ninth inning enough? Is that really what’s wrong with this team? I’d argue that lately it’s entering the ninth trailing too much.

    Paul SF July 17, 2007, 7:14 pm

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