Another exit from the postseason deprived the nation of tales of Dodger fandom and their proclivities–Dodger Dogs, Vin Scully, and, of course, leaving the game early. Why they leave early, beats me. Maybe they have premieres to attend. Maybe they’re going to foam parties. Maybe they’re trying to beat the traffic. Me, I don’t know. Like most FanGraphs readers, I’d guess, I have never been invited to a premiere. Or, for that matter, a foam party. (And I’m still not entirely clear as to what one is.) As for beating the traffic, yeah, I get it, average attendance at Dodger Stadium was 46,696 this year, highest in the majors, so I imagine that’s a lot of cars. But Dodger games took an average of 3:14 last year, which means that night games ended well after 10 PM, so one would assume that traffic on the 5 and the 10 and the 101 and the 110 would have eased by then, though I don’t live in a part of the country in which highways are referred to with articles, so what do I know.
Aesthetically, of course, the argument against leaving a game early is that you might miss something exciting–an amazing defensive play, a dramatic rally, last call for beer. That would seem to trump the concerns of early departers.
Especially a rally. A late-innings comeback is one of the most thrilling pleasures of baseball. But that made me wonder: Are they becoming less common? If so, wouldn’t that be an excuse, if not a reason, for leaving early?
During the postseason, you may have heard that the Royals have a pretty good bullpen. (It’s come up a couple times on the broadcasts.*) With Kelvin Herrera often pitching the seventh, Wade Davis the eighth, and Greg Holland the ninth, the Royals were 65-4 in games they led after six innings. Of course, a raw number like that requires context, so here is a list of won-lost percentage by teams leading after six innings:
Sure enough, the Royals did very well. The major league average was 87.7%. Kansas City, at 94.2%, easily eclipsed it. But, as you can see, so did the Dodgers. We certainly didn’t hear about their lockdown bullpen in their divisional series loss to the Cardinals. Presumably, the Dodger bullpen’s 6.48 ERA and 1.68 WHIP over the four games of the series had something to do with that. But during the regular season, the Dodgers held their leads.
How about the other way–what teams were the best at comebacks? Shame on Dodger fans if they were leaving the parking lot just as the home team was launching a rally, turning a deficit into victory. Here’s the won-lost record of teams that were trailing after six innings:
Whoa. Ignoring for now the late-inning heroics of the Nationals, who were able to come from behind to win over one of every five games that they trailed after six innings, look who’s at the bottom of the list! The Dodgers trailed 56 games going into the seventh inning this year, and won only two.
So maybe the Dodger fans who left games early are on to something. I devised a Forgone Conclusion Index (FCI) by combining the two tables above. It is simply the percentage of games in which a team leading after six innings comes back to win the game. For example, the Royals led after six innings 69 times and, by coincidence, trailed after six innings an equal number of times. Their Forgone Conclusion Index is 65 Royals wins when leading after six plus 58 opponents’ wins when the Royals trailed after six, divided by 138 (69 plus 69) games in which a team led after six innings. The Royals’ FCI is thus (65 + 58) / 138 = 89.1%. The team leading Royals games going into the seventh inning wound up winning just over 89% of the time. A Royals fan wishing to leave a game after six innings did so with 89% certainty that the team in the lead would go on to win. (Yes, I know, I should do a home/road breakdown, but this is a silly statistic anyway.)
Here’s the Foregone Conclusion Index for each team last year.
And there you have it. The Dodger patrons leaving the game early weren’t being fair-weather or easily-distracted fans. Rather, they were simply exhibiting rational behavior. They follow the team for which the team leading after six innings was the most likely in the majors to hold on to win. They were the least likely fans to deprive themselves of the excitement of a late-inning comeback by leaving early.
I know what you’re thinking: Single-season fluke. There have to have been more comebacks in Dodger games in recent years, right? As it turns out, yes, but not a lot. The Dodgers were eighth in the majors in Foregone Conclusion Index in 2013 (87.8%) and seventh in 2012 (90.4%). Maybe 2014 is an outlier in which there were an extremely small number of comebacks in their games, but over the 2012-2014 timeframe, only the Braves (91.8% FCI) and Padres (90.9%) have played a higher proportion of games in which the team leading entering the seventh inning has gone on to win than the Dodgers (90.8%).
So keep it up, Dodger fans. Get into your cars during the seventh inning, turn on Charlie Steiner and Rick Monday on the radio, and drive on your incrementally less crowded highways on the way to your premieres and foam parties. You probably won’t be missing a comeback, and by leaving early, you’re expressing your deep understanding of probabilities.
*TBS managed to botch a fun fact about Kansas City’s bullpen. At one point, they posted a graphic stating that the Royals are the first team to have three pitchers–the aforementioned Herrera, Davis, and Holland–to compile ERAs below 1.50 in 60 or more innings pitched. They forgot the key qualifier: Since Oklahoma became a state. The 1907 Chicago Cubs featured three starters with ERAs below 1.50: Three-Finger Brown (1.39), Carl Lundgren (1.17), and Jack Pfiester (1.15). The Cubs’ team ERA was 1.73.
Writer for Baseball Prospectus