Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Retiring the Side

Yesterday in this math blog I listed some definitions for retire.
• retire - stop performing one's work or withdraw from one's position
• retire - back away, retreat
• retire - go to bed
• retire - take out of circulation or recall (as in paper currency, bonds, etc)
• retire - strike out or throw out (in baseball)
• re-tire - put new tires on your car
Today's post addresses the use of the word retire in the baseball world. This will involve some numbers and some basic math skills, which hopefully you have mastered during your elementary school education.

NOTE: I have found that men who carefully avoid math in every other realm of life don't seem to notice that sports statistics involve math ...

When three players are called out, the side is retired and the other team goes to bat. Ideally, these players would be struck out at the plate rather than getting on base. A pitcher who can strike out lots of batters and retire the side without giving batters a chance to score is very valuable to any team.

I found a website called Retire The Side™. But I don't think that precludes me from investigating the term myself. So let's move on and see what we can learn.

The most strike-outs recorded in a nine-inning major league game are:
•  20 (3 times)
•  19 (8 times)
•  18 (13 times)
If you count extra-innings games, the totals are a tiny bit higher:
•  21  (once)
•  20  (once)
•  19 (4 times)
•  18 (3 times)
You can go here for a complete list. These pitchers could have retired the side straight, in 6 of 9 innings. You can go here to see a list of the 100 best major-league strike-out-throwing pitchers.

As I did some of my research on this subject, I learned of a minor league baseball pitcher, Ron Necciai, who threw 27 strike-outs in a game. He retired the side 9 times (although he also hit a batter and walked one). WOW! Now that's pitching. Amazingly, four of those strike-outs came in the last inning.

I thought, What?! How could he get 4 strike-outs in one inning? Doesn't the side get retired after 3?  After re-reading the article a couple times, I understood.

Interested? Or do you know the loophole already?
1. If a batter is thrown out on strikes AND
2. the catcher drops the third strike pitch AND
3. there is no one on first (so it's open) AND
4. the batter gets to first base before the ball does
5. then the pitcher is awarded a strike-out AND the batter gets a base at the same time
If the pitcher already had struck out two, and strikes the next guy out, he gets four strike-outs in that inning and retires the side.

This doesn't happen very often in a nine-inning game - here's the list. A few minor league pitchers have pitched five strike-outs to retire the side, along with Phil Niekro who did it in a major league exhibition game.

I learned that Tim Hudson (a pitcher for the Braves) was recently able to get 3 men out and retire the side with just 4 pitches.

This kind of baseball information (and lots more) can be captured and displayed on baseball scorecards. Go here to see a fantastic scorecard and here to see another one. If you want to purchase baseball statistics, you can go to Baseball Info Solutions.  Tell them you like math and you want some numbers to practice with ...