How common are walk-off walks (on four pitches!) in baseball?

I’ve been following the Astros pretty closely this season (since they’re very good this year!), and so when I saw they had won a game on a walk-off walk, I was curious how common that was.

A walk-off is when the home team wins the game on that play, by scoring a run to go ahead in the ninth or later inning. So a walk-off walk is when that happens because the batter is walked. It’s kind of very dramatic and anticlimactic at the same time!

In this case, the walk was on four pitches, which seemed exceptionally rare, because you might as well throw at least one strike, right? At first I thought “maybe this has never happened before!”, but (spoiler!) it turns out there are a lot of baseball games that have been played. So I wanted to at least know how common it was.

My baseball win expectancy finder is powered by a Python script that can parse games, so I extended the parsing code to make it easier to run these sorts of reports and ran it. (source available on GitHub, see WalkOffWalkReport in parseretrosheet.py)

So, the numbers: in the ~128000 games I have data for, a walk-off walk has happened only 442 times. That sounds like a lot but it’s only around 7 times a season. Not all the games have pitch-by-pitch data, but ~73500 of them do, and walk-off walks on four pitches have happened only 60 times. (not including data from this year)

Since there are roughly 2100 games per season (including the playoffs), this means we’d expect this to happen around 1 time per season. Which is indeed pretty rare!

In fact, Altuve got his walk-off walk with 2 outs – walk-off walks with 2 outs have only happened 257 times (~4 times/season), and ones on four pitches have only happened 41 times, which is around 2 every 3 seasons!

When I was in the middle of this work I remembered that baseball-reference has an incredibly powerful Event Finder, and lo and behold it can do this search as well. In fact, at first our numbers were pretty far off so I found some bugs in my script 🙂 (the numbers are still off by a few because it’s counting a walk where the fourth ball was a wild pitch and a runner scored, while my script doesn’t count those)

My original thought was that I could make it easier to use my script to find stuff like this, but the baseball-reference Event Finder is so incredibly powerful and relatively easy to use I probably won’t bother. Kudos to them!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s