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"Futility Runs"

Austin Astroholic had introduced the idea of "futility runs," meaningless ninth inning runs scored in garbage time when the Astros are on their way to certain defeat.

He'd suggested that they be defined as

as a ninth inning run that doesn't put the team within a grand slam of tying

The implication seemed to be that the Astros have scored a lot of these runs; certainly his comments were made after Friday's game, when the three runs Houston scored after Peavy left were about as futile as you can get.

Because we aim to please around here, and because we were kinda curious, we decided to bend our voluminous spreadsheets to the task:

2007 Astros "Futility Runs"
Opponent Futility
  Us Dem
6   St. Louis 1 1 10
48   @ Arizona 1 3 13
77   @ Milwaukee 1 5 11
85   Philadlephia 1 3 8
91   @ Chicago 2 3 9
99   LA Dodgers 2 2 10
103   San Diego 3 4 9
Total   7 times 11

Those 11 futility Runs as defined appear to represent about 2.4% of the 455 runs the team has scored this year, and just about 25% of the 43 runs the team has scored in the ninth this year.

Certainly the bare 2-1/2% of our runs have come as nearly wasted efforts doesn't immediately strike me as a lot. After all, if your runs were evenly distributed, you'd score 11.1% of your runs in any one frame, right?

But let's take this approach: The Astros have played 18 games in which futility runs might have been scored, that is, they've played 18 games which they lost by five or more runs.

Now THAT seems like a lot.

Anyway, the Astros have scored 165 runs in their 58 losses, which comes to 2.85 runs per loss or .316 runs per loss-inning, if you're with me.

Multiplying the expected .316 runs per inning times the 18 "futility" innings actually played gives you 5.69 expected runs, or just about half of what we actually have scored.

Put another way, the team has batted in the ninth 80 times this year. That's our 104 games - our 28 home wins + the four walkoff wins where we had to bat in the ninth. In those 80 ninth innings, we've scored 43 runs or .5375 runs/inning. Yet in only the 18 futility innings, our runs/inning is 11/18 or .6111.

Although the effect is marginal, and would hardly be there if we hadn't scored three unearned off Thatcher on Friday, and though it seems to be part of an even larger trend where the team just scores more in the ninth in general, it still appears as if Austin Astroholic is onto something. The team does score look to more runs than expected in ninth-inning garbage time.