By In Stuff

The 43-Inning Scoreless Streak


It is almost impossible, when you consider the whims of modern baseball, to go 43 consecutive innings without scoring a single run. The reason is obvious: SOMEONE will hit a home run. Someone. Anyone. This year, big league hitters will bash more home runs than ever before and, as a natural result, teams are on pace to be shut out the fewest times in a decade. It’s simple math. You really can’t go 43 consecutive innings in 2017 without hitting a home run and, so, you really can’t go 43 consecutive innings without scoring a single run.

And yet, somehow, the Kansas City Royals are doing it.

This Royals team, whew, this has been one weird season in Kansas City. You might remember the Royals got off to an absolutely dreadful start. They were 24-32 and in last place on June 5, and the talk was about what they might get in trades for their core players — most them become free agents at the end of the year. I remember talking at the time with Royals general manager Dayton Moore and he made it clear: The Royals were not selling. If anything, they were BUYING. He still believed in this team that had brought so much joy and life to Kansas City, and he wanted them to have one last Butch and Sundance ride.

And, like magic, the Royals started winning. It really was like magic; nobody knew how they were doing it. But they went 30-15 over a spectacular 45-game stretch and and put themselves a couple of games behind Cleveland in the American League Central and took a firm hold of one of the wildcard spots.

After that, they crested and plummeted, as you might expect from a team trying to keep things together with twine and duct tape and the royally named Whit Merrifield. As of last Wednesday, they were still over .500 and just a half game back in the wildcard standings. And then, well, you know.

Thursday began like any normal game might. The aforementioned Merrifield homered in the first inning against Colorado, and Brandon Moss homered in the second, and the Royals led 2-0. And that was it. It wasn’t noticeable at first. The Royals put on a couple of runners in the fourth, but Drew Butera could not drive them in. The Royals got the leadoff hitter on in the eighth, But Eric Hosmer, Jorge Bonifacio and Moss all went down swinging. Cheslor Cuthbert and Mike Moustakas each hit fairly long fly balls in the ninth, but each stayed in the yard, and that was that.

Seven shutout innings.

We will talk about Moustakas in a minute.

The Royals then went to Cleveland, and Whit Merrifield — that name — reached on an error to lead off the game, he promptly stole second, things looked good. Only then Merrifield ran into an out, and Melky Cabrera hit into a double play to end the threat.

The next inning, Bonifacio singled but could not score on the following double by Alcides Escobar. So close. But no.

And that’s the phrase: “But no.” Alex Gordon led off an inning with a double. But no. Eric Hosmer doubled to set up Salvador Perez. But no. The Royals put a walk and single back-to-back … but no.

The Royals lost 4-0 … and that’s 16 consecutive scoreless innings.

Saturday, against Cleveland’s groovy Mike Clevinger, the Royals did load the bases in the fourth and fifth … but no. The first of those bases-loaded threats brought up Alcides Escobar and so you know how that ended. The Royals play Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon every day; they have OPS+ of 50 and 52 respectively (the bottom two OPS+ in baseball). Escobar has a rather astonishing .256 on-base percentage; Gordon a no-less impressive .286 slugging percentage. No team since the 1953 Cincinnati Reds has had two such unproductive hitters in the every day lineup.

Well, this is the what happens. When a team wins big, the way the Royals did, emotions become charged. Loyalties and realities clash. The Royals did the loyal and honorable thing by bringing back Gordon back, but it has been pretty disastrous. And the Royals continued insistence that Escobar remains a defensive maestro despite ample evidence to the contrary shows how winning can blind you.*

*If someone would ask me the biggest reason why Bill Belichick is so successful year after year, I would say it is probably his clear-eyed view of the world. He is like the guy from Momento, he doesn’t even REMEMBER what happened yesterday, much less let it affect his decisions. It’s a new day, every day, and the job today is to win. I was asked this fascinating question by an NFL guy: “If Tom Brady suddenly started to stink, how long do you think it would be before Belichick dumped him?” I mean this is TOM BRADY, the guy who basically made Belichick’s Patriots career.

I don’t know the answer, of course, but I suspect the dumping of Brady would happen a lot FASTER than we would expect. Six games. Maximum.

In any case, the Royals lost 4-0 on Saturday and the streak was at 25 straight.

Sunday, they ran into a good Carlos Carrasco, and a good Carlos Carrasco can shut down any lineup. Mike Moustakas went 0-for-4, though he did hit one ball on a line to left. Moustakas is the key to this thing. On August 15, he bashed hit 35th home run of the season — one away from the most embarrassing team home run record in baseball. Steve Balboni hit 36 home runs in 1985, and no Royals player has even matched it since. Moustakas was finally going to put that record away … and you have to figure he still will.

BUT … he has hit .188 in the 10 games he has played since then and, of course, he has not hit a home run. You figure this Royals non-scoring madness will end with a home run, and Moustakas is the guy to do it. And the longer this goes on the more you have to think that there is some sort of Balboni hex on Kansas City baseball.

After the Carrasco destruction — Cleveland won 12-0 — the scoreless streak was at 34 straight innings.

Monday, at home against Tampa Bay, the Royals were spent. Lorenzo Cain hit two doubles and … that was it. That was the entire Royals offense. Well, no, Brandon Moss also walked twice. It was a complete no-show against a Tampa Bay rookie pitcher, Austin Pruitt, who was making his seventh big league start — the league was slugging .550 against the kid in the six previous starts.

And so the scoreless streak is still alive at 43, and that’s already tied for the longest scoreless streak in American League history. But to say it’s tied for the longest doesn’t really do this streak justice — the Royals are tied with the 1913 St. Louis Browns, who don’t exist anymore, who played in Deadball, and who hit 18 home runs. That’s AS A TEAM.

Sorry. You don’t have to wait. You can already call this the longest, most ridiculous scoreless streak in baseball history. The official record of 48 straight scoreless innings is held by the 1968 Chicago Cubs and 1906 Philadelphia A’s. The A’s obviously were playing a whole different game, but really so were the Cubs — that was the year of the pitcher, of course. But even more to the point, yes, the Cubs were shut out four straight games — do you know the pitchers?

Game 1: Hall of Fame legend Phil Niekro

Game 2: Very good pitcher Nelson Briles.

Game 3: Hall of Fame legend Bob Gibson

Game 4: Hall of Fame legend Steve Carlton

So, yeah, you could sort of understand it.

The Royals, in the American League, with a designated hitter, in the year of the home run, against pitchers who will not be going to the Hall of Fame (they even issed Corey Kluber in Cleveland), going 43 straight innings without scoring? Inexplicable. Even the resourceful Ned Yost can’t come up with anything.

“There’s no explanation for it,” Ned Yost says. “If there was, we would fix it. I can’t even make something up.”


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22 Responses to The 43-Inning Scoreless Streak

  1. Bryan says:

    Going by David Nichols data covering 1984 to 1994 simply because it’s the most complete data available to me, teams have a 27.5% chance to score with 0 outs and the bases empty which is mainly the start of the half inning, a bunch of 0 out HR and a few oddities.
    The chances of not scoring in 43 consecutive innings is 1 in 3913. The main reason a 43 inning scoreless streak is so rare is that run scoring is not at all evenly distributed. The half innings started by the 1st or 2nd player in the batting order and/or against the opposing team’s 4th or 5th starter have considerably higher than a 27.5% of scoring in 1984 to 1994, let alone the higher scoring environment of 2017.
    Even if the 4th or 5th starter goes 6 or 7 shutout innings there is a decent chance the opponents have scored some runs and the worst reliever in the bullpen comes in to protect a 5-0 lead, by virtue of not scoring the team has increased it’s chance to score in the 8th inning, if it was 5-4 or 5-3 one of the best relievers would be pitching the 8th.
    The Kansas City Royals apparently in the pursuit of history make themselves less likely to score by having two of the worst batters among regular players in Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon.
    Matt Andriese picks up the save last night for protecting an 8-0 lead, the first appearance in 2.5 months of an effective starting pitcher instead of the worst reliever on the Rays’ roster.
    The previous night Craig Breslow in the 8th making his first appearance for the Indians, his first MLB appearance in a month, who allows a run in half of his most recent outings without ever pitching 3 full innings is exactly the kind of pitcher to break a scoreless streak against but he strikes out 2 of 3 and for some reason a much better reliever comes out for the 9th instead of trying to get 2 innings from Breslow.
    The two previous games the Royals foolishly only allow 4 runs in each and are facing a team with a pretty strong bullpen. Ryan Merritt whose career MLB high entering the game is 63 pitches is a somewhat surprising candidate to throw 97 pitches and record 6.2 scoreless innings.
    German Marquez allowing no runs in the 3rd-6th inning to start the streak isn’t that surprising, 2 runs in 6 innings wouldn’t be a notable outing except for the Indians series. Greg Holland who gets the 7th inning of the streak while protecting a one run lead to get his 36th save in 40 opportunities might have gotten some satisfaction from sticking it to his former team.
    Scoreless streaks of this length are extremely rare but keep in mind that the starting point is only about 1 in 4000 which would be reasonably common if runs were evenly distributed and that the Royals choose to only have 7 MLB caliber hitters in the lineup most nights.

    • MikeN says:

      If you have a 27.5% chance of scoring in an inning, then this is a .725 chance of not scoring. .725^43 power is less than one in a million.

      • Bryan says:

        Only if the season is 43 innings long.

        • MikeN says:

          In that case, I get 1 in 2600, but either way there are 30 teams so it becomes close to 1% for a single season.

          • Bryan says:

            Didn’t save my initial math, must have screwed something up since I don’t see how I got that number. Last year is 1440 innings for the Royals, 1398 potential streaks. .725^43 converted to 1 in 1 million-ish, divided by 1398 is 1 in 724.
            Any team in particular doing it is quite unlikely, even with a 10% chance to score per inning for the entire 2016 season only 1 in 93 times would the Royals have a 43 inning scoreless streak. 93 teams with a 10% chance to score or 1084 teams with a 15% chance to score since 1901 seems like low estimates even if those seasons are pieced together a month or two at a time when an already weak offensive team is dealing with injury(ies).

          • MikeN says:

            That is not how to calculate the probability of a streak, because the streaks overlap. Change 1400 innings to 1 million innings and you would get the probability is more than 1(or say 10 heads in 2000 tosses).
            2 heads in three tosses.
            It is 3/8, but your calculation would have been 1/2(and indeed there are 4 streaks).
            For ten tosses and a streak of 4, you would say 7/16 presumably, but it is closer to 1/4(251/1024 by my count).

            I used a formula online, but can’t find it now.
            It was 1/q*(1-px)/(r+1-rx) *1/x^n
            Here n is 1459(162*9+1), p is .725, q is .275=1-p, r is 43, and x was the root of another formula. It is possible the calculation was wrong, because the x came very close to 1.

          • Bryan says:

            That’s more math than I’ve ever learned, thanks.

          • MikeN says:

            There is an alternate way with a spreadsheet, but with 1600 rows and 43 columns it’s too difficult.

            In each row, the nth entry is the number of streaks you can get of length n, with all but the last it has to be an ending streak.
            Then for the next row, you take (43)+(42)*p for entry 43, 2-42 are 1-41 of the previous row*p, and the first entry is so the row sums to 1.

          • MikeN says:

            I just did that on a spreadsheet, and it gave the result .000385176
            for (at least) 43 shutout innings in a season of 1458=162*9 innings.

    • KHAZAD says:

      Your numbers are way off. I am using Tango’s 1993-2010 numbers (the major league numbers over that time period are similar to the AL run scoring numbers this year)with a 29.3% chance of scoring in each inning (or a 70.7% chance of not scoring) and the odds of not scoring in 43 consecutive innings is 1 in 2,985,143. Even using your numbers (with a 72.5% chance of going scoreless in each inning) it is 1 in 1,012,664. If you find the actual percentage of innings with run scoring this year (I don’t know where to look for that) it will still probably be over 1 in 2 million. Using the .707 number, the final total of 45 innings takes the odds to 1 in 5.97 million.

      • invitro says:

        And how many 43-inning streaks have there been in baseball history, since 1901 anyway? Certainly over a million. A rough in-my-head estimate gives about 6 million. In any case, we’d certainly expect there to be at least one 43-inning scoreless streak in baseball history. Given that there are teams that score low numbers of runs, and low-scoring eras, we should expect there to be at least 2 or 3 of them.

        • MikeN says:

          Have teams scored in 9 straight innings, other than the Rockies game?
          The chances are 1 in a million.

          • Bryan says:


            Since 1900, only two teams have managed to score in each of nine innings of a game. On June 1, 1923, the New York Giants did it against the Philadelphia Phillies, winning 22-8. On September 13, 1964, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 15-2 and likewise never gave the opposing pitchers an inning to be proud of.

            Which some math at the bottom and the point that realistically only the visiting team can score in all 9 innings. Could be streaks over multiple games as well.

          • MikeN says:

            I was asking about multi-game streaks. I thought the Rockies were the first and only to score in every inning.

  2. AaronB says:

    Very interesting Joe, thanks! One quick note, should that be the 1906 Phillies, and not the A’s? You know, since the AL record is 43 held by the Browns & now Royals?

    1968 – nice rotation by the Cards with Gibson & Carlton going back to back, not to mention Briles. Ray Washbun was also very good for them that season. Larry Jaster had an ERA of 3.51 over 153.2 IP, and an ERA plus of just 83, so he was 17% worse than the league average, with that ERA of 3.51. Helps to put 1968 into perspective.

  3. Anon says:

    Another data point on how ridiculous 1968 was – Carlton had a 2.99 ERA. . . . .and a 97 ERA+. That’s right, a 2.99 ERA was below league average.

  4. Rob Smith says:

    The Royals have been outscored by 58 runs this year. So in reality, their record should be worse than it is. They also have some good hitters in Perez, Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain. Slumps happen, but this one is epic. I can remember some Angels teams that had nothing in the early 70s and they figured out a way to score a few runs.

    The most amazing thing is that they could have this terrible run, get outscored significantly all year and STILL make the playoffs. Hey, they’ve been doing it with smoke and mirrors for a few years. They went to two World Series with a limited rotation and mediocre hitting (and obviously a great bullpen & excellent fielding). So, anything can happen. But I think getting a wild card spot, and possibly winning the wild card game is the most they can hope for.

  5. Rob Smith says:

    Looking up how the Royals rank, they’re 8th in Batting Average (AL), 15th in Walks (2nd to last), 13th in Runs, 15th in OBP and 14th in OPS. So, again, it’s amazing that they’re still in the hunt for a wildcard spot. It speaks more to the overall strength of the league that they still have a shot. But after looking at these stats, especially the OBP and OPS, maybe it becomes more understandable why they are in this slump. They are statistically a pretty bad hitting team that’s terrible at getting on base.

  6. MikeN says:

    I think someone noted at the time, that Joe was jinxing with his article about Balboni’s record. And his post after that was The Curse of the Home Run Record.

  7. Richard says:

    Thanks to Whit Merrifield, our long national nightmare is over!

  8. Casey Bell says:

    My back of the envelope estimate is that the probability of
    any inning being start of a streak of 43 consecutive scoreless
    innings is 1 in 4.58 million. I estimate that there have been
    about 3.6 million team innings since 1901, during which time
    there have been only a small handful of such innings, so my
    estimate is plausible, you might even say “in the ballpark”.

    Here’s how I calulated it.

    Chances of not scoring in an inning, roughly 0.7.

    Chances of not scoring in 43 consecutive innings is then 0.7 to
    the 43rd power, which is approximately 0.00000021837

    Number of half innings played since start of 1901 = 2466 (which
    is number of team seasons) x 159 (estimated number of games per
    team, on aveage) x 9 (average number of half innings per team per
    game). THe result is roughly 3.6 million total half innings.

    Multiply total half innings (3.6 million) by odds of a 43 consecutive scorelessinnings, which is .7 raised to the 43rd power (.00000021837)
    and you get 0.7861 as the number of expected scoreless streaks
    of 43 or more innings over the past 117 seasons.

    Obviously the probability increases or decreases based on scoring prowess
    and pitching skill of individual teams, but I think my estimate is based
    on sound probability methods. At least, I think it’s in the ballpark (pun

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