By Adam Gilfix
Earlier today, the Boston Red Sox set a Major League Baseball record by striking out 11 straight batters, one better than the mark set by the New York Mets’ legend Tom Seaver. The Tampa Bay Rays hitters were no match for Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, who struck out a career high 13 batters – including the last 6 batters he faced – in five and one third innings pitched. After E-Rod recorded strikeouts against those 6 consecutive would-be hitters, Red Sox reliever Heath Hembree proceeded to strike out all 5 batters he saw, giving the Sox pitchers the MLB record for mowing down 11 opponsing sluggers in a row. To make matters worse for Tampa and more impressive for Boston, those Rays’ strikeouts were just 11 straight in a string of 16 official at-bats (out of 18 plate appearances) in which a Sox pitcher struck out a Ray (there was a walk and a hit-by-pitch mixed in there, but those are not official at-bats). In fact, book-ended by the final out of the 2nd inning and the first out of the 8th inning, the Boston Red Sox allowed one single, one walk, and one hit batsman while recording 17 outs by way of the K.
Given this never-before-accomplished feat of 11 straight strikeouts, I was curious about the probability of such an astounding achievement. In order to compute this probability, I assume that these eleven consecutive plate appearances are independent and that in each one there is a given chance of a strikeout based on the pitcher’s strikeout rate (for the 6 SOs for Rodriguez and 5 for Hembree) as well as each batter’s strikeout rate.
I calculate the probability of a strikeout in an individual plate appearance according to a formula (not too dissimilar from Bill James’ log5 formula) that Steve Staude at FanGraphs developed:
“Expected Matchup K% = (B x P) / (0.84 x B x P + 0.16)
Where B = the batter’s historical K% against the handedness of the pitcher; and P = the pitcher’s historical K% against the handedness of the batter.”
I used this formula to acquire the following strikeout rates for today’s 11 historic plate appearances using Baseball Reference data:
Finally, given these strikeout rates and the assumption of independence between the plate appearances, I can simply multiply all the numbers in the final column together. In doing so, I find that the probability of Boston’s Rodriguez and Hembree recording the 11 strikeouts in a row that they did is 0.0000291%. No wonder no pitcher(s) had accomplished this feat before. There have been just over 210,000 games played in MLB history and 23 perfect games have been thrown (roughly 0.011% of games)…but only once has one team struck out 11 of their opponent’s batters in a row.
I would be remiss not to mention that this strong pitching performance by the Red Sox resulted in a franchise record 23 strikeouts as they went on to beat the Rays 3-2 in the 10th inning, securing the team’s 11th consecutive win – another impressive streak of 11. Moreover, the Red Sox pitching staff became the first in MLB history to record 21 strikeouts through the first 9 innings of a game. Boston’s strikeout/out percentage of 76.7% (23 strikeouts out of 30 outs) for the game is also the best rate in any MLB game, surpassing the previous record – a 5-way tie that includes Roger Clemens’ and Max Scherzer’s 20-strikeout games – of 74.1% (20 strikeouts out of 27 outs).