ZACK Non-Attack

Unless the opposing pitcher is on your fantasy team, there’s really almost never a bad time for your team to get hits. There are times when it would be really, really nice for them to get hits, and then times when it’s not so important, but hey, the more the merrier. Fantasy aside, can we therefore conclude that it is always good for your team to get hits, and always the best course of action to root for them to do so?

No, we cannot. For we also appreciate the home fans we see in broadcasts of no-hitters we switch to, who start cheering for the visiting pitcher at the end of the game–tacitly rooting against their own batters. But when does the “end of the game” begin? When is it acceptable to switch your allegiance?

Enter the ZACK, a new statistic that hopes to measure the acceptability of rooting for a no-hitter against your own team. This is the first version of the formula, so the scale of some of the numbers involved might be off. Feel free to give feedback.

ZACK is derived from four variables: ZACK=Z*(A+C+K). Each of these letters stands for a different question that a fan might implicitly consider on these occasions:

Z is for Zone? (Where am I?)
A is for Accomplishment? (How far along is this game?)
C is for Crucial? (Is this an important game to win?)
K is for Killed? (Are we getting killed out there?)

Here’s how you compute these…

Zone. We take as our baseline being actually present at the game; if you’re at the game, Z=1 so it won’t make a difference when you multiply it by the sum and you can move on to A. If you’re not at the game…
…but you’ve been paying attention (through any chosen medium) from the start, Z=3/4
…but you’re been paying attention for a while, Z =2/3
…but you just started paying attention because someone has alluded to what’s going on, Z=1/2 (You may think that this should be strange for a game involving “your team”, but perhaps they’re only “your team” in the league you don’t care about quite as much and you’re busy watching a different game.)
…but you just started paying attention because someone has explicitly told you what’s going on, step away from the computer (or open a new tab), and give that person a stern talking-to from me.

Accomplishment. The editors of MLB.com apparently believe in a “bright line test” after the fifth inning or so, allowing live look-ins after a specific point in the game. I do not; no inning should be disproportionately important. (If the correct answer to the question posed at the end of the second paragraph is “the seventh inning, period”, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.)

So, my first principle in ZACK is that each inning is equally important. Therefore, A=8 at the beginning of the game, and increases by 1 for every out recorded by the opposing pitcher, whether that out comes in the first inning or the ninth. (Well, actually, I didn’t consider extra innings. Maybe A should go up by 2 for every out beyond the twenty-seventh!)

However, I can appreciate that completing a half-inning may have more subjective value than just three outs. So, A increases by an extra 1 for every half-inning completed. (The A value for a game could go 8-9-10-12-13-14-16 through the first two innings if all the batters go down in order.)

Subtract that original 8 from your A value if your team has gotten on base through other means.

Crucial. This is the hardest to calculate, and the one that might need the most fine-tuning. I apologize in advance.

The first thing to do is see if your team has either clinched a playoff spot, or been eliminated from playoff contention. If so, C=9. Go directly to K. If it hasn’t, continue below. However, if the value that you get from continuing below is greater than 8.5, use C=8.5 instead.

Okay, so your team is still in some sort of race; it’s either leading the division or the wild card by x games, or it’s x games out of the division or wild card (consider whichever case makes x smaller–usually you’re closer to the wild card than the division title). If you are playing the team chasing you by x games/in first by x games, go to the next paragraph. Otherwise, take x/2 and go to the next paragraph.

Okay, so the number you got from the paragraph above, which is either x or x/2? To this, add the number of months remaining in the regular season; +5 in April, +4 in May, +3 in June, +2 in July, +1 in August, 0 in September. (If this is October and your team has not clinched or been eliminated, you have other things to worry about than ZACK.)

Okay, now you have C. Unless this value is greater than 8.5, remember, in which case C=8.5.

Killed. K increases by 1 for each run, beyond the second, your opponents have scored.

I originally considered tweaking this, as your team is not necessarily getting killed out there even if your opponents have scored more than two runs. However, I think the novelty factor of watching your team score without getting hits offsets this.

All right, we’re done! Multiply Z*(A+C+K) to get your ZACK score, and then root away.

What’s that? You’d maybe like an example or two to help with the numbers and stuff? That’s fine.

For a couple of examples, we will take two games last night; the Twins game against the Royals I attended (you will never guess who was pitching for the Royals. Never. At all), and the simultaneous Cubs game against the Astros. Both the Twins and Cubs qualify as “my team”.

First, let’s get Z and C out of the way, as we can do that early for both teams. (I suppose in late September C could change while the game is going on, if another team loses/wins at the same time; again, if this will dramatically alter your result, you have other things than ZACK to worry about at this point.) I was at the Twins game, so Z=1 there, but the Cubs were already losing by the time I started glancing at the scoreboard, so Z=2/3 there.

C for the Twins? They entered the game with a 5.5 game lead over the White Sox, so x=5.5. They weren’t playing the White Sox, so 5.5/2= 2.25. It’s September, so that’s all there is to do to find C.

The Cubs are actually farther out of the wild card race than they are the division race. Taking the “mere” 19.5 games by which they trail the Reds, we have 19.5/2=9.75. This is greater than 9.5, so C=9.5 for the Cubs. (That is to say, we’re not worrying too much, playoff wise, about the outcome of this game. Might as well root for a no-hitter.)

So, at the beginning of the game, the Twins’ ZACK was 2.25+8=10.25, and the Cubs’ was (2/3)*(9.5+8)=(2/3)*17.5=11.67. Here’s what happened through the first few innings…

Graph of Cubs and Twins' ZACK scores

Am I on the right track? There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I feel like this is a good start.

By the way, I’m not going to give you a cutoff value for acceptability, except that I’m pretty sure it’s greater than 14. Beyond that, it’s an issue that each fan must struggle with alone.

Also, although it should be obvious, don’t bother with ZACK once your team has already gotten a hit! Then, just sit back, enjoy, and hope the barrage continues for enough runs that Matt Capps can’t blow it.

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One thought on “ZACK Non-Attack

  1. […] modification to the ZACK statistic I defined last summer; I’m pretty sure you should replace x by x/2 only when you […]

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