Odds of Catching a Foul Ball

The other day I attended an Orioles game and just like every other baseball game I’ve been to in my entire life, I didn’t catch a foul ball. I didn’t catch a home run ball either, but that would have been impossible where I was sitting.

While I was watching a few lucky fans snag souvenirs, I wondered what my chances of catching a foul ball actually were. Doing some quick back of the envelope calculations, I figured there were maybe 30 balls a game hit into the stands, and maybe around 30,000 fans at each game. If that were the case, about 1 in every 1000 fans would walk away with a foul ball/home run.

In reality, there were 120,946 foul balls and home runs during the 2005 season and 74,915,268 fans in attendance that same year, which ends up being about 1 in every 619 fans end up with a ball. This is probably better than the actual odds since not all foul balls are hit into the stands.

If we were to say half of all foul balls were hit onto the field and the other half hit into the stands then the odds jump to 1 in 1189.

Finally, there are some places in a stadium where you couldn’t possibly catch a foul ball, and other places where you’d likely increase your chances, making that 1 in 1189 is hardly 100% accurate, but good enough for a rough estimate.

Odds are, the only way I’ll be getting a baseball at a game, is at the souvenir stand.

David Appelman is the creator of FanGraphs.

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17 years ago

I’ve also wondered this as well. It would be an interesting study.

Some other factors.

–Many stadiums have “holes” so to say in between the fence and the stands where HR balls disappear. Goes the same as a place like Wrigley Field where the fans in the stadium may not get a HR ball hit since it leaves the stadium. Or Kauffman stadium where a great amount of the outfield isn’t accessible to the fan.

–Some of the nice things of ballplayers is that they actually throw balls that were the 3rd out back into the stands at the end of the inning. Or the in between inning balls players sometimes throw up into the crowd. The only ball I ever got at a MLB game was due to the fact that the LF of the game warming up with a ballboy in between innings horribly misthrew a ball into the stands that luckily landed in my lap. They expected me to throw it back, but its hard to deny a grinning 8 year old a baseball.

–On your last point, it would be interesting to see where certain stadiums “hot zones” are. It definitely might influence ticket sales for the math minded. Finding the best value ticket while maximizing optimal souvenirage.

14 years ago
Reply to  Dumonk

and sometimes when they are milton bradley, they throw the 2nd out into the stand.


Brian B
10 years ago
Reply to  Dumonk

At a minor league Iowa Cubs game tonight in Des Moines, my 8-year-old son snagged two foul balls in a row–that’s two consecutive pitches, two fouls, both caught by the same kid–what are the chances of that? I told him afterwards that he will never have that happen to him again in his entire life. We were in the deck behind home. Both balls went over the safety net.

10 years ago
Reply to  Brian B

Late for a PawSox game one night, I walked to the stadium with my family and a ball fouled back went over the roof, bounced once for a simple one hand grab. Once inside, I picked two home-run balls in left field. Hat-trick, with one part completed before I even walked into the park. Still, the answer is the same for you as a ball-player…get where the ball is going. Seeing that your seat limits that, just find the best place to get a seat…