What Happens the Game After a Marathon Extra-Inning Game?

Last Thursday, baseball got weird and the Mets and Marlins played past midnight. After Travis d’Arnaud hit the go-ahead homer in the 16th, the catcher slowly trotted around the bases, admitting afterwards that he needed the invigorating effects of that moment just to complete the task. “The emotions of the home run helped lift my legs a little bit,” he said to James Wagner after the game regarding his tired knees. After the dust had settled and all the exhausted quotes were collected, though, the teams had to play another game later that day. What sort of effect would the marathon game have on that game?

Intuitively, you might expect the teams to have trouble scoring runs the next day. Tired legs, tired minds, tired bats, you’d think. Turns out that instinct is accurate… sort of.

With the help of my colleague Jeff Zimmerman, we took a look at all 4,117 games that have gone longer than 12 innings since 1974. As a barometer for offense, we used runs scored per nine innings played for each team. Here’s how the teams scored generally, both in the marathon game and in the game after the marathon game:

Run-Scoring Before, During & After a Marathon
Situation Seasonal Long Game Game After
Runs Per Nine IP 4.46 3.18 4.24
Since 1974.
n=4117 games that went longer than 12 innings.

The most pronounced difference in run-scoring actually occurs in the long game itself. That makes a ton of sense to anyone who has watched batters swing away in extra innings, desperate to finish off the contest, and yet playing right into the pitchers’ hands by being so aggressive. It seems impossible to score that final run once you get to the 13th inning, and it looks like it’s possible the fatigue creates an in-game depression of run-scoring.

But the game after? It’s a little down from season averages. It might be surprising that it’s not down even further, though. In the case of Thursday’s game, for example, Mets sat Yoenis Cespedes and the Marlins sat Giancarlo Stanton, and everyone else was super tired. You’d think that would lead to fewer runs scored.

However, many of these games are played against the same team that took just part in the long game. Though it didn’t play out this way in the Mets and Marlins game on Friday — those two teams combined for seven innings of one-run relief the day after they pitched 24.1 innings combined — post-marathon-game bullpens are usually taxed, and they may help the other tired offense score more runs.

You’d think that the most pronounced effect might be a lack of extra inning games the day after a marathon game, then. Either the offense can’t score enough to tie the other team or the bullpen just can’t keep the lid closed, right? Teams have combined to go to extra innings 8.9% of the time after a 12-plus inning game. They went to extra innings 9.0% of the time, period, over the same time frame.

Back to Travis d’Arnaud’s exhausted trot for a second. It’s interesting to note that neither catcher who caught Thursday’s 16-inning epic played again the next day. The teams tried not to use relievers in both games — the highest number of batters any Thursday reliever saw on Friday was five. David Phelps faced five batters in both games, which doesn’t seem all that taxing in the larger scheme of things. A few stars got a day off to keep them healthy, maybe.

Long games make baseball players tired — more tired than a regular nine-inning affair. There can’t really be a doubt about that. But baseball itself is a grind, a day-in, day-out marathon that wears everyone down. So the players have learned to cope — by drinking lots of water and sleeping as well as they can, getting massages, using ice baths, downing Advil, whatever it is.

In a similar way, teams themselves have added a few coping mechanisms when it comes to long games — sit the catcher, avoid the relievers that pitched the most, sit a star — that have kept them from suffering terribly in the game after a marathon.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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7 years ago

Wouldn’t the reduced run-scoring in a marathon game just be a result of tie games occurring more often at lower scores? I think that would have a bigger correlation than player fatigue. You rarely get 5-5 extra inning games whereas 1-1 or 2-2 games heading into extras is comparatively common.

7 years ago
Reply to  DayNife

This, plus it’s comparatively rare for an away team to score (x>0) runs in the top of an extra inning followed by the home team scoring exactly that many runs in the bottom of the inning, meaning that, if you’re selecting for games that last at least 12, the proportion of 0-0 tenth, eleventh, and twelfth innings will be greater than average (because the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth innings that feature scoring usually end the game).

That’s not to say there’s not an effect, but I think a large portion of the difference is in the selection and not the gameplay itself.

7 years ago
Reply to  DayNife

I doubt there is any reduced run scoring in marathon games. The total amount of runs scored is probably higher on average for the entire game. Eno calculated Runs/9IP which would probably be lower though just because in order to even get to a marathon game there is most likely no scoring from innings 10 through the 1 inning before the game ends