A crooked number in baseball is a scoring term used to describe situations where one team scores multiple runs in a single inning against the opposing pitcher. Scoring multiple runs, especially two or more, is referred to as putting up a “crooked number” on the scoreboard for that inning.
The exact origin of the phrase is unknown, but it has been used informally in baseball circles for many decades to highlight impactful run scoring opportunities. It speaks to the aesthetics of seeing tidy-looking single digits turn “crooked” as the runs pile up. From a strategic perspective, crooked numbers can shift momentum in a game and put pressure on a pitcher and their team to answer back.
In this article, we will explore the meaning and significance of crooked numbers in baseball. We’ll look at examples of how they can influence games and examine statistical trends. By the end, you should have a strong understanding of this important scoring concept and why putting up crooked numbers is so meaningful in the sport.
What Does a Crooked Number Mean?
At its core, a crooked number simply refers to an inning where a team scores two or more runs. The actual numbers that appear on the scoreboard to denote the scoring will be skewed or out of alignment compared to a single run.
For instance, if one team scores a single run in the third inning, the scoreboard will show a straight line of numbers like 3-2. But if they score three runs, the line suddenly looks “crooked” as 3-5. Four runs creates a 4-2 line and so on.
In general, baseball purists and analysts consider a crooked number to minimally involve scoring two runs. Three runs or more in an inning is almost always referred to as a crooked number. But theoretically, even just two runs counts since the appearance of the numbering shifts from an organized single file to a jagged layout.
The key thing is that it disrupts the symmetrical and orderly scoring that a single run provides. Multiple runs at once distort that shape, hence dubbed a “crooked number.” It captures the impact of meaningful run scoring all in a single inning.
Importance and Impact of Crooked Numbers
While just a turn of phrase, crooked numbers carry real statistical and competitive significance in a baseball game:
Scoring two or more runs provides a much bigger cushion in the score than a single tally. It extends a lead and applies greater pressure on the opposing team.
Pitching staffs are judged partly on how often they allow crooked numbers. Giving up three or four runs in an inning is generally more detrimental than a single run.
Offenses aim to string together hits and take advantage of mistakes to put up crooked numbers, as it swings momentum. Momentum is vitally important in a game.
Big innings where three or more score often become rallying points or game-changing sequences that alter the course of a contest.
From the seventh inning on, a crooked number can essentially put a game out of reach depending on the initial margin. Closer innings demand clean pitching.
Statistically, limiting the number of “big” innings allowed is a sign of quality pitching. Conceding frequent crooked numbers is a red flag issue to address.
On the other side, consistent crooked number innings at the plate usually indicates an offense operating smoothly and taking full advantage of opportunities. It helps teams win games.
So in summary, while a single run still has value, crooked numbers carry exponentially more weight due to the volume of scoring and impact on momentum. Good pitching aims to bottle up scoring while good hitting aims to break out for crooked numbers.
Impact of Crooked Numbers – A Historical Example
To help illustrate the significance of crooked numbers more concretely, let’s examine one famous instance from baseball history: Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
In this iconic Oct. 8 contest between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, Larsen did something had never been done before by retiring all 27 batters he faced in a perfect game. The 2-0 final score was clinched almost entirely by one crooked number inning.
In the top of the 2nd, Mickey Mantle led off with a single but was quickly erased on a fielder’s choice. Then came the crooked number – Yogi Berra doubled and Gil McDougald singled him home for a 1-0 lead. After Larsen bunted the runners over, Billy Martin plated another with a sacrifice fly.
That was it for the scoring besides a single run in the 8th. But the impact of that early 2-0 cushion meant Brooklyn never climbs back in what became history as Larsen’s masterpiece. Without the second-inning crooked number, who knows how the pressure may have affected the pitcher going forward?
It’s entirely plausible the Dodgers chip away with runs later and make it a tense affair. As it stood, Larsen could relax with that buffer and complete his gem. So even though it was just a modest 2-0 game, the crooked number loomed immense in its consequences for the result. Rarely has a scoring concept carried more literal truth than on that famed October day.
Understanding Crooked Numbers Statistically
Diving into the actual statistical analysis of crooked numbers at the major league level also underscores their importance. Here are some notable trends that have emerged:
Teams that allow fewer crooked number innings (3+ runs scored) tend to have lower ERA and better winning percentages. Quality pitching limits damage.
Conversely, offenses that produce crooked numbers more frequently (top third of MLB annually) usually fare very well in runs scored and ultimately wins.
Since 2003, teams that finished in the top 5 of fewest crooked number innings allowed made the playoffs over 75% of the time. Very difficult to succeed otherwise.
The average number of crooked number innings allowed per season by World Series champions is often among the lowest in their league. Tight pitching when it matters.
One study found just a single additional crooked number allowed per 9 innings equated to 5-6 more losses over a full season based on run expectancy models. Huge differential.
Another report claimed teams that gave up 6+ runs in an inning lost that game almost 90% of the time dating back to the 1920s. Blow outs are nearly impossible to overcome.
Pitchers with career ERAs under 3.50 generally give up crooked numbers 15-20% less often compared to their contemporaries. It separates the best from others.
So as the data shows, from both the individual and team perspective, minimizing crooked number damage and inflicting it on opponents frequently correlates tightly with winning consistently over the long-haul of a 162-game marathon. The numbers don’t lie on this front.
Crooked Numbers in Today’s Power-Focused Game
Some believe that in modern MLB, with such an emphasis on power hitting, bullpen specialization, and fewer complete games, the increased importance of crooked numbers has only grown compared to previous eras:
Home runs – which often come in bunches and frequently clear the bases – are hit more than ever before. Just one big fly can instantaneously produce a crooked number.
Strikeouts are also at an all-time high, reducing opportunities for small ball techniques to steadily rack up single runs. It’s boom or bust offensively.
Relievers focus heavily on one swing of the plate rather than stretching out for multiple innings. Just one mistake can spiral into a crooked number charged to their line.
Starters increasingly struggle to pitch deep into games before a bullpen handoff. It leaves them less margin for error if trouble arises knowing their stint may be brief.
Analytically, most teams emphasize high-impact offense that can break a game open rather than scratching and clawing for most runs. Crooked numbers fit this model.
So perhaps today’s specialization and power-first dynamics make the avoidance and production of crooked number innings bigger determiners of staff and unit effectiveness. Minimizing disaster innings and capitalizing on prime run scoring opportunities separates contenders more sharply.
Understanding Player Crooked Number Tendencies
As is often said, good pitching and timely hitting ultimately wins championships in baseball. So it stands to reason that players who routinely hold opponents scoreless or come through in big moments with their bat impact winning most.
In fact, studying tendencies of individual players to limit or inflict crooked numbers on others over their career can be quite revealing about their true abilities versus surface level stats:
Pitchers like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Clayton Kershaw consistently suppressed crooked number innings at elite levels throughout their peaks, which propped up other stats.
Hitters like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds routinely shattered opponents with multi-run home run displays, sometimes breaking entire games open single-handedly.
Clutch postseason performers like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Luis Gonzalez shined brightest when the stakes rose, often authoring crooked number moments in October that cemented legends.
On the flip side, pitchers who gave up a lot of big innings but maintained decent ERAs, like Kenny Rogers, generally struggled in tight games and playoffs where limiting damage defined success most.
Free swingers prone to inconsistent results still helped teams, yet the inability for true “clutchness” in limiting or inflicting