“K! K! K!”
The chant rises out of the din of the stadium. A sea of yellow cards start bobbing up and down. Men in chain mail, Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonators, and those with thick, fake mutton chops join in.
“K! K! K!”
The King looks in towards home plate, gets his sign, winds, and throws. Those clad in yellow wait with bated breath as the ball speeds towards the catchers mitt.
Pandemonium. The cheering only gets louder.
The King’s Court is unlike anything else in baseball. When you’re sitting with hundreds of your courtesans, chanting for a strikeout every time there are two strikes on an opposing batter, it’s hard not to believe there is some tangible effect you’re having on the outcome of the game. Baseball is a tough game for the crowd to affect. Each play occurs separately and the crowd is often reacting to the play that has just finished on the field. It’s not like Soccer or Basketball where the momentum of the game can swing from side to side and the crowd plays a large part in that swing. The common belief regarding home field advantage in any sport is that it does not provide a positive effect on the play of the game but, instead, favorable treatment by the officials calling the game.
Many have looked into the effect of home field advantage in baseball. The baseball blog Beyond the Box Score looked into home field advantage, specifically with the strike zone in mind, and found that there is little evidence to suggest any influence on the game. FanGraphs ran a similar post where Dave Cameron advocated for home field advantage have a more significant effect. After the Pirates won the Wild Card playoff game last year with a loud and rowdy crowd at home, Jeff Sullivan wondered if that type of crowd, so unfamiliar to a baseball stadium, could have had a larger effect than normal.
Along the same lines as Jeff Sullivan, I wonder if the Kings Court could have a larger effect on the outcome of the game than a normal crowd at a baseball game.
First, let’s look at Felix’s strikeout rates when pitching at home during two periods, Pre-King’s Court Era and the King’s Court Era:
|Pre-King’s Court||90||603 2/5||2534||576||22.7%||8.59|
|King’s Court Era||53||372 1/3||1508||382||25.3%||9.23|
The first King’s Court was on May 28, 2011 for a game against the Yankees. This gives us two large samples to work with. As you can see, Felix’s home strikeout rate has increased from just under 23% to over 25% during the King’s Court Era—a good sign for our hypothesis. But, this could be explained by the increased strikeout rate league wide in the past few years. We could also be seeing Felix’s skills developing further and therefore increasing his strikeout rate despite the presence of the King’s Court.
We also have to take into account the way the King’s Court is most likely affecting the outcome of the game, favorable calls by the umpire. Since the “K!” chant only occurs when there are two strikes. According to FanGraphs, during the King’s Court Era, when Felix has two strikes on a batter, he strikes them out over 50% of the time! Wow, that’s an incredible rate. But it doesn’t really tell us if the umpire was affected by all that chanting, we have to look at the rate of called strikeouts so that we’re not influenced by swinging strikeouts.
Here’s a look at Felix’s strikeout rates by type—looking (L/SO) and swinging (S/SO)—in the Pre-King’s Court Era and the King’s Court Era:
|Time Period||SO||L/SO||S/SO||L/SO %||L/S Ratio|
|King’s Court Era||382||103||279||27.0%||2.71|
Look at that! Felix’s called strikeout rate increased from just under 24% to 27% during the King’s Court Era. And look at the ratio of called strikeouts to swinging strikeouts, he’s getting called strikeouts more often as well. Get those K cards ready! Hold on, that increase in called strikeouts is pretty similar to Felix’s overall increase in strikeout rate. How can we be sure that the King’s Court is actually behind the increase? What if called strikeouts are on the rise across baseball and not just in Seattle? Is Felix getting more called strikeouts on the road as well?
To answer all of these questions, we have to isolate Felix’s called strikeout rate at home from his overall strikeout rate and from his total called strikeout rate and compare them all to the league average called strikeout rate. Whew, that’s a lot of data in one table:
|Year||K%||L/SO%||King’s Court L/SO%||League Avg L/SO%|
There’s a lot of things happening in that table so bear with me. We can see that Felix’s overall strikeout rate has been increasing since 2009. His total called strikeout rate has jumped around from 35% in 2005 to 21% in 2012 but has generally stayed parallel to his overall strikeout rate. The league average called strikeout rate has stayed constant at around 25%.
That fourth column is the money though—that’s Felix’s called strikeout rate at home by year. In 2011 and 2012, his called strikeout rate at home fall inline with his total called strikeout rate and the league average strikeout rate. No King’s Court effect. But in 2013 and 2014, his called strikeout rate at home has jumped up much higher than his total called strikeout rate and the league average strikeout rate. This year in particular is showing a significant increase in called strikeouts at home.
I’m not sure we can say for certain whether the King’s Court has had an effect on Felix’s called strikeout rate this year. The data tell us that there probably wasn’t an effect in the first two years of the King’s Court Era so I’m not sure what—if anything—is different. I think we can call our hypothesis remotely plausible but certainly not proven.
A few notes from the data I curated:
- On July 10, 2010, during the Pre-King’s Court Era, Felix pitched a complete game against the New York Yankees at home. In the ninth, he struck out the side looking. He also gave up a lead-off double and a single in the inning and struck out the last two batters in the game with runners on first and second.
- Just a month later, on August 5, 2010, during the Pre-King’s Court Era, Felix struck out three Rangers looking in six and two-thirds innings—the only strikeouts he would record in the game. Its still the only instance in his career where he recorded all of his strikeouts in a game via the called strike.
- The most called strikeouts Felix has recorded in a game is five, which he’s done four times—once during the Pre-King’s Court Era and three times during the King’s Court Era
- In his Perfect Game, Felix struck out twelve Rays and just one of them looking.