We hear a lot about "walkoff games"--you know, the ones where teams win in the bottom of the ninth (or in some number of subsequent extra innings).
They certainly seem to excite the media: the particular type of closure clearly makes better copy. The fans in attendance (depending on which team is being rooted for, of course) are also quite likely to enjoy such a heightened finish.
But we don't know much about them other than that. Particular questions--such as how many of these games are tied at the point when the outcome is decided vs. games in which the winning team comes from behind to register a walkoff win--are harder to pin down.
The basic facts about walkoff games, however, can be gleaned from some elbow grease (actually, it's really now "finger grease" that does it, since we are usually typing in some command at Forman et fils in order to acquire the necessary data).
We took a look at the last ten years worth of "walkoff games" (2004-2013) in order to do what the title suggests--a "quick anatomization."
First, how many? The average number of walkoff games per team over the ten-season period is 15. That includes both "walkoff wins" and "walkoff losses." The highest number of walkoff games over the time frame? 27, by the Oakland A's (15-12) in 2004. The lowest? Five, by the Houston Astros (1-4) in 2004.
The burning question here, of course, is: do playoff teams do better in terms of wins/losses in walkoff games? And do they have more or less or about the same number of these games? (Keep in mind that the percentage of walkoff games over the past ten years is only around 9% of all games played.)
The answer: playoff teams do fare better than average in walkoff games. Over the last ten years, the aggregate record of playoff teams in walkoff games stands at 674-538 (.556).
Teams that win the World Series, however, are somewhat less successful in these type of games. Over the past ten years (2004-13), the World Champs are only 81-69 (.540) in walkoff games.
Overall, the average frequency of walkoff games doesn't change based on team WPCT. The average number of walkoff games for playoff teams is 14.4, which is less than the overall average (as noted, earlier, exactly 15).
Is there anyone who went undefeated in such contests, i.e. never suffered a "walkoff loss?" Yes, there is: the 2012 Baltimore Orioles had seven walkoff wins--and no walkoff losses.
You should also know that there are 22 non-playoff teams with at least a .667 WPCT in walkoff games covering the 2004-13 timeframe.
Thus it appears that we are not going to gain any startling insight from the walkoff game. Though they do not quite "even out" over a ten-year period: while fifteen of the thirty MLB franchises have WPCTs in walkoff games between .475-.525, there is a lingering performance range which reaches from the Rays (.572), Twins (.571) and A's (.563) at the top, to the M's (.405), the Jays (.428) and the Cubs (.442) at the bottom. And, oddly enough, the team with the greatest performance deviation from year-to-year in this time frame is none other than the New York Yankees, who've posted seasonal WPCTs in this data slice ranging from .250 to .833 while making it into the post-season.
So there is some reason but a paucity of rhyme to be found in the walkoff game...which means we can safely let the media fixate on them without an undue amount of loathing.