Lightning Strikes Twice: So Much for “1 in a Trillion Odds”

Lightning Strikes Twice? How odd that a 2nd instance of something that is supposed to have odds of “1 in a Trillion” happened twice this season; the second instance to very little fanfare. This is a review of the issues with doing “simple” math to calculate odds.

In a couple earlier posts I discussed the incomplete, or perhaps rushed, reporting of foul ball statistics by ESPN a few months back. Well, the 1 in a trillion odds that a source gave to ESPN has happened again.

This time to too little fanfare. VERY little fanfare. It even appears ESPN has learned its lesson; but instead of issuing an apology for its rushed and unchecked reporting and contacting for a more accurate calculation of odds, they have simply chosen to do the opposite and ignore the gentleman who is the second fan this season to catch four foul balls in one game.

The Second Lightning Strike

On September 9, 2013 a fan caught four foul balls at a Twins game. As you might know already, this feat was jumped on by ESPN back in July when a Cleveland Indians fan caught four as well.

This is just one of the very few stories for the second instance of four fouls. Do some searching and check out where he was sitting! That makes the feat all that more cooler than the Cleveland incident.

The original odds that one organization calculated for the Cleveland game were based on the LEAGUE average for attendance, not on the Indians’ average or even that particular game’s attendance. That got us and many others a heated as we pointed out in this earlier blog post. And rightfully so. The odds weren’t near accurate.

But now we have a second instance of this happening. Why no hoopla? As I mentioned above, probably because ESPN and others like Yahoo! Sports all realized their error. Maybe. Or maybe because it is now old news. And it’s not as cool now. Maybe.

Statistically speaking, by our calculations using the actual attendance of both games, there should have been significant hype about the Twins fan. In fact, there should have been MORE hype for this feat than the previous one.

Why deserving of more hype?

First, the place he’s sitting is not a common spot for foul balls; Cleveland was sitting in prime foul territory. Add to this that the odds based solely on 2012 average attendance according to our unique foul ball odds calculators shows that Cleveland had an overall 1  in 659 chance and Twins guy had a whopping 1141 to 1 chance! Based only on 2012 attendance, the Twins fan has to fight nearly 60% more people to get those balls. Based on just the average attendance thus far as reported on baseball-reference, the Twins have 30000 and Cleveland has 19000. You plug those numbers into the FoulBallz calculator and see what you come up with. Do I need to say more?

This repeat of lightning striking twice though has prompted me to add this to the smoldering pile of ashes left as a result of the fallout from the first time the 1 in a trillion happened. The odds are not nearly that much. Obviously.

So I tip my Detroit Tigers cap to you Mr. Twins fan. You should have been heralded as the champion ballhawk of the day on September 9, 2013 for the sheer “impossibility” of your feat. Alas, ESPN burned out the thrill of four fouls in one game by quoting from a source that had not done proper calculations and simply used the wrong averages. Context is everything.

So much for the odds being that high, eh?