Miscalculation of Foul Ball Odds Causes Stir

Cracked_baseball Casey West

Search the web and you’ll find a good number of sites that pose a similar question: What are the odds of catching a foul ball at a Major League Baseball game? Virtually every formula used relies on general “averages” and doesn’t take any specifics into consideration. One recent story, reported by ESPN, cited information from one source that calculated the odds of catching four fouls at one game at 1:1 Trillion. While the site cited as the source later tried to explain the percentages, unfortunately, none of the numbers are very close to the true odds. It is much more complicated than justbasic math.

Because of the erroneous nature of this report, we have decided that now is the time to break down the odds in a much more accurate format. We are working diligently on an ever increasingly accurate formula, but for now, this is what we have. And the odds of catching a foul ball (or four) is not nearly as high as ESPN reported…

Several sites FoulBallz frequents—and a simple Google search—have reported a modest average attendance of 30,000 per MLB game. This number, obviously, is a league average. Therein lies much of the problem. AVERAGE attendance is NOT an adequate number to use as a predictor. Several teams had average attendance well above the league average, which means it is more difficult to catch foul balls there than those teams that had average attendance under the league average…as did Cleveland. But for the sake of argument, we are going to go with this “average” number to demonstrate how far off, how incorrect, the standard 1:1000 chance is.

The biggest problem with this standard formula is it assumes all fans are sitting in seats that are in foul territory when we know that the odds of that happening are probably much closer to 1 in 1 trillion than catching a ball. Thus, the standard formula is inherently flawed.

What the standard 30000 in attendance number signifies are the number of people in the park. Thus, we can’t use it to determine the odds of catching a foul ball at all. In reality, we have to subtract at least 1/6 from that number since we have the bleachers and other seating that is all in FAIR territory. If we follow the standard, accepted method, our best current estimate is that at any given time there are at least 3000 fans completely out of reach of a foul ball (mainly due to being in FAIR territory). This lowers our starting number to 27000.

Our current formula is quite simple:

REAL attendance (x) – # of fans in fair territory based on averages of the percentage of seats located in fair territory if the stadium is at maximum capacity (y) / average number of foul balls hit INTO the stands (z=30):

(x – y)/z = a (average odds of catching a foul ball at that stadium)

This formula does not yet consider seat location or other seats that may be theoretically out of reach of foul balls such as seats under overhangs or the Cincinnati Reds nosebleeds at Great American Ballpark. These changes, among others, can drastically alter the chances of catching a ball; it also does not yet include particular sections in which more balls tend to travel, nor does it account for those who reach over the railing or balls tossed into the seats by bat boys and girls or players, or even the pitching/batting match-up. All of these factors can significantly alter the odds of catching a foul ball.

Considering that roughly 30 balls go INTO the stands during any given game, it means we are looking at about 1:850 (we rounded up a bit). Already, that 1:1000 (and the 1:1 trillion for 4 balls) is taking a hit. But there’s more….


If you want to check your basic odds at a game you’re going to attend or are attending, use our Odds Calculator, the first and only one of its kind on the web.

To Be Continued…