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John Gant Broke Math

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Just how likely was the pitcher’s historic power surge?

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Thanks to the excellent work of Bclemens6, John Gant’s triumphant march dreary limp towards the record books has become something of an obscure cult classic here at Viva El Birdos, at least for me personally.

At the time Ben’s aforementioned article was published, Gant was deadlocked in a four-way tie for the most at-bats without reaching base safely...in the history of Major League Baseball. He promptly secured the all-time record for himself with an 0-4 batting line over his next two starts. It seems impossible, but Gant’s career stats as a hitter read .000/.000/.000 AVG/OBP/SLG with a negative 100 wRC+ through 35 trips to the plate, each one resulting in failure. His batting numbers were equal to those of a literal traffic cone left to wither away in the right-handed batter’s box.

And then came the greatest event in the history of human civilization.

The opposing pitcher who served up a 398 foot blast to Gant? Two-time All-Star Gio Gonzalez, fresh off a sixth place finish in the NL Cy Young vote. There are no words that can adequately articulate just how dumb yet absolutely incredible this moment is, so I won’t even bother trying.

Gant then struck out in each of his next three at-bats, presumably restoring the equilibrium that had temporarily torn apart the fabric of our universe.

What follows is John Gant singlehandedly murdering the ideals of logic and reasoning in cold blood.

As MLB.com reporter Joe Trezza noted, Gant wasn’t done etching his name into baseball lore.

Where do we even begin in attempting to measure the sheer improbability of all this? For starters, let’s backtrack and examine what exactly had to happen for Gant to maintain an OBP of zero after 35 plate appearances. Prior to the home run he launched for his first career hit, Gant’s xwOBA, his expected weighted on-base average (wOBA) according to exit velocity and launch angle data from Statcast, stood at .136 compared to an actual wOBA of–you guessed it!–.000. For context, 535 players have recorded at least 150 plate appearances in the 2018 season. The “unluckiest” of them all is Kyle Tucker, whose .133 point wOBA vs. xwOBA disparity still falls three points short of Gant’s misfortune. The batted ball numbers suggest that Gant “should have” already tallied 4.2 hits before the homer off Gonzalez.

The average xwOBA for pitchers in 2018, .148, is slightly above Gant’s career mark, but for the sake of simplicity we will use league average pitcher hitting stats as a proxy from herein in this article.

Pitchers are running a .142 on-base percentage this year, meaning their plate appearances end with another out on the scoreboard a whopping 85.8% of the time. Raise that to the 35th power, however, and the probability of 35 tries without reaching base plummet to just 0.47%. Furthermore, pitchers have a 0.45% chance of hitting a home run in any given plate appearance. When crunching the specific numbers, the odds of Gant clubbing a home run after making 35 consecutive outs are roughly 1-in-47,200.

Arguably even more impressive than the single home run in 36 attempts is hitting two in 42 plate appearances without reaching base in any other fashion. To test this, I ran a 100,000 plate appearance simulation using these probabilities derived from pitchers’ actual results in 2018.

2018 Plate Appearance Results for Pitchers Hitting

Outcome Probability
Outcome Probability
Out 85.78%
1B 8.79%
BB/HBP 3.33%
2B 1.62%
HR 0.45%
3B 0.03%

100,000 plate appearances and a lot of spreadsheet lag later, I checked to see if any group of 42 continuous plate appearances in the simulation resulted in precisely 40 outs and two home runs. To my utter shock, I found...no such matches. In 100,000 cracks at Gantian glory, not once did our run-of-the-mill pitcher manage to pull off the delicate balancing act of overall offensive futility paired with sudden bursts of power.

Forget the computer models. The only possible explanation for this is that we are living in a simulation, and one man has transcended us all to become our overlord: John. Michael. Gant.