The Gauntlet of 26-Letter Lineups

Its nice to be gaining a reputation for certain kinds of analyses.  Twitter followers, Facebook friends and the like point out to you that “this would be right up your alley” or “has this ever happened in a game?”

Such was the case last Friday morning, when ESPN’s Mark Simon DM’ed me the following:

Threw down the gauntlet on a mini-project that you might like on today’s Baseball Today. Should be up shortly.

Sure enough, on that Baseball Today podcast (38 minute mark), Mark suggested that I would be the one who might investigate and write about whether any starting lineup ever had all 26 letters represented.

Russell Carleton, one of the wonderful writers at Baseball Prospectus, took up the challenge first:

Russell Carleton@pizzacutter4

@msimonespn @dianagram In 2002, Padres had a starting lineup with 25 letters (no X) — best using only last names BOX: http://bit.ly/O3EUas

Indeed, Russell was right.  If you use only last names, San Diego’s batting order included A-W, Y and Z.

Jimenez 2b
Kotsay cf
Klesko rf
Nevin 1b
Lankford lf
Burroughs 3b
Lampkin c
Vazquez ss
Lawrence p

Russell wasn’t done:

Russell Carleton@pizzacutter4

@dianagram @msimonespn Lowest number of letters (last names only) was 13, done in 55 games. Most recent 2009 Indians: http://bit.ly/MfGsiS

So, since Mr. Carleton stole my thunder (j/k), what else can I offer you on this matter?  OK . . . how about this . . . the record for two teams in a game is 47 (of a possible 52).  This occurred on July 21, 1927, in a game between the Cincinnati Reds (23 letters, missing J,X and Y) and Brooklyn Robins (24, missing J and Q).

The record for the lowest total between two teams is 28, which has happened twice: 9/1/64 between Baltimore and Minnesota and 4/23/74 between Milwaukee and the White Sox. (Extra-special bonus factoid: Jim Kaat was the starting pitcher for the home team in both of those games.)

Finally, with roughly 160,000 games with complete lineups available via Retrosheet, that gives us about 320,000 total lineups to work with for:

% of instance of each letter occurring in a game lineup (1871-2011)
a 99.60%
b 78.65%
c 86.50%
d 83.30%
e 99.93%
f 45.74%
g 77.24%
h 87.38%
i 97.47%
j 29.81%
k 70.12%
l 97.06%
m 88.00%
n 99.15%
o 99.06%
p 58.35%
q 5.55%
r 99.74%
s 98.53%
t 91.98%
u 78.66%
v 42.11%
w 64.56%
x 8.91%
y 66.81%
z 44.39%

 

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