Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Buffalo Sabres lost tonight to the Atlanta Thrashers, 5-4 in an overtime shoot-out. The loss, Buffalo's first of the season, means the Sabres must share the spot in the NHL record book with the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs for best start to a season, at 10-0.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The 2006 World Series has just ended -- literally minutes ago -- with the St. Louis Cardinals closing out the Detroit Tigers in five games. Some notes from the perspective of streakiness:

Detroit pitcher Kenny Rogers, who was scheduled to go in a potential Game Six, will now have to wait for another year (and at age 41, he may not have many left in the game) to see if he can extend his current streak of 23 consecutive post-season scoreless innings. As shown in an ESPN graphic a few nights ago, these shut-out innings were compiled in three starts, one in each round of this year's play-offs: 7 and 2/3 against the Yankees, 7 and 1/3 against the A's, and 8 in the Tigers' lone win against the Cardinals. As shown in this article, the streak Rogers put together this post-season ranks among the best of all time. Should Detroit (or any other team Rogers pitches for) make the play-offs next season, all eyes will be on Rogers's throwing hand -- I mean, streak.

The Cards' David Eckstein, who got only two hits in his first 22 at-bats of this post-season, went 8-for-13 in the final three games against Detroit, en route to winning the World Series MVP award. For the Tigers, it was Sean Casey who had the hot bat.

Lastly, three stretches illustrate the apparent limitations of momentum. Both St. Louis and Detroit, of course, ended the regular season in slumps, yet made the World Series (see two articles in the links section on the right, addressing the issue of carryover from the end of the regular season to the play-offs). Also, the Tigers came into the World Series on a seven-game winning streak (three over the Yankees, four over the A's), yet took only one game from the Cards. It's not just that the Tigers lost the Fall Classic; numerous crucial fielding errors showed they were not at the top of their game against St. Louis.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Buffalo won again tonight in NHL action (3-0 over the New York Islanders), giving the Sabres a perfect 10-0 ledger. Buffalo's hot start ties the league record for most wins to begin the season.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Just one of those streaky days...

Michigan State took a 3-0 lead over Northwestern in their Big 10 football match-up, then fell behind 38-3 as the Wildcats scored 38 consecutive points. The Spartans then answered with 38 straight of their own, to win 41-38. In doing so, MSU set a new NCAA Division I-A record for size of deficit overcome to win (35 points).

If you look at the lists of the teams' drives (underneath the graphical diagram of scoring drives), you can see vividly what has to happen to produce a comeback like this -- one team gets amazingly hot and the other, similarly cold.

Prior to starting its comeback, Michigan State's last five possessions (excluding a brief one at the end of the first half) had consisted exclusively of punts and turnovers -- hardly a sign that the Spartans could put together four sustained touchdown drives (the other points came on a punt return TD and a field goal).

For Northwestern, the pattern was just the opposite. The Wildcats went from being able to move the ball up and down the field with apparent ease (at least that's what's implied by five touchdown drives) to their own stretch of entirely punts and turnovers -- including three straight "three and outs."


The Buffalo Sabres have opened up the National Hockey League season with a perfect 8-0 record, with tonight's win over the Boston Bruins. The Sabres are now two more wins away from tying the NHL record for most consecutive wins to start a season.


Finally, in tonight's World Series opener, won by St. Louis 7-2, Cardinal rookie Anthony Reyes retired 17 straight Tigers (i.e., nearly six straight innings of perfect baseball) after giving up a first-inning run. A graphic on the television broadcast noted that Reyes's streak was the best in World Series play since 1990, when Cincinnati's Jose Rijo put down 20 straight Oakland battersin the Reds' series-clinching Game 4 victory (see little game-by-game summaries on the right-hand side of the linked document).

Friday, October 20, 2006

I don't believe I've ever before drawn a hot-hand example from the Canadian Football League. Thanks to Phil Birnbaum's blog, however, there's always a first time.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Despite a nearly $200 million payroll and virtual all-star team for their starting line-up, the New York Yankees have once again stumbled in the play-offs, losing three games to one to the Detroit Tigers in the first round. The Yanks have not won the World Series since 2000.

I think many would agree that the team's breakdown occurred in two areas -- an aging and injury-prone starting pitching rotation and some shockingly poor hitting by a number of players who are typically very productive with the bat; the latter problem is discussed in this article.

The list below compares selected Yankees' 2006 regular-season batting averages (in parentheses) to their batting performances in the Detroit Series:

Robinson Cano (.342) 2-for-15

Gary Sheffield (.298) 1-for-12

Alex Rodriguez (.290) 1-for-14

Jason Giambi (.253) 1-for-8

Using an online binomial calculator, one can estimate the probability for each player of his getting as many hits (or fewer) as he did in the Detroit series purely by chance, given his (much higher) regular-season baseline batting average. Such probabilities are indeed low: Cano, .07; Sheffield, .09; Rodriguez, .06; and Giambi, .36. To reject a chance explanation, however, we typically require a probability of .05 or smaller (also known as "statistical significance").

For ARod, this latest poor performance in the postseason is nothing new. As the above-linked article notes, "Dating back to Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, Rodriguez has five hits in his last 46 postseason at-bats."

Here are some additional statistical observations from the baseball play-offs, by Elias Sports Bureau.