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.

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