Thursday, December 21, 2006

Every so often, one hears a reference to a coach or manager making a decision according to "the book," as though a definitive catalog of strategy for a given sport existed. Now, however, a trio of baseball authors has come along and written a volume entitled, appropriately enough, The Book, and they have a website to go with it.

The website has a blog component, whose topics include streakiness. It is through this blog that I learned about an online discussion on another board, where a contributor with the moniker "Dackle2" presented some statistics on what happens after baseball teams go through a particularly hot or cold 10-game stretch.

What looks like around 300,000 10-game sequences in Major League Baseball from 1871-2005 were extracted and classified according to teams' records during the stretch (i.e., from 0-10, 1-9, and 2-8 all the way through to 8-2, 9-1, and 10-0). Teams' winning percentages from the five games before and five games after the 10-game stretch were also noted.

If there were anything to the idea of momentum or carryover of streakiness, one would predict, for example, that after languishing through a 0-10 cold streak, teams would have an appreciably worse winning percentage in the five games after the 10-game losing streak than in the five games before. Five games, by themselves, do not constitute a great sample, but aggregating many five-game sequences over many teams and many years, the data would seem sufficient.

As seen in the linked document, however, teams did not play markedly worse immediately after their 0-10 stretches (.347) than they did immediately before them (.358). At the other extreme, teams that achieved 10-0 hot streaks did not play substantially better immediately afterwards (.620) than beforehand (.610). In fact, whichever 10-game breakdown you look at (e.g., 2-8, 5-5, 7-3), the average winning percentages for the five games before and five games after are virtually identical.

Like other studies going all the way back to the original "hot hand" research by Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky in 1985, the present findings suggest that players and teams have characteristic baseline rates of success, and that short-term hot streaks do not lead to long-term success rates above baseline, nor do short-term cold streaks lead to long-term success rates below baseline.

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