Thursday, September 27, 2007

A couple days ago, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci published a column on "Debunking the biggest myths of MLB's wild-card era" (which I learned about via the ESPN radio show, The Herd). Myth No. 2 was that, "The 'hot' teams -- the ones that play well down the stretch -- are the ones to fear in the postseason." Take a look at Verducci's evidence by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This upcoming Saturday, September 29 will mark the 20th anniversary of a major article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Science section, on whether there was any evidence of streakiness -- either in wins and losses, or in batting performance -- in the city's beloved baseball club, the Cardinals. The article was written by Charles Franklin, then a relatively new professor at St. Louis's Washington University.

My connection to Dr. Franklin -- including a span of 22 years between any in-person contact -- and how I obtained the images of his article interspersed throughout this write-up make for an interesting story, if I do say so myself. (By the way, you can click on any of the images to enlarge them and be able to read them more easily.)

As with many developments in my life, it all starts with the University of Michigan. During the summer of 1985, after I had completed my first year of social psychology grad school at UM, I took a statistics course (linear models) through the university's ICPSR program.

The instructor of that course was the aforementioned Charles Franklin, who had just completed (or was just completing) his Ph.D. in political science at Michigan and had come back from Wash U to teach the summer class.

After that class, roughly 20 years passed without Charles's and my paths crossing in any way. In 1992, Charles moved to the Univesity of Wisconsin, Madison. Then, in 2005, he founded a blog called Political Arithmetik (yes, it ends with a "k"), which is devoted to quantitative expositions on public-opinion data.

Armed with his palette of graphing software, Charles might track, for example, presidential job-approval ratings over time, or systematic differences between survey firms in whether their polls tend to give higher or lower job-approval readings than other firms (known as "house effects"). Charles now also grinds out his analyses for the website, in collaboration with Mark Blumenthal, himself a Michigan undergraduate alumnus.

I don't remember exactly when I first discovered Charles's blog, but once I did, I e-mailed him about being in his class in 1985, and I've submitted comments on his postings from time to time.

This past summer 2007, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to teach a course at Wisconsin-Madison, as a visitor in human development and family studies (the same department I'm in at Texas Tech for my regular, full-time job). Here are some photos from my time in Madison.

Once I knew that I would be going up to Madison for a summer term, I contacted Charles about getting together, which would be our first visit in 22 years. He was agreeable, so we met in his office, just north of the campus's famous Bascom Hill. Charles told me that he had just returned from teaching in the Michigan summer stats program, and that he was calling it quits after 25 summers in Ann Arbor.

We chatted about Michigan, statistics, polling, and blogging, the latter of which led to my mentioning the Hot Hand page. As if we didn't have enough connections between Michigan and all the statistical stuff, Charles then told me about his 1987 Cardinal streakiness article for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, of which I was completely unaware.

He didn't have any copies around. However, compounding our coincidences in a manner worthy of a Seinfeld episode, I was heading to St. Louis over an upcoming weekend to attend the annual SABR conference, and it seemed likely I could find a microfilm of Charles's article at the downtown St. Louis public library.

I, indeed, found the microfilm of Charles' article, and you're now seeing some excerpts of my discovery. The staff members in the microfilm room were extremely helpful, for which I thank them.

As you can glean from the inserted newspaper images, Charles didn't find any evidence of streakiness on the part of the Cardinals.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies is currently on a home-run explosion, having hit 11 in his last 12 games. Holliday is known for the gaudy distances of some of his homers, as immortalized in this 2006 blast I found on YouTube.

It took Holliday until September 2 to get his 25th homer of the 2007 season. He's now, of course, up to 36 homers, a 44% increase from when he was at 25 (11/25) in less than three weeks.

Holliday's streak has prompted me to seek out other similar ones.

The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, whose tendencies to hit homers in bunches I analyzed in an earlier posting, began the 2007 season by hitting 12 homers in 15 games.

Another seemingly good place to look was at players who had set (or come close to) single-season records. During Barry Bonds's 73-homer season in 2001, his most scorching stretch appears to have taken place from May 17-22, during which he hit 9 homers in 6 games (game-by-game log).

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 also seemed worth looking at. A few years ago, I found a copy of Race for the Record: The Great Home Run Chase of 1998 (a fancy magazine-type volume with side-binding) on sale for $2.99, so I was able to consult the charts within. In the eight games from May 18-25, McGwire had 9 homers. Sosa, of course, had the 20-homer month of June; at his hottest during that month, he hit 11 dingers from June 15-25.

By focusing only on big-name home-run hitters in the last decade, I'm sure I'm missing other great homer binges. I invite readers to add other big homer stretches (with documentation please) via the Comments link, below.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pete Ridges just sent a message to the SABR e-mail discussion list, pointing out that this past Sunday, while playing at Cincinnati, Milwaukee became the first team in Major League Baseball history to start off a game by hitting three consecutive home runs (box score and play-by-play sheet)

Ridges offered the opinion that:

Unusually, some reports have undersold this, by saying that the Brewers were the third team to start their first inning with 3 HR. However, the other two cases came in the bottom of the first...

The other trifectas were by San Diego in 1987 and Atlanta in 2003.

Offensively, of course, only a visiting team can start off a game. From this perspective, Milwaukee's feat is technically unique. However, for a home team to lead off its half of the first inning with three straight homers is pretty darn impressive, too.

Whether any given reader considers the Brewers to be in a class by themselves or to share the record with two other teams, Ridges's conclusion helps put everything in context:

By my addition there had been 188,835 major league games through Sunday, so I was extremely impressed by this.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Charlotte (NC) Independence High School has just had its 109-game football winning streak come to an end -- but it took an out-of-state opponent to do it.

As part of former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit's Ohio vs. The USA Challenge, Charlotte Independence ventured to take on Cincinnati Elder in the latter's home city, and dropped a 41-34 overtime decision.

As noted in the above-linked article, "Most of the wins weren't close. Independence had beaten opponents during its win streak by an average of nearly 35 points per game entering the 2007 season."

Independence's situation appears to fit a very simple "theory" of super-long streaks. A team (or individual) is physically superior to its competition, thus winning most of its games in dominant fashion. Then, in the rare circumstance of a tight game, the team with the winning streak benefits from good luck to keep the streak going, until the luck runs out.

One recent memorable example, from college football, was USC's 2005 win at Notre Dame to extend the Trojans' winning streak to 28, a victory that required some favorable bounces of the ball at the end.

When one thinks of other historical streaks, such as Joe DiMaggio's getting a hit in 56 straight games, the UCLA men's basketball team winning 88 straight games, and Tiger Woods making the cut at 142 straight PGA golf tournaments, it should not be surprising that the teams and individuals who accumulated these streaks were already at the top of their crafts.