Sunday, April 27, 2008

Here in Lubbock, Texas, the prominent collegiate athletic program belongs to Texas Tech University, where I'm on the faculty. With their (mostly) glitzy sports facilities, Red Raider squads compete in the prestigious Big 12 conference.

Texas Tech is not the only university in town, however. There's a smaller school called Lubbock Christian University, which competes at the NAIA level in sports.

Texas Tech's baseball program, a major player on the national scene several years ago, has been struggling in recent years. LCU, in contrast, has remained strong in its own sphere of play and, in fact, had risen to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings with a dominant stretch of play.

Last night, though, LCU had its 38-game winning streak snapped, against Wayland Baptist.

Compared to the situation in basketball or football, the most talented teams in baseball tend to be less dominant. As Jim Albert and Jay Bennett hypothesized during an online chat on my old Hot Hand page, the rules and physical demands of baseball limit, respectively, how often a team's top hitter can bat or top pitcher can take the mound. In contrast, a great football quarterback or basketball shooter can be involved in a vast majority of his or her team's plays.

Thus, regardless of league affiliation or competition level, winning 38 straight baseball games isn't easy, and LCU deserves great congratulations on the streak.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lorena Ochoa won her fourth straight tournament on the LPGA tour earlier today, which is also her fifth win in her last six events. In winning four straight LPGA tourneys, she joined rarefied company, as the feat has only been accomplished five times; Annika Sorenstam did so in 2001 and it happened three times from 1962-1969. In anticipation of the final round of this weekend's tournament, the New York Times ran a feature article on Ochoa this morning.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the college baseball scene, the University of Missouri's Jacob Priday has been swinging a hot bat, including a four-homer game last Friday against perennial power Texas. Accordingly, Priday was named Big 12 offensive Player of the Week.

Monday, April 14, 2008

With the Major League Baseball season upon us, I wanted to mention an article in the initial 2008 issue of the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports by Jim Albert, entitled "Streaky Hitting in Baseball" (articles are generally limited to paid subscribers, but limited guest-viewer privileges are available).

Albert, a longtime friend of the Hot Hand website, uses data from the 2005 MLB season to investigate various streakiness-related questions. One of the major conclusions in his abstract is that, "[An] exchangeable model that assumes that all players are consistent with constant probabilities of success appears to explain much of the observed streaky behavior."

Another of Albert's conclusions is that, "...a player who appears unusually streaky in hits doesn't generally appear streaky in strikeouts and home runs" (p. 28).


News has just come over the wire services that 91-year-old Tommy Holmes, who held one of the longest consecutive-game hitting streaks in National League history, has died.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A reporter from the New York Times contacted me a few days ago on a hockey-related matter. He asked if I could do some statistical analyses of NHL teams, over the years, that have the put together the top win-loss record in the regular season (for which they receive the President's Trophy) and how likely these teams would have been (in retrospect) to win the Stanley Cup championship in the playoffs. The reporter's thought was that, among other things, teams that compile the top record in the regular season may have done so by keeping their top players on the ice a lot, thus tiring them out for the playoffs. Here's the article from today's Sunday Times.


Last night's two national semifinal games of the men's college basketball Final Four featured a number of streak-relevant phenomena. Most dramatic were the stretches of dominance exchanged by Kansas and North Carolina in the nightcap (play-by-play sheet).

After a UNC hoop cut an early KU lead to 15-10, the Jayhawks took off on an incomprehensible 25-2 spurt that made the score 40-12 with 6:49 left in the first half. The Tar Heels scored the next 10 points to make it 40-22, and the teams played at parity for the final minutes of the half, leaving the score 44-27 at the intermission.

With Kansas leading 54-36 a few minutes into the second half, North Carolina scored 14 straight to close to within 54-50 with 11:16 remaining. For roughly the next six minutes, the two teams held their ground, with the Jayhawks leading 67-61. At this point, it was KU that had the last offensive flurry to unleash, outscoring UNC 17-5 the rest of the way, to win 84-66.

In the opening game, a 78-63 Memphis win over UCLA, what stood out most to me was both teams' loss of their early three point-shooting touch, whether due to stepped-up defense, fatigue, pressure, or something else (box score and play-by-play sheet).

For the first 7:02 of the game, the Tigers and Bruins were shooting a combined 5-for-7 from behind the arc (UCLA 3-of-4, Memphis 2-of-3). The teams then went a combined 3-for-18 the rest of the way, to end up a combined 8-for-25 (UCLA 4-13, Memphis 4-12).