Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Boston Celtics used a late 19-4 run to beat the Detroit Pistons and close out the teams' Eastern Conference final series. An NBA final series between the league's two historic glamour franchises, the Celtics and L.A. Lakers, is up next.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The San Antonio Spurs and L.A. Lakers traded major runs, all within the span of a single period of their NBA playoff game tonight. According to this article:

The Spurs outscored the Lakers 14-2 to start the third quarter for a 65-45 lead, drawing groans from the crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center, where the Lakers haven't lost since March 28.

Suddenly, the Lakers came together, scoring 14 straight points in a span of 3:05 to draw within six. [Kobe] Bryant had seven points and two assists during the run.

The Lakers ultimately prevailed, 89-85. The article also includes a chart of big playoff comebacks of the past decade.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros has a 17-game hitting streak going. The record for consecutive games with at least one hit is, of course, 56 by Joe DiMaggio. Berkman thus has quite a ways to go and, in fact, I typically don't even mention an ongoing hitting streak until it reaches 30 games.

What makes Berkman's streak noteworthy, however, even at this early stage, is the "surplus" offensive production he's showing. According to this article on today's Astro game vs. the Texas Rangers:

Lance Berkman was 2-of-5 to keep his average at .399. Berkman is on a 17-game hitting streak in which he is 36-of-66 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs.

Not only is his batting average during the streak an amazing .545, via the 36 hits in 66 official at-bats. With 36 hits in the 17 games, he's averaging more than two hits per game (2.12). And there's more!

As can be seen in the following screen capture from Berkman's player page at (which I've done only because the statistics will change on a daily basis), his slugging percentage in his past seven games exceeds his career figure by nearly .400. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

It's a short-term trend, to be sure. However, Berkman really seems to have taken his hitting to a rarefied level.


Though not quite to the same level as Berkman, the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano and the Braves' Chipper Jones have also been hitting the ball well.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Streaky outbursts were abundant in last night's two NBA playoff games...

Trailing 25-31, the Cleveland Cavaliers reeled off a 24-2 run to take a 49-33 lead over Boston. Shortly thereafter, the Celtics answered with a 13-0 run to get back in the game. Ultimately, the Cavs prevailed 74-69, to force a seventh game in the series (game article; play-by-play sheet).

Out west, the Utah Jazz trailed the L.A. Lakers by double-digits for most of the game, including a 99-88 deficit as the clock went under 3:00 (play-by-play sheet). But then, in roughly the last 2:30, the Jazz hit five three-pointers while the Lakers were -- for the most part -- making free throws. The Jazz even had two good looks from behind the arc in the closing seconds in an attempt to send the game to overtime, but neither shot went in. The Lakers survived 108-105, to take the series in six games.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My brother Steve in Los Angeles has requested a "Cold Hand" analysis of veteran outfielder Andruw Jones, who moved from Atlanta to the Dodgers via free agency this past winter at a price of $36 million over two years. Jones's strong suit has always been defense, but for that kind of cash, Dodger fans also have a right to expect some offensive punch.

A Google search of the terms "Andruw Jones" "slump" brings up quite a bit:

*A June 20, 2007 article in USA Today noting that, "Jones was hitless in 18 straight at-bats coming into the game against the Boston Red Sox, dropping his average to .202."

*An "honor" from early in the 2008 season by Sports Illustrated, placing Jones on the "All-Slump Team." The award proclamation reads, in part, "Jones, who hit 51 home runs just three years ago, has hit just one dinger in his first 27 games and is hitting .159."

*An April 22, 2008 New York Times piece entitled "Dodgers’ Jones Plumbs Depths of Hitting Slump." This article goes into some statistical depth, at least over the past four seasons. Now in his 13th major-league season (although only 31 years old), Jones could simply be experiencing natural career decline. However, he has also shown considerable offensive volatility in recent years. According to the Times article:

In 2005, Jones hit .185 through 18 games and finished with 51 home runs. He was the runner-up for the National League Most Valuable Player award. In 2006, he hit .262 with 41 homers.

Still, according to a report entitled "The Effects of Age on Hitting," most offensive abilities appear to peak when players are in their mid-20s.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

No one likes a good sports streak any more than your friendly Hot Hand blogger. Sometimes, though, one or more qualifiers have to be appended to a streak to maximize its length. A case in point is today's headline on Cleveland's 4-2 baseball win over the Oakland A's, "Starter scoreless streak ends at 44 1/3 innings but Indians still sweep."

As can be seen in this game-by-game log, the results of Cleveland's last five games before today were as follows:

Cleveland 12, Toronto 0
Cleveland 3, Toronto 0
Toronto 3, Cleveland 0 (10 innings)
Cleveland 4, Oakland 0
Cleveland 2, Oakland 0

Don't get me wrong -- Cleveland's pitching has been superb. Yet, given Toronto's three runs in the third game listed, it's hard at first glance to discern a long scoreless streak by Cleveland's pitchers. Ah, what happened in that game was that Cleveland starter Cliff Lee pitched nine scoreless innings, only to have his reliever give up the three runs.

Hence, the headline's reference to "Starter scoreless streak ends..."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Detroit's Richard (Rip) Hamilton went a perfect 16-of-16 from the free-throw line tonight, as the Pistons eliminated the Orlando Magic from the playoffs.

From what I can find on the web, the NBA playoff record for most made free throws in a game without a miss is 21, held by Boston's Paul Pierce in a 2003 contest against Indiana. The NBA regular-season record for a perfect free-throw night is 23 made, by Dominique Wilkins.

During the 2004-05 regular season, Hamilton recorded a 20-for-20 free-throw game.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Some streakiness-related items from yesterday...

In doing research for another of my blogs, on college softball, I was alerted that the team from my school, Texas Tech, was doing something unusual offensively in its opening Big 12 tournament game against Missouri. Indeed, as I confirmed in the partial screen capture below from a CSTV Gametracker (and elsewhere), the Red Raiders had hit seven straight singles (you can click on the graphic to enlarge it).

The Red Raiders' special media kit for the Big 12 tournament provides a treasure trove of information. For one thing, Texas Tech entered the conference tourney with a .251 batting average (overall season), the second-lowest in the league. Also, in fewer than half of their Big 12 contests (7-of-18) did the Raiders amass at least 7 hits for an entire game!

A crude estimation of Texas Tech's probability of getting seven hits in a row (putting aside the fact that they were all singles) would be .251 raised to the seventh power, which yields .00006 (6-in-100,000). Taking into account that the Red Raiders would have several opportunities within the game -- let alone an entire season -- to record such a streak, the odds would not be quite so astronomical. Still, it's a pretty unusual feat.


Staying with the bat and ball, but this time in Major League Baseball, the Texas Ranger pitching staff had its shut-out inning streak snapped at 33 innings. According to the linked article, "Texas pitchers had posted three shutouts in a row and the scoreless streak was the second-longest in franchise history."


Finally, in NBA playoff action, the Cleveland Cavaliers unleashed an early burst en route to taking Game 3 of their series from the Boston Celtics. As seen in this play-by-play sheet, Boston opened the game with a 4-0 lead. Next thing everybody knew, Cleveland was ahead 27-8 -- the result of a 27-4 Cavalier run!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Last night in NBA playoff action, the Orlando Magic hit seven straight three-pointers in the third quarter of its game at Detroit. The Pistons ultimately won, however, 100-93. Jameer Nelson made three of the treys, Rashard Lewis made a pair, and Hedo Turkoglu and Maurice Evans each contributed one. All four of these players were roughly .400 shooters from behind the arc in the regular season, ranging from Nelson's .416 to Evans's .396.

The probability that, of the seven three-point attempts the Magic put up in the third quarter, all of them would go in, is calculated as (.400) raised to the 7th power. This roughly equals .002 or 1-in-500.

Overall, Orlando went 11-of-26 on three-pointers in the game. Using a more subtle approach, which takes into account the multiple opportunities for the Magic to have experienced a streak of seven straight made threes, yields a different probability for what Orlando did.

First, of the 26 three-point attempts, 19 were outside the scope of the streak of seven straight made ones. Of those 19, approximately 11 of them would be expected to be missed, given our assumed baserate of .400 success and .600 failure. Adding in the 1 from the formula linked above, we then multiple our previous probability estimate of .002 by 12, yielding .024. In other words, after each miss (as well as at the start of the game), there would have been a new opportunity to start a streak of seven made threes. Still rare, but not that rare (a conceptually similar analysis of mine from many years ago is available here).