Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In what I think is a rarity, Major League Baseball's All-Star break has given us a Home Run Derby and a game that have both been exciting.

The Derby, of course, was dominated by the Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton, who hit a single-round record 28 homers in the opening round (in what undoubtedly will become an historical footnote, Hamilton actually lost the competition to the Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau; with totals from the earlier rounds wiped off the board for the finals and both contenders presumably with tired bats, Morneau was victorious, 5 to 3).

Years ago, I used to conduct hot-hand analyses of the Home Run Derby, but I gave it up after finding little evidence of streakiness. Hence, I was not charting Hamilton's first-round sequence of home runs and outs. However, after viewing several videos from YouTube (just search on "Josh Hamilton") and consulting some articles, I'm able to reproduce his sequence.

In particular, Jayson Stark's ESPN.com column provided some helpful descriptions of Hamilton's homering:

He hit a home run on 13 swings in a row. And 16 of 17. And 20 of 22. And 22 of 25.

Here's Hamilton's first-round sequence (shown in blocks of 10 for ease of viewing, where H = home run, and O = out).


Early on, Hamilton was hitting homers only a little over 50% of the time (6 homers, 5 outs), so he clearly lifted his home-run rate in the latter portion of his sequence. The problem with hot-hand analyses of the Home Run Derby, in general, is the small sample size. That probably was a factor for Hamilton, in particular, as this online runs-test calculator (with a 1 entered for each homer and a 0 for each out) showed a non-significant result.

Another factor to consider, as has been suggested by observers in the past, is "streak pitching." Indeed, the 71-year-old Clay Counsil, who used to pitch batting practice to Hamilton when the latter was a high-schooler and reprised this role on the Yankee Stadium mound Monday night, seemed particularly adept at consisently putting the ball in the same location for Hamilton. From there, Hamilton's beautiful swing did the rest...


As for the All-Star Game itself, it has just ended at around 1:40 a.m. Eastern, with the American League taking a 15-inning decision. Excluding the infamous 2002 tie game, the AL has now won 11 straight Mid-Summer Classics. That's a streak worthy of its own examination, but due to the lateness of the hour, I'll have to do it later!

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