Wednesday, September 24, 2008

With Boston's win over Cleveland last night, the New York Yankees have officially been eliminated from the postseason picture. The Yankees' streak of consecutive playoff appearances now ends at 13, one short of the Atlanta Braves' record of 14. The Bronx Bombers got more out of their postseason appearances, however, with four World Series championships to Atlanta's one.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Houston Astros, whose hotness I wrote about in the posting immediately below, have now gone cold. In two games against the Cubs, the Astros were no-hit last night by Carlos Zambrano and then were held without a hit for six innings today by Ted Lilly. To provide some historical perspective, reported several items of no-hitter trivia. The following appears most applicable to the Astros' latest futility:

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time a team pitched or succumbed to a streak of 15 consecutive no-hit innings was June 2-3, 1995, when the Expos held the Padres without a hit for that span. On Sept. 25-27, 1981, the Astros held the Dodgers without a hit for 16 consecutive innings.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

As they almost always seem to do, the Houston Astros are again pulling off a late-season hot streak. With a 6-0 win today against Pittsburgh, the Astros have now won 14 out of 15. As this article notes:

Houston was 66-66 and 11 games back of Milwaukee, the NL wild-card leader, before the run began Aug. 27. The latest win closed the Astros within three games of the Brewers...

One method statisticians use to help determine if a given team's (or athlete's) streakiness is more than just a chance occurrence is to see if the team/athlete has shown any ability to repeat the special performance year after year. I recall the Astros' having had strong finishes in recent years, so I decided to look at the numbers for the last four completed seasons. Shown for each year are the Astros' records as of the last day of July, for the month of August, and for the month of September (plus any regular-season games played in October). You can click on the year to see the Astros' game-by-game log.

YEAR........THRU JULY..........AUGUST.........SEPT/OCT

2004........52-52 (.500)......17-11 (.607).......22-7 (.759)

2005........57-48 (.543)......13-14 (.481).......18-11 (.621)

2006........49-56 (.467)......17-12 (.586).......16-12 (.571)

2007........46-60 (.434)......15-14 (.517).......12-15 (.444)

Thus, with the exception of 2007, in recent years the Astros indeed have regularly put together strong finishes in August and/or September. Brewers, look out!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Leave it to those L.A. Dodgers to, once again, put together an amazing cold-to-hot pattern. In 2006, as I wrote about at the time:

The Dodgers started off the second half of the season, right after the All-Star Break, by losing 13 out of 14. They've now rebounded by winning 17 of 18...

Now in 2008, beginning August 22 with a loss at Philadelphia and culminating with today's 5-3 win at home against Arizona, the Dodgers have immediately followed up an eight-game losing streak with a winning streak of the same length (game-by-game log).

Given that a team has gone 8-8 during a 16-game stretch, how likely is it that such a record has been accomplished by losing eight straight and then winning eight straight (or vice-versa)?

Perhaps the easiest way to think about this problem is to imagine 16 boxes (representing the number of games) and eight cards, each of which has a "W" on it, for wins. Then we can ask: In how many ways can the eight wins be distributed into the 16 boxes? Obviously, there are lots of ways for this to happen. In addition to winning either the first eight or last eight games, a team might win games 1-2-4-5-7-10-11-12 or games 3-4-5-8-10-13-14-15, for example.

Fortunately, there's a relatively simple formula for determining how many ways eight wins can be distributed among 16 games. It's known as the "n choose k" formula, where in this case, n = 16 and k = 8. Using this online calculator, we find that there are 12,870 possible ways to distribute eight wins in 16 games.

So, indeed, the Dodgers' particular pattern is quite rare. Of course, it was the unusual nature of the sequence that drew me to analyze it in the first place, after the fact.