Friday, August 28, 2009

A former student of mine, Julie Salinas, just sent me a link to a New York Times piece on "Statistical Slumps."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

This posting is not about hot hands, but rather about hot feet. It's also not so much about streaks, but simply the magnitude of a performance. What I'm talking about is the world record 9.58 seconds run in the men's 100 meters yesterday by Jamaica's Usain Bolt at the World Championships in Berlin, Germany. As shown below, Bolt has been lowering the world record quite dramatically, in an event where the record used to come down incrementally, often one-hundredth of a second at a time (you can click on the chart to enlarge it).

As you'll recall, Bolt set the previous record at last year's Olympic Games despite slowing down at the end. Yesterday's performance gives us a better idea of what Bolt is capable of when he runs hard the whole way.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tiger Woods had one of his major streaks broken today at the PGA golf championship, at the hands of Y.E. Yang. As described in this article:

Woods was 14-0 when he went into the final round of a major atop the leaderboard. He had not lost any tournament around the world in nine years when leading by two shots.

None of that mattered to Yang, a 37-year-old South Korean who hit the shots everyone expected from Woods. Leading by one on the final hole, Yang slayed golf's giant with a hybrid 3-iron that cleared the bunker and settled 12 feet from the cup.

Yang made the birdie putt and shouted with joy as he pumped his fist. That gave him a 2-under 70, and a three-shot victory when Woods missed yet another short par putt and shot 75.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A week ago, I traveled to Washington, DC to attend the annual convention of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). A highlight was the local area former players' session, with Frank Howard (representing the old Washington Senators) and Rick Dempsey (representing the nearby Baltimore Orioles). With moderator George Michael of "Sports Machine" television fame leading the way, the players provided a lively and thoughtful discussion.

Howard is 6-foot-7, so I wanted to get a picture of him standing up, to dramatize his height. Also, my family is from Los Angeles and Howard played for the Dodgers from 1958-1964; with my 1962 birth year, I would have no recollection of that era, but my father would.

As a prototypical power-hitter for much of his career (until he learned to become more selective and raised his walk totals), Howard could experience both extreme hotness and coldness. On the positive side, between May 12-18, 1968, Howard hit 10 home runs in six games.

On the negative side, however, Howard once struck out seven times in a doubleheader, a record he shares with a few other players. (Howard told the story a little differently at the SABR session, saying that he struck out six straight times and then hit into a double play, thus producing eight outs in seven at-bats. Retrosheet's archived box scores of the games apparently in question -- Game 1 and Game 2 -- do not support this version, however.)

When I mentioned seeing Frank Howard speak at the SABR conference to my dad, he told me that he had seen Howard play basketball for Ohio State against UCLA in Los Angeles way back when. Since I was now in the habit of looking things up, I searched the library website at my home university for documentary evidence of Howard playing a college basketball game in L.A. Here are some brief excerpts of what I found...

When all was said and done, I learned a lot about Frank Howard, namely his highs and lows in the batter's box, and that he had played college basketball. It seems that he was capable of noteworthy performances in either sport, although whether they were beyond chance variation, I don't know.