Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Novak Djokovic's quarter-final opponent at the French Open, Fabio Fognini, defaulted before ever taking the court, a result of Fognini's grueling (though victorious) match in the previous round. The default win does not count as part of Djokovic's winning streak, which remains at 43 (41 to start the 2011 season). Djokovic next faces Roger Federer Friday in the semi-finals.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Novak Djokovic wins again at the French Open, putting him in the quarter-finals. Here's the updated chart (on which you may click to enlarge):

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Novak Djokovic has won again, taking his darkness-suspended third-round match in the French Open against Juan Martin del Potro. Here is the updated chart, which you may click to enlarge.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Earlier this week, the University of Florida won the NCAA women's tennis team championship, defeating host school and No. 1 seed Stanford, 4-3. According to this article:

The second-seeded Gators (31-1)... end[ed] top-seeded Stanford’s (28-1) NCAA-record 184 consecutive home-match win streak and its 47-match overall win streak. Stanford has not lost at home since Feb. 27, 1999 in a 5-4 loss to Cal and had not dropped a decision since a loss at UCLA on Feb. 26, 2010.

Halting Stanford's 12-year home winning streak did not come easily for Florida. In what turned out to be the decisive match, the Gators' Lauren Embree came back from 4-0 down in the third set to win.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

When evaluating the magnitude of a given streak, it is important to consider the streak's precise definition. Rarely is such attention to detail more important than in the current pitching struggles of Toronto's Jo-Jo Reyes. During Reyes's skid, his official win-loss record has been 0-13, far short Anthony Young's mark of 0-27 during stretches of the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Yet, Reyes is taking plenty of grief in the sports media.

The key to understanding the attention being garnered by Reyes, in my view, is the fact that pitching wins and losses are not exhaustive categories. In other words, a pitcher can be credited not only with a win or loss for a given stint on the mound, but also a no-decision (other categories, such as save and hold, are available for relief appearances). If we say a pitcher has a "losing streak," we're talking about repeatedly getting an actual "L" on the scorecard. If we say that a pitcher has a "winless streak," on the other hand, we're talking about all outcomes other than a "W," primarily L's or no-decisions.

Young's streak was a losing streak -- the number of consecutive times he received a loss decision in games where he got some kind of official W-or-L decision. By this definition, he lost 27 consecutive games.

In Reyes's case, his dubious achievement consists of starting 28 consecutive games and not coming away with a win in any of them -- in other words, a winless streak. This length of winless streak is a major-league record, which Reyes now shares with two other pitchers. By failing to win in his next start (if Toronto will start him anymore), Reyes would hold the record all by himself. As noted above, Reyes has a win-loss record of 0-13 during his streak, but in theory, it could be 0-0 if he had 28 straight no-decisions.

I have created the graph below with the aim of clarifying the situation. It shows all of Young's and Reyes's pitching appearances (in many of which they were sent to the showers) during their respective streaks. You may click on the graph to enlarge it.


The data come from the website Baseball Reference (Young 1992, 1993; Reyes 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011).

Young's 27 losses fell within the scope of 79 consecutive games he pitched, spanning two seasons, in which he never achieved a win. As can be seen, he had a bunch of no-decisions and, on a positive note, some saves in a relief role. There clearly were games during the losing streak during which Young pitched well and easily could have gotten a win with better luck (here and here). But with a starting hurler's prospects for a win or a loss partially under the control of the hitters and relief pitchers on his team, a good showing on the mound isn't necessarily enough for a win.

Early in Reyes's streak, he suffered a string of five losses in five starts. Ever since, his losses have tended to come not in bunches, but sporadically, amidst large numbers of no-decisions.

What to conclude about these two pitchers? In Young's favor, his loss total during his doldrums tells us that he was the pitcher of record when the opposing team scored its winning run(s) about a third of the time (27/79), whereas for Reyes, the figure is nearly one-half (13/28 starts). Also, whereas Young did not achieve any wins during his streak, he did achieve the objective his team gave him -- holding or saving a lead -- during some of his relief appearances.

Because of his predominant role of starter, Reyes cannot be said to have achieved his and his team's objective of winning games; he may have successfully kept his team in contention some of the time, however.

Further parameters, such as each pitcher's actual numbers of earned runs allowed and run support from his teammates, are necessary for a more complete evaluation of what happened with Young and what is currently going on with Reyes. However, such elements are beyond the scope of the current posting and will need to be revisited later.

***

Fittingly for an NBA playoff season that has featured many dramatic scoring runs, the Miami Heat outscored Chicago 18-3 over the final three minutes Thursday night to edge the Bulls, 83-80, and capture the Eastern Conference finals in five games.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Novak Djokovic won his second-round match in the French Open and 41st straight match overall, warranting the following update to the Djokovic win chart (click on the chart to enlarge it and here for background information).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A multi-sport day of streakiness-related news...

The Oklahoma City Thunder laid another egg against the Dallas Mavericks last night, in the NBA Western Conference finals. Leading 99-84 with roughly five minutes left in the game, OKC gave up a 17-2 run, which sent the game to overtime. There, Dallas took over and won 112-105, giving the Mavs a 3-1 series lead.

***

St. Louis Cardinal slugger Albert Pujols ended a massive home run drought. According to this article: "Pujols had gone 105 at-bats, and 119 plate appearances, since his last home run on April 23. Both were the longest homerless streaks of his career." A whole month for Pujols without a homer? Amazing.

[Update. Kevin Lai, writing at Hardball Times, provides a sophisticated statistical analysis of Pujols's drought.]

***

In looking over the website for the French Open tennis tournament, I noticed that the statistical features for following a given match include a "Momentum Meter" from IBM (apparently, this feature has been around for a few Grand Slam tournaments already, but I just noticed it). Here's an example, from an early-round French Open women's match. As can be seen, each player's momentum is graphed from the beginning to the end of the match, sort of like the stock market's value during the day. Certain plays are picked out as "turning points."

I did some searching of the web to try to learn how momentum and turning points are defined, but I didn't find a whole lot. According to this article, the Momentum Meter displays "an overall swing of player success, calculated algorithmically from match data... [when] a player is particularly on top of their game, [exhibiting fewer] unforced errors, holding their service games [,] etc." I'm particularly curious about whether turning points are determined by some mathematical analysis of inflection points in players' momentum values or subjectively by a rater.

Monday, May 23, 2011

With today's first-round win in the French Open, Novak Djokovic extended his overall winning streak to 40 and his 2011 season-opening streak to 38. This ESPN.com article includes a chart of the longest men's winning streaks in tennis's Open Era (i.e., from 1968 onward, when professionals were allowed into the Grand Slam tournaments).

The longest overall streak is 46, set by Guillermo Vilas from July-September 1977. The longest streak to open a season is 42, set by John McEnroe in 1984.

Djokovic's website has a match-by-match log, which I've used to create to the following graphic (you may click on it to enlarge).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Consistent with the team's name, the Oklahoma City Thunder created a lot of loud, banging noises in its 93-87 loss to the Dallas Mavericks last night. Hitting only 1-of-17 on three-point attempts, the Thunder thus clanged a lot of distant shots off the rims! Dallas now leads the series 2-1.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Having tied Miami 73-all with 7:16 remaining in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, the Chicago Bulls got the cold hand. They made only 1 of their last 11 shots and fell to the Heat 85-75 (see fourth quarter play-by-play sheet). The series is now tied at a game apiece.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday night's 121-112 Dallas win over Oklahoma City in Game 1 of the teams' NBA Western Conference final series featured quite a bit of streakiness-related matter, the kind that revs up my brain thinking of what kinds of analyses to do.

Most notably, the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki went a perfect 24-of-24 at the free-throw line and made 10 of his first 11 field-goal attempts. The perfect night at the stripe -- which set a new NBA playoff record for consecutive made free throws -- might not have been as unlikely as one might expect.

Nowitzki's lifetime postseason free-throw percentage (as of this moment) is .886. Just as the probability of rolling double-sixes on a pair of dice is the probability of a six on one die (1/6) raised to the second power (for two dice), yielding 1/36, the probability of Nowitzki making 24 straight free throws given his long-term average is .886 to the 24th (assuming the outcome of each shot is independent of all other shots). That yields .05, which while not large in an absolute sense, seems pretty large for a probability of achieving something that would be a new NBA record!

Further, Nowitzki had hit 15-of-16 free-throw attempts in the previous round against the L.A. Lakers (for whatever reason, he didn't get to the line much in that series). And in a famous 2003 playoff game against San Antonio in which the Mavericks made 49 straight free throws, the 7-foot German contributed a perfect 17-of-17. Enough on Nowitzki.

The Mavericks-Thunder opener also featured a number of team runs, in which one squad outscored the other by a wide margin over a relatively short stretch of time (play-by-play sheet). Below, I have charted these spurts (you may click on the graphic to enlarge it).



Across the top of each panel are running score totals that either team could have, during selected stretches of the game. In the darker shades of color (blue for Dallas, orange for Oklahoma City) are the major spurts. The Mavericks had two during the early-mid phases of the game, outscoring the Thunder 9-0 to erase an early deficit and 21-4 to turn the game around. Oklahoma City had a late 10-0 run to make the game closer, but ultimately there was no Thunder Road to victory.

[Updated Wednesday afternoon, May 18.]

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another Sunday, another championship for men's tennis star Novak Djokovic. This time, it's in the Italian Open, 6-4, 6-4, over Rafael Nadal. With the victory, Djokovic's winning streak is up to 37 matches in 2011, 39 counting two Davis Cup matches at the end of 2010. Djokovic's website has a match-by-match log, which is available here. John McEnroe holds the modern (if not all-time) record with 42 straight match wins to open a season (1984).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

LeBron James has, time and time again, shown the ability to take over a game. He and his Miami Heat teammates did it again tonight, as described in this AP/ESPN.com article:

Dwyane Wade scored 34 points, James added 33 -- including the game's last 10 in a spectacular closing flourish, part of Miami's 16-0 run over the final 4:15 -- and the Heat beat the Celtics 97-87 on Wednesday night to win their Eastern Conference semifinal series in five games.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Today was a good day for Serbian athletes.

Novak Djokovic extended his 2011 win-loss record to 32-0 and his overall winning streak to 34 matches, by besting Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-4 in the Madrid Open tennis tournament.

***

When the Dallas Mavericks this past January signed Peja Stojakovic, a longtime star with the Sacramento Kings turned injury-plagued journeyman, owner Mark Cuban tweeted the following, according to this ESPNDallas.com article:

"Peja is now a Mav ! Time to let him drop some of those 3s on the bad guys."

Though some may think of the L.A. Lakers as "bad guys," we'll assume Cuban simply meant "Maverick opponents." Regardless, though, Stojakovic today did what he was brought in to do, hitting 6-of-6 from behind the arc and teaming with Jason Terry, who was 9-of-10 from long distance himself, as Dallas throttled the Lakers 122-86 to finish off a four-game sweep of their NBA playoff series (box score).

 A 26-8 run in the second-quarter, which extended a 37-30 Dallas lead to 63-38, effectively brought the game to an early conclusion.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Dallas Mavericks outscored the L.A. Lakers 17-5 in the final 4:33 of Game 3 of their NBA playoff series, to overcome an 87-81 deficit and win 98-92. The Mavs now lead 3-0.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The L.A. Lakers had the cold hand from behind the three-point arc Wednesday night -- missing their first 15 long-distance attempts -- as they lost, 93-81, and thus fell behind Dallas two games to none in the teams' NBA second-round playoff series.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The L.A. Dodgers' Andre Ethier last night made it 28 consecutive games in which he's gotten at least one hit. He is now at the halfway point to Joe DiMaggio's record 56-game hitting streak. As a more immediate and realistic target, Ethier is well within reach of the L.A. (post-Brooklyn) Dodger franchise record of 31, held by the late Willie Davis.

As can be seen on this all-time list of hitting streaks of 30 games and longer, some leading streaks of recent vintage include Jimmy Rollins, 38 (2005-2006); Luis Castillo, 35 (2002); and Chase Utley, 35 (2006). Four players in the 2000s reached 30 straight games (Albert Pujols, 2003; Willy Taveras, 2006; Moises Alou, 2007; Ryan Zimmerman, 2009).

[UPDATE, May 5: Today's Los Angeles Times features a retrospective on Willie Davis's streak and his career more generally. Meanwhile, Ethier is sitting on a 29-game hitting streak, having sat out yesterday's game due to an elbow injury. The Dodgers have a travel day today, which gives Ethier a two-day break.]

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Tennis's Novak Djokovic has now won 29 matches in a row (27-0 this year) after taking the Serbia Open in his home country.