Monday, April 23, 2012

Pitcher Colon Throws 38 Straight Strikes

Last Wednesday night, the Oakland Athletics' 38-year-old Bartolo Colon threw 38 consecutive strikes in shutting out the Angels 6-0. (My thanks to Richard Zitrin, whose message to the SABR discussion group brought Colon's streak to my attention.)

This article provides links to statistical breakdowns of Colon's consecutive-strikes streak and to a video of the sequence (less than four minutes long, edited to include only the pitches and related game action). The streak is said to be the longest of its kind since at least 1988. There's an aspect of the streak that makes me wonder if it can really be considered official, however.

Embedded within the 38 pitches are 10 balls put in play. For example, on one of the pitches in the video (the one resulting in the Angels' first out of the seventh inning), the broadcaster says, "That's a strike... and it's grounded to short."

A called strike by the umpire, a swing-and-miss, and a foul ball are all officially designated as strikes (putting aside whether a foul with two strikes is officially deemed a strike). On a ball put in play, I wondered, what authority is there for someone seemingly to pronounce a pitch a strike because it looked to be in the strike zone.

I sent my own message to the SABR group, as did other members, and a bit of a discussion got going. Dvd Avins wrote in that, "...all balls in play are always considered strikes for this purpose... So I very much doubt that the streak, as reported, depends on the announcer's or anyone else's perception of what pitches would have been called had a batter not swung."

My view is that it would be more defensible to say either that: (a) on pitches not put in play, Colon threw 28 consecutive strikes; or (b) Colon threw 38 consecutive pitches on which the umpire never called a "ball."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

U of Houston's Inning Hit Streak

This past weekend, the University of Houston baseball team played at Texas Tech. The Cougars lost all three games -- and if not for a rally Sunday to force extra innings, all three losses would have been blowouts. Still, however, UH recorded an unusual offensive accomplishment, of which Tech radio announcers Robert Giovanetti and Mike Gustafson kept listeners informed. Namely, from the sixth inning of Friday's opener to the fourth inning of Sunday's finale, the Cougars recorded at least one hit for 17 straight innings. Below, I've illustrated the streak with red shading based on play-by-play sheets for Friday's, Saturday's, and Sunday's games.

I have no idea whether Houston's streak is a record of any kind. Still, getting hits in 17 straight innings and scoring only four runs during these innings seems pretty rare!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tyshawn Taylor's (Kansas) March Madness Cold Hand

Those who closely followed the recent NCAA men's college basketball tournament are probably aware of the three-point shooting difficulties experienced by Kansas senior guard Tyshawn Taylor. He shot 0-for-21 from beyond the arc in this year's NCAA tourney, getting off the schneid only by making a three in last Monday night's title game vs. Kentucky (on what turned out to be his sole attempt from deep in that game). For the "drama" he created both on and off the court during his four years at KU, this Sporting News article referred to Taylor as a "Shakespearean character."

One of the key points in analyzing hot and cold hands is that streaks can be better understood by looking at the athlete's long-term performance record prior to the streak. For example, a stretch of 50 consecutive made free throws will be more surprising coming from a long-term 70% shooter than from someone who hits 90% from the stripe. For this reason, I examined Taylor's three-point shooting statistics for every game of his collegiate career (this link takes you to Taylor's game-by-game statistical logs, with the ability to select any of his four seasons).

What I found was what I consider a surprisingly consistent pattern in Taylor's career, as shown in the chart below. If you look at the final 10 pre-NCAA-tournament games of each season (when players should be aiming to reach peak sharpness for the important competition ahead), Taylor had three-point shooting percentages in the mid-40s (at least), an impressive level. However, each year, once NCAA March Madness began, he could hardly hit a shot from behind the arc. In four years of NCAA-tournament play combined, he made only 4-of-41 attempts (.098).

Whether Taylor can make the NBA, I don't know. He was a third-team All-America selection this season, so I suppose he has a chance. However, I think we can be confident that, even if he makes it, his role as a professional probably won't be as a three-point specialist!