Sunday, April 17, 2016

Obscure Baseball-Card Find: Walt Dropo, Co-Record Holder for Hits in Consecutive At-Bats (12)

As I wrote about in my book Hot Hand, maintaining some types of streaks is more pressure-packed than maintaining others. In baseball, a streak of getting at least one hit per game, while not an easy task, still allows a batter to make one or more outs per game and still potentially preserve the streak. A streak of getting hits in numerous consecutive at-bats, on the other hand, has no margin for error. You make an out and the streak is over.

As I further noted in the book (page 5), the Major League record for most consecutive at-bats getting a hit each time is 12, co-held by Mike "Pinky" Higgins (1938) and Walt Dropo (1952). Think of that: 12 straight hits without making an out! (Because walks and certain other outcomes do not count as official at-bats, players could have walked during their streaks.)

Shortly after my book came out, Trent McCotter, a leading authority on baseball records and old-time hitting streaks, e-mailed me that, "You can also add Johnny Kling, 1902, to that list [with Higgins and Dropo]. I discovered it a few years back." Trent informed me that the famous Elias Sports Bureau accepted this change, and indeed, recent versions of the Elias record book list Kling with Higgins and Dropo.

I saved Trent's message for the next time I wrote about hit streaks in consecutive at-bats, not exactly knowing when that might be. A few months ago, the topic returned, and I have waited until the start of the new baseball season to write about it.

While browsing in a used record/CD/DVD store, which also had a small section on baseball cards, I came upon a Walt Dropo card, which I promptly purchased. (You may click on the following photo to enlarge it.)

Though Dropo's big league career lasted from 1949-1961, the card was issued in 1990, as part of the "Swell" Baseball Greats retrospective series.

The most recent threat to Kling, Higgins, and Dropo's mark that I could find was a stretch in 2002 by the Yankees' Bernie Williams, during which he produced hits in 11 consecutive at-bats.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Here's the Story, of a Man Named... Story

As of a few days ago, I had never heard of Trevor Story, a 23-year-old rookie shortstop for the Colorado Rockies. With so much else going on in the sports world such as March Madness, the Masters, and the Warriors' quest for 73 wins, I just wasn't following the start of the MLB season that closely.

Something has happened in the young baseball season, however, to make a streaks aficionado such as myself take notice. Namely, Story hit two home runs last Monday in his first-ever major-league game and he's maintained a streak of homering at least once in all four of the Rockies' games! I've created the following chart (which you can click to enlarge) to document all of Story's plate-appearances so far this season. (Each game appears on a new line. The numbers after ground-outs [G] and fly-outs [F] are standard fielding position numbers and other abbreviations are explained at the bottom of the chart.)

As this article from last night's game documents, "Story became the first major leaguer to homer in each of his first four games."

Another article notes that, even throwing non-rookies into the mix, Story is just the "[f]ifth player to homer in four straight games to start a season, joining Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis (2013), Texas' Nelson Cruz (2011), St. Louis' Mark McGwire (1998) and San Francisco's Willie Mays (1971)." Pretty good company!

As the above chart reveals, Story has entered the big leagues as a free-swinger. He has no walks in his first 19 plate appearances. In addition to his six home runs, he has four strikeouts (three swinging), seven fly-outs (which includes line-drives), one ground-out, and one single.

The Rockies host the Padres again tonight, with the Colorado rookie trying to homer in his fifth straight game. We'll continue to follow the story...

UPDATE -- END OF STORY: No home run for Story on Saturday night, ending his streak.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Has Buddy Hield Regained His Yield?

With the men's NCAA basketball Final Four getting underway tomorrow, the player getting the most attention is Oklahoma's Buddy Hield. His Sooner squad will face Villanova, with North Carolina and Syracuse meeting in the other semifinal.

Hield has been a rare entity this season -- an actual streaky shooter -- going through sizable stretches of hot shooting, as well as of more mediocre marksmanship. In each of OU's final five non-conference games (from December 12-25), Hield shot .500 or better on threes, with at least five attempts in each contest (game-by-game log).

The first graph below shows Hield's game-by-game success from behind the three-point arc beginning with the start of Big 12 conference play (you can click on the graphics to enlarge them). After a rough outing at Iowa State in the opener (2-of-9), the senior guard went on a tear of eight straight games shooting .500 or better from long distance (the sizes of the basketball icons are proportional to the number of shots taken in each game, and the opponents are indicated by two-letter abbreviations, which is all I could fit in).* At roughly the midpoint of conference play, Hield's hot shooting was bringing him a lot of media attention.  

Hield cooled down during the latter part of Big 12 play, however, shooting in the .300s on treys in seven of OU's last 10 regular-season games (and never higher than .462 during this span). The Big 12 tournament did go well either for Hield, as he shot .333 (2-of-6) in a win over Iowa State and .167 (1-of-6) in a loss to West Virginia.

Once NCAA-tournament action got underway, Hield began to reverse his regular-season slump. In OU's first game, against Cal State Bakersfield (abbreviated as "BK" on the horizontal axis), Hield hit 50% of his three-pointers (3-of-6), his first time at the break-even point in his last 13 games. A .429 (6-of-14) outing against VCU was solid, if not spectacular. Then, after regressing to .286 (2-of-7) vs. Texas A&M, Hield broke out with a .615 (8-of-13) performance from downtown in the Sooners' regional-final rout of Oregon.

Hield's March Madness upturn has involved only a few games, however, so whether or not he's really "back" remains open to debate. Using the statistical technique of local (or "loess") regression to discern larger trends, the results are inconclusive. If the analysis is specified to be highly sensitive or reactive to changes occurring over small numbers of games (left graph, below), there does appear to be a modest NCAA-tournament rise for Hield. However, if the analysis is programmed to less sensitivity and reactivity, and greater smoothness (right graph), no recent rise is detectable

So whether Hield has regained his yield is unclear. Until tomorrow...

*For fans of the Big 12, the abbreviations should be interpretable, albeit odd (e.g., "TC" instead of TCU, "KS" for Kansas State). In the midst of conference play, Oklahoma took on LSU ("LS") in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. In the NCAA tournament, BK = Cal State Bakersfield, VC = Virginia Commonwealth, AM = Texas A&M, and OR = Oregon.