Tag Archives: hitting streaks

First day of a long season

The always great Tom Scocca on the mental state of Oriole Nation as the 2008 campaign gets underway:

Beyond plain categories of optimism and pessimism live those of us who see a sparkling half-glass of water and know for sure that the Orioles are eventually going to take a crap in it.

More Orioles dyspepsia at Tom’s season preview at Deadspin.

My WNYC piece about sabermetrics and Alex Rodriguez (plus a little Orioles dyspepsia for my fellow orange-and-blackers) can now be heard online.

In today’s New York Times, Samuel Arbesman and Steven Strogatz argue that Joe DiMaggio’s streak wasn’t as miraculous as you think. They ran 10,000 Monte Carlo simultations of the history of major league baseball and found that, 42% of the time, someone had a hitting streak 56 games or longer. In every case, there was some player in some season who put together a hitting streak of at least 39 games.

That’s a nice experiment, but I don’t think it quite justifies the headline. The figure below shows that, in the simulation, long hitting streaks were strongly concentrated in the pre-1905 era, when higher batting averages were more common. In 1894 (the big spike in the chart below) the batting average for the entire National League was well over .300. The relevant question is not so much “is it surprising that someone had a 56-game hitting streak?” but “is it surprising that someone playing baseball under modern conditions had a 56-game hitting streak? And how likely is it ever to happen again?” The number I’d like to see is: of the 10,000 simulated seasons, in how many did a player have a 56-game hitting streak after 1941?

Despite my criticism, I’m delighted the NYTimes published this. The main point — that unlikely-seeming events are actually quite likely, as long as you give them enough chances to happen — is a crucial and subtle one, which should be repeated in a loud voice at every possible opportunity.

Arbeson has a blog which is mostly about computational biology and urban planning, not baseball. Strogatz has no blog, but his book Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order is surely very good, based on the lectures I’ve seen him deliver.

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