Some new research could upset some long-held notions about hot streaks

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For as long as I’ve been following sports — at least following it closely as an adult — there has been big tension between what people say about players in hot streaks and what the data shows. Athletes and most people who cover them have accepted hot streaks — whether they be by shooters in basketball or hitters in baseball — as something that actually influence or predict future events. The stats, however — most notably studies of basketball players in the 1980s which led to the recognition of “the hot hand fallacy” — has strongly suggested that recent past performance in small sample sizes do not predict future events.

One new study, however, presents evidence that hot streaks have predictive power. From James Wagner at the Washington Post:

Green and Zwiebel studied two million MLB at-bats from 2000 to 2011. They neutralized for the abilities of the hitter and pitchers — such as lefty-on-lefty matchups and stadium sizes — and focused on 10 major statistical categories, such as batting averages, home run percentages and strikeout rates.

They found that a hitter’s past 25 at-bats were a significant predictor of his next at-bat. When a player is hot, they found his expected on-base percentage to be 25 to 30 points higher than it would if he were cold. Home run rates jumped 30 percent and strikeout rates dropped. For pitchers in hot streaks, future performance was improved, too.

They don’t reach any hard and fast conclusions here, though there are some which seem plausible. Mostly related, I believe, to a new understanding of what is and what is not “random,” as the hot hand fallacy is based on data related to random events. I’m certainly no statistician so I can’t judge either this or other studies in this vein on their merits with any degree of authority. Maybe this supersedes the last best statistical evidence on the matter. Maybe it’s flawed. I have no idea.

My personal takeaway, though, is that there is always something to learn about baseball. And that rather than try to understand it through opinions held based on personal beliefs, authority and predispositions, it’s better to understand it based on the data. Those who skew old school have always been a bit loathe to do this. Now, however, a favorite concept of the statistically-oriented is being questioned. I’ll be curious to see (a) if this new study holds up to scrutiny; and (b) if it does, how the stats folks take to having some long-held beliefs of their own challenged.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press
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Here are the scores. Oh, and here is the reason why, Bruce Maxwell notwithstanding, you’re not likely to see all that much protesting in Major League Baseball like we saw in football yesterday. Here are the highlights:

Diamondbacks 3, Marlins 2J.D. Martinez hit a two-out, bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to secure the walkoff win and, more importantly, to clinch the top Wild Card position for the Diamondbacks. They had learned they had clinched a postseason spot when it was announced in the fourth inning that the Cardinals and Brewers had each lost, but the hit and home field clincher gave them a nice boost for their postgame celebration.

Rockies 8, Padres 4: The Rockies have been faltering of late, but so has everyone else on their tail for the second Wild Card, so a split with the Padres is Ok for the moment. Gerardo Parra hit a tiebreaking single in a two-run third inning and Pat Valaika and Charlie Blackmon hit back-to-back home runs in the ninth for some insurance as Colorado extends their Wild Card lead to two games. They’ll be the last team playing meaningful games in the 2017 regular season.

Twins 10, Tigers 4: Eduardo Escobar continued his torrid second half, hitting a three run homer, as the Twins complete the four-game sweep. The other teams in the hunt for the second Wild Card should complain to the league office, though, because Minnesota getting to face a Tigers team which is mailing it in so badly that it almost insults the concept of mailing it in as many times as it does in the season’s last ten days is super unfair. They now lead the Angels by four and a half, so the entire AL playoff picture is all but over.

Blue Jays 9, Yankees 5: Jose Bautista probably played his last home game as a Blue Jay — maybe his last home game for anyone — and got a nice sendoff. He also got a couple of hits and  a walk. Aaron Judge hit a couple of homers in a losing cause and is now only one back of Mark McGwire for the rookie record. Fun thing: Jays starter Marcus Stroman warmed up in the bullpen before the game wearing a vintage black Jose Bautista jersey. He had asked a clubhouse attendant to find one for the purpose. The attendant found it in a stadium display case. Stroman: “It’s authenticated. They took it out and let me wear it. I guess they’ll probably wash it and put it back.” Someone should do that with, like, a Babe Ruth or a Willie Mays jersey.

Red Sox 5, Reds 4:  The Reds had a 4-1 lead heading into the eighth, but Mookie Betts doubled with the bases loaded to tie it and then scored from second base on a Rafael Devers infield single for the go-ahead, rally-completing run. The Red Sox’ magic number for the AL East crown is three.

Nationals 4, Mets 2: Max Scherzer struck out ten while allowing one run over six innings to pick up his 16th win of the year. Trea Turner hit a two-run bomb. The Nationals clinched home field advantage for the Division Series, which will probably be against the Cubs.

Orioles 9, Rays 4: J.J. Hardy homered and scored twice. In other news, J.J. Hardy is alive. Nice moment for him, though, as this was almost certainly his last home game as an Oriole.  Chance Sisco also homered, though you’re not going to convince me that his name wasn’t made up by a b-level Hollywood writer trying to create a franchise character. Not sure if “Chance Sisco” is a detective or a bounty hunter, though. I could see it going either way.  Between “Chance Sisco,” “Trey Mancini” and “Manny Machado,” the O’s have to have the best names, aesthetically speaking, in baseball. They should sign a utility infielder named “Cellar Door” to achieve perfection.

Phillies 2, Braves 0: Nick Pivetta and three relievers combine to shut out the Bravos. Maikel Franco homered and Aaron Altherr doubled in a run. The Braves end their inaugural season in Sun Trust Park. Not as terrible a season as some suspected.

Pirates 4, Cardinals 1Starling Marte hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth and Jameson Taillon and five relievers held the Cards to four hits. St. Louis falls two and a half games back of the Rockies for the second Wild Card and are six back of the Cubs with only seven games to play.

Cubs 5, Brewers 0: Jose Quintana pitched a three-hit complete game shutout to push the Cubs to the brink of the NL Central title. Last week’s sweep of the Cardinals and this weekend’s three-of-four from the Brewers was quite the statement from Chicago. They’ll almost certainly clinch the division in St. Louis this week.

White Sox 8, Royals 1Lucas Giolito allowed one hit and one run over seven innings and Avisail Garcia drove in three. The future looks better on the South Side than the past. That’s all that was supposed to be accomplished this season and it has been.

Athletics 8, Rangers 1Jharel Cotton pitched five shutout innings of one-hit ball and Khris Davis hit his 41st homer to give the A’s their seventh straight win. When the series started the Rangers had a legit shot at the second Wild Card. The A’s ended their season for all practical purposes.

Dodgers 3, Giants 1: Clayton Kershaw bounces back nicely from his last start to allow one run on eight hits over eight innings. He picks up his 18th win on the year and reduces his ERA to 2.21. Yasmani Grandal knocked in all of L.A.’s runs via a two-run homer and a sac fly.

Indians 4, Mariners 2: Corey Kluber joins Kershaw in the 18-win club after allowing only two unearned runs and striking out ten over seven innings. It’s his 15th start of the season in which he’s struck out at least ten dudes. I know Ks are cheaper these days, but that’s still pretty dang impressive. Jose Ramirez’s 29th homer of the year broke a 2-2 tie.

Angels 7, Astros 5Luis Valbuena hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the seventh to help the Angels snap a six-game skid that, unfortunately, ended their season for all practical purposes. Brandon Phillips hit his first homer since being traded Aug. 31. In other news, I had forgotten that Brandon Phillips had been traded to the Angels on August 31. It’s been a long season, folks.

Another young fan was struck by a foul ball, this time at Guaranteed Rate Field

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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ESPN reports via the Associated Press that a young boy was struck by a line drive foul ball but was not seriously injured during Sunday afternoon’s game against the Royals. The boy and a woman were escorted by a first aid crew to the concourse area and the boy was later eating ice cream in a luxury suite.

A woman was struck in the face by a foul ball also on the first base side at Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday, but she didn’t request medical assistance.

Last week, a young fan at Yankee Stadium was hit by a line drive foul ball, which motivated several teams to commit to extending protective netting at their ballparks. The Yankees, strangely, were not among them. Nor were the White Sox.