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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.

The Phillies have shut down Jake Thompson

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 03:  Jake Thompson #75 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training game against the Houston Astros at Bright House Field on March 3, 2016 in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Phillies rookie starter Jake Thompson has been shut down for the year. Not that there’s much of the year left, but he will not make what would’ve been his last start.

Thompson allowed three earned runs over four innings in the Phillies’ 17-0 blowout loss to the Mets. That leaves him with a 5.70 ERA in 53.2 innings for the season. Which, while that’s kind of ugly, it was a function of some bad starts mixed in with good starts as opposed to overall badness.

Everything about his 2016 should be viewed as “get yourself used to the big leagues, because you’re going to be part of this rotation in 2017 and beyond,” and from that perspective, you can call 2016 a success.

Congressional candidate uses Jose Fernandez’s death to score political points

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As a horrible Sunday unfolded yesterday there was at least one thing buoying the public mood: the overwhelming outpouring of emotion and love for Jose Fernandez and warm remembrances of his all-too-brief time on Earth.

But it wasn’t a unanimous sentiment. Some people, like this Florida state representative who is currently running for Congress, thought it was a great time to make a political point:

Setting aside the tastelessness of Gaetz’s timing and intent, one wonders if he appreciates that the reason Fernandez risked his life on multiple occasions was specifically so he could live in a country where protesting and not exhibiting a reflexive loyalty and patriotism is a fundamental right and does not get you thrown in jail.

But really, it’s the tastelessness which most galls here.