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


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.

Justin Turner suffers broken wrist after being hit by a pitch

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner left Monday’s Cactus League game against the Athletics after he was hit by a pitch. He went for X-rays, revealing that he suffered a broken wrist, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Shaikin adds that Turner is unlikely to return before May, noting that Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman missed six weeks with a similar injury last year and Astros outfielder George Springer missed nine weeks in 2015.

Needless to say, this is a huge loss for the Dodgers. Last year, Turner hit .322/.415/.530 with 21 home runs and 71 RBI in 543 plate appearances, helping the Dodgers reach the World Series. He made the All-Star team for the first time in his career and finished eighth in NL MVP balloting.

Thankfully, the Dodgers have some versatile players on the roster. Logan Forsythe could move from second base to third, giving Chase Utley more playing time at second. Enrique Hernandez could man the hot corner as well. Chris Taylor has played some third base, or he could shift to second base in Forsythe’s stead. The club should shed some light on how it plans to move forward following Turner’s injury.