Thursday, May 14, 2009

There Goes the Only Reason to Pay Attention to the Nationals

A few words [on/tangentially related to/somehow inspired by] Ryan Zimmerman's just-ended 30-game hitting streak:
  • Not naming names (or linking links) here, but I can't stand it when my fellow sabermetrically-inclined folk say that they're bored by, or otherwise downplay, events like hitting streaks and no-hitters. Look, they're really just oddities, not statistically meaningful. I get all that, and I bet most non-statheads would too, on most levels. But if you can't get at least a little excited about or intrigued by this sort of thing, you're giving credence to the tired old refrain that we're all just misplaced accountants who don't really like to "watch the games." To each her own and all that, but if you can't bring yourself to appreciate the human interest angles of little stories like this, totally fine, but please do the rest of us a favor and shut the hell up about it. It's not like there aren't other things to talk about.

  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, David Pinto has been all over the streak these last few days, with pithy little tidbits like this and this (along with a bunch of other, more news-y updates). My favorite part is this, explaining why the league-wide "hit average" going up eight points has led to a hugely increased frequency of long hit streaks:
    So the probability of a player getting a hit in a four at bat game prior to 1996 was 0.646. In the later period, that’s up to 0.66. That doesn’t seem like much, but remember, we’re talking about long streaks here, so we’re multiplying. The chance of a player hitting in the next 29 games goes from .00000314 to .00000584, nearly double. Now, figure that over all possible players playing at least 29 batting games, and you can see how batting streaks would have increased.
  • I'd really like to be good with numbers.

  • There have been 199 hitting streaks of at least 20 games since 1980, by my count, which is probably six or seven times as many as I would've guessed. Zim's is just the fifteenth in that span, however, to last as long as 30 games. Of those fifteen, Zim's is the eighth to have ended at exactly 30 games. Kind of weird, right?

  • I just remembered that I was at one of those streak-snapping 31st games, Sandy Alomar's at the Metrodome in July of 1997. That's one of the least enjoyable notable games to be present for, since of course you're really there hoping he does get a hit (even when he's on the other team...especially when your own team sucks).

  • Of the fifteen thirty-plus-gamers, only three -- Hal Morris, Vladimir Guerrero, and George Brett -- had career batting averages of over .300 through the year of their streak, though four more of them were over .290. Zimmerman's career average sits at .288 (though, interestingly, he's never had a full season end that high). Anyway, they're all over the map. Eric Davis had the lowest career average at the time of his streak, at .269.

  • A more common thread connecting the 30-game-streak club is that they're all free swingers; you don't get a hit a day by walking a whole lot. None of the fifteen had ever walked 80 times in a year as of the season in which he had his streak (Vlad, Brett, and Luis Gonzalez did it in seasons coming after their streaks...but all with the aid of more than 20 intentional passes), and for most of them, even 70 walks was a pipe dream. Benito Santiago, for instance, hit .300 with a .324 on-base percentage (16 walks) in his "streak year" of 1987. Rollins, Guerrero, Morris, Alomar Jr., and Nomar have very little to talk about with the likes of Jack Cust and Adam Dunn at hitters' cocktail parties.

  • The best performance during a 30-game streak, predictably, was by the great George Brett; in the middle of his .390 season of 1980, Brett hit .467/.504/.746 (1.250 OPS) while hitting in 30 straight games from July 18 to August 18. Paul Molitor deserves a mention, too: he's had the longest streak in this time frame, a 39-gamer in 1987, and posted a 1.178 OPS throughout.

  • The "worst" performance during a 30-game streak, also predictably, was turned in by Jerome Walton. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1989, his only decent year with the bat, and hit in 30 straight from July 21 to August 20, putting up an .801 OPS that wasn't all that much better than his year-long .721 line. Dishonorable mention goes to Willy Taveras, he of the 74 career OPS+, who hit in 30 straight games while still managing only an .830 OPS (though that was a good sight better than his putrid year-long .672).

  • In one of his posts on the subject, Pinto wondered whether this year's Nationals were the worst team ever to have a hitter with a streak this long, and the answer, since 1980, is...well, probably. Vlad's 1999 Expos lost 94 games; at 11-21 entering today, the Nationals would have to play .438 ball the rest of the way (57-73) to lose only 94 games. Not a terribly lofty goal, but I don't see it happening, do you? [Edit: Benito's '87 Pads lost 97. So the Nats will have some fairly stiff competition for that title, actually, but I still have faith in them.]

  • The stat report I set up to look at all these streaks, if you're interested, is here.

1 comment:

  1. I gotta give props to Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar Jr-as catchers, hitting in at least 30 straight and taking a beating behind the dish is very impressive.