Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Mathematics of Hitting Streaks

With the hope that there's actually someone other than my coauthors reading these posts once the college football season arrives (when the hits to the old page understandably ramped up in past years), one of the upsides to transitioning to a blog is to provide easy pointers to other interesting work in the mathematics and statistics of sports.

There are a pair of papers about hitting streaks that have appeared on in the past year. Making things particularly interesting, these two papers take completely different methodological approaches. Sam Arbesman and Steve Strogatz "examine Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and look at its likelihood, using a number of simple models. And it turns out that, contrary to many people’s expectations, an extreme streak, while unlikely in any given year, is not unlikely to have occurred about once within the history of baseball." Meanwhile, Trent McCotter uses permutation tests to find that there appear to have been a significantly larger number of 20-25 game streaks in real life than one would obtain in an independent-games model. You can hear Steve talk more about both studies in a Radiolab podcast from earlier this summer.

Finally, for perhaps the only timely element of this post, Steve has a new book just out this past week, The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life while Corresponding about Math. If it's like everything else Steve does, it will be amazing.

Addition (29Aug): For more discussion about hitting streaks, other streaks, and the way that people tend to overinterpret streaks, check out Leonard Mlodinow's interesting WSJ essay, "The Triumph of the Random."

Another addition (31Aug): Trent McCotter's second N&O column is about hitting streaks, with a decidedly local-to-NC flavor ("Zimmerman best in state at hitting streaks").

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