Off-Day Math Speculations: Are We Streaky?

There’s been speculation here at several points about whether the Braves 2018 edition is streaky.  The main reason we might want an answer to that question is the supposition that a streaky team will have trouble when they get into the playoffs unless they get on a long hot streak, because a single cold streak probably eliminates you.

But as a practicing statistician for 35 years, one thing I’ve learned (and it’s not just me… there’s an academic literature here) human beings totally suck at discerning randomness because we’re so good at discovering patterns.  We’re so good at it that we find loads of patterns that aren’t really there.  So why do people think the Braves are streaky?  They look at examples: four wins in a row from June 29th-July 2nd followed by four straight losses from July 3th-6th.   (Indeed, that particular 8 game stretch led to a lot of the speculation, as did July 24th-August 3rd: 4 losses followed by 5 wins.)

But every team has four game win streaks and four game loss streaks.  How do you know that the Braves streaks are unusually high or low?

I’m here to tell you the Braves were no more streaky than you expect an 88-68 team to be.  I have created a very conservative metric of streakiness (conservative in the sense that one ought to expect teams to be somewhat streakier than this metric) and the Braves 2018 season sits right about where you’d expect them to be.

Here’s what I did.  I took 88 wins and 68 losses and scrambled them randomly.  I then looked at the streaks that developed from the scrambled season.  I then did this 10,000 times and looked at the average streak table across all these seasons.  Here’s what I got, compared to what has actually transpired:


An average 88-68 team has 22 one loss streaks and 17.1 one win streaks.  The typical team has an expectation of just over 1 seven game or longer win streak and will lose five or more in a row about every other year.

Look how close the actual values are to the expected values.  The 2018 Braves team looks completely normal for a team that is 88-68.  They do have about 2 more four game losing streaks than you’d expect;  but that is made up for by no 5 game losing streaks.  Similarly, they have an extra 5 game winning streak, but they are short the 7 game winning streak a team this good usually has.  We can run fancy statistical tests which demonstrate that there is nothing particular streaky about the Braves’ 2018 season.  The reason this metric is conservative is that we would expect extra streaks since games are played in series.  If you play a better team than you three or four games in a row, or worse than you three or four games in a row, your chances of getting swept or sweeping ought to be higher than the scramble method I used.

If you want to see a streaky team, go back to the famous 1982 team:



This team combined a 13 game winning streak (something that happens once every 122 years for an 89-73 team) an 11 game losing streak (once every 182 years) as well as three extra 4 game losing streaks and extra three- and six-game losing streaks.  To make up for these extra streaks, they had dramatically fewer two-game streaks, both winning and losing, than expected.  Note by the way, this team had a three game losing streak that bounced them from the playoffs, although there was a rainout that erased a Braves lead in the first game, which convinced me, up until 1995, that God was not a Braves fan.

So the Braves may do well in the playoffs, or not, but it won’t be because they are an unusually streaky team.  They aren’t.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

92 thoughts on “Off-Day Math Speculations: Are We Streaky?”

  1. Holy cow. Good stuff. Do you think the September won-loss results could be considered streaky at all?

  2. Damn, JonathanF. So… if these Braves are not obviously more or less streaky than other teams, in general, do unusually streaky teams do better or worse than expected in the playoffs? These Cardinals and A’s have caught fire sorta like the Rockies did all those years ago. Going into October, do you want to be them, or do you want to be us?

  3. @3: Good point Rob. September has in fact been much streakier than expectation, with a 5-game and a 6-game win streak as well as a 4-game loss streak. But the sample size is so small that it’s hard to prove much from that. Of course, in context this means that the other 5 months of the season have been much less streaky than expected, and those are the ones with a playoff complement of players, not that I know that that makes any difference.

    @4: I dunno. I speculated that streaky teams are more likely to lose in the playoffs, simply because the playoffs are so long and any moderately long bad streak will eliminate you. But I haven’t looked at the data, and to do so would be a lot of work… that I haven’t done. One other avenue of interest would be to see what makes teams streaky. For example, a top of rotation ace should tend to hold losing streaks to 4, while it might tend to shorten winning streaks a bit to the extent that the other starters aren’t as good. Off season data work!

  4. Jonathon, with regards to the playoffs, I think that a different type of streakiness would be more relevant. I have felt like (i.e. the non-statistical type of feeling) that the Braves don’t get swept very much. The essence of a 5-game losing streak is likely losing the last game of one series, getting swept in three games, and losing the first game of the next series. In that sense they could go 2-1, 0-3, 1-2 (which is what a west coast trip might look like). If you never get swept, it’s impossible to have a long losing streak.

    If anything makes me optimistic about the playoffs it’s that I don’t expect the Braves to get swept at any point. That’s why the Dodgers and Rockies scare me the most – we are most likely to be swept on the west coast.

    What do you think of measuring streakiness (which is more a measure of extreme effectiveness against some teams vs. broad effectiveness over all teams) with sweeps vs. non-sweeps against average?

  5. @9: Thanks.

    @8: You could be right, Roger. You could measure streakiness by proclivity to sweeps. The only hesitation I’d have in doing so is that I’m not sure teams have the same number of 2-game, 3-game and 4-game series (or even 1-game in the case of makeup games) and the underlying probability of sweeps would have to be very different by length of series. And as I said above, the influence of any of this on playoff performance is completely speculative.

  6. Interesting data Jonathan. I’m wondering if by “streaky” what we really mean is that the team runs hot and cold more often than randomness would predict. For example, how many times in the season did they go 8-2 or better or 2-8 or worse. Might this give a different picture?

  7. “Former Braves general manager John Coppolella decided to fire Snitker after going 72-90 last season, high-ranking executives with direct knowledge of the plan told USA TODAY Sports. They requested anonymity because the plan was never announced. Snitker, who had been on the job just 1½ years, was going to be replaced by third base coach Ron Washington.

    Coppolella was fired before he could execute the plan, and a month later, banned for life from baseball for extensive international signing rules violations. He repeatedly lied about the activity to MLB investigators.”

    Best story I’ve read in a long time. Especially that pivotal turn where the Coppolella got fired before he could do the firing. Classic villain gets a taste of his own medicine right there.

  8. @14: Great minds, Kirk H. I wondered exactly the same thing. After all, 9-2 is well above normal performance, but can be accomplished with no streak longer than 3. This concept is a lot harder to make precise, though. After struggling with it a bit, I went with the much simpler consecutive-wins-or-losses metric on the theory that while it’s possible to play really well (or poorly) without any streaks, it’s hard. The one place I think this really comes into play is when a manager focuses on winning 3 game series, for example overstacking his lineup on two days and playing a “Sunday lineup” the other day to maximize his chances of two-out-of three by sacrificing some of the probability of three in a row. If this is a thing, I could certainly picture teams who were not streaky (in my sense above) but who would be really vulnerable in the playoffs when you really only ever play your best players.

  9. @15

    I get it, Wren’s Coppy’s a really, really bad guy so everything said about him after his firing is going to be interpreted through the angle that he was a really, really bad guy. Could it have just been that Coppy was preparing to make some big trades in the offseason to make the team a contender, felt the team was ready, and wanted to have the manager he felt was the most probable to be successful. That would have been the narrative, anyway. And it’s incredible what winning does to the narrative.

    “Coppy, though unpopular amongst his peers and suspended the first two months of the season for cheating, built a juggernaut through shrewd trades and intuitive drafting. He also knew who to best serve as field general as well, jettisoning the interim manager and hiring a proven manager.”

  10. Kevin Maitan Update:

    -Now 18 years old, as a reminder.
    -.700 OPS in Rookie ball playing 3B.
    -Ranges from 6th to 11th in different Angels prospects rankings at mid-season. Sickels ranks him a B/B-.
    -Baseball America had him outside their top 10.
    -Fangraphs gave him a future value of 50 at the beginning of the year. I would imagine that would go down a little.

    I find no satisfaction in his struggles, and I think changing teams under the circumstances could have a huge negative impact as he assimilates to the United States and learns professional baseball. But it ended up not being a good first season.

  11. Dusty, do you know where to find swing-and-miss data? My eyes tell me the swing-and-miss on his change-up is really strong, yet he never throws it. Most odd.

  12. @18 His plan was to promote Ron Washington. If that’s a great move, then maybe Ron will be the long term plan for when Snitker inevitably decides to retire.

    I was embellishing in my post @15, but I do think it makes a great story. The guy that pissed everyone off but was the boss, who was getting ready to fire a great employee, himself appropriately got the ax and was shown the door.

  13. 21-haven’t found it per individual just per team. I agree he needs to throw it more, just to mess with the hitter’s timing.

  14. A lot of buzz. Smitty, do you think Pruitt will whip them into shape? What do you think they should do with Quart’e Sapp?

  15. @25

    Sapp-that appears to have been blow out of proportion. Doesn’t look like anything will happen. Something to keep an eye on.

    Pruitt- I have no idea.

    Butch Jones whiffed on a bunch of guys the last 2-3 years. He also poorly developed others. The big name recruits he hit on late have been mostly busts. Pruitt is selling guys on playing time and is recruiting pretty well, but not well enough to fix things for a few years.

    I don’t see anyway this team makes a bowl. They only win 1-2 more games. The lines on both sides have 3-4 players total who are SEC caliber.

    This is a 3-5 year rebuild before they have a chance to be respectable again, unless Pruitt hits more home runs in recruiting.

    Will the fan base wait five years? I doubt it. Fulmer will try and buy him time.

    If he somehow gets this team to a bowl, he should be SEC and National Coach of the Year.

  16. @20, to me the issue isn’t necessarily that Minter doesn’t have a third pitch, its that his fastball isn’t as dominant as it would need to be if you don’t have a more developed arsenal of pitches.

    per Fangraphs, his fastball was a net minus pitch this season. His cutter was his best pitch by far.

    His swing and miss rate also decreased 3% from last year.

  17. Tennessee looks great on the recruiting front considering their condition. Considering their states of upheaval, UT and FSU are both killing it on recruiting.

  18. @16, I had a little time so used your modeling method to determine how often a team with 88 wins over 156 games would be expected to post a given number of wins over a 10 game stretch (there are 147 ten game stretches over 156 games). I then compared that with the results from this season. Here is what I came up with:

    Wins, Expected Occurrences, Actual Occurrences
    0, 0, 0
    1, .4, 0
    2, 2.4, 1
    3, 9.0, 4
    4, 21.4, 17
    5, 34.0, 42
    6, 36.9, 59
    7, 26.8, 22
    8, 12.3, 2
    9, 3.3, 0
    10, .4, 0

    By this metric, I think this says the Braves were much LESS streaky than you would expect. They did not have nearly as many stretches of great or poor performances than you would expect if the results were totally random.

  19. @27 I think Minter only started using the changeup more in August. I only recall him using maybe once before then. Another reason it’s showing up as only 3%.

    @29 You may be right but he was never billed as having the dominant FB. It was the cutter that was supposed to be devastating. What changed was two things – 1) he’s had to pitch a lot more innings this year and 2) it’s the major leagues not the minor leagues.

    The changeup also makes the FB better if used properly.

    The scuttlebutt is that his back is bothering him but I really do think a better pitch mix will help. His FB is 95-96, cutter is 90-91, and CU is 85-86. Seems obvious to me. I think he should use the FB/Cutter to get to two strikes and the throw the CU as the out pitch but only after a FB.

  20. @33

    on it we must feed
    the first out at third?
    implanted, the defense will wish it had never occurred.

  21. Home-runs win in the playoffs. Even the Royals magical run a few years ago included a bunch of dingers.

    You’re looking at at least a couple of games where you might be lucky to get 5 hits. If a couple of those leave the yard then you have a fighting chance.

    I don’t want to watch us make outs on the base-paths. Outs are the clock in baseball, and giving them away drives me crazy.

  22. Speed
    plant the seed
    threaten it, the extra base should rule
    their nerves ajangle, who wants to look a fool.

  23. There is, I suspect, no chance that this game starts on time and very little chance it is over before midnight. Flash flood alerts all over around here.

  24. Radio just said 7:40 first pitch. I guess they want to play in the rain tonight rather than get into a double-header mess.

  25. I don’t know why he’s gone, but his absence has already hurt them; that was a terrible relay throw from culberson on the double off the wall.

  26. I probably would go with Teheran in Game 4 but with a very quick hook. Touissaint had a walk rate over 6 per 9 before this start, which isn’t going to make it better.

  27. Kind of bad luck for Touki, as his last audition was on Duck Night at the ballpark, but yeah…I think you have to cross him off the list of potential starters for the playoffs.

  28. You could still carry Touki, and use him as a high risk, high upside option if Teheran falters in a game 4.

    Or just sweep.

  29. It’s looking more like we will play the Dodgers again.

    They will probably go Kershaw-Buehler-Stripling-Hill.

  30. I was liking the idea that’s been put forth of using Max Fried as the 4th starter. He’s fresh from all the injury time out. He did great against the Cards and Dodgers and poorly against the Brewers. And he did especially well on 20-30 days rest…. LOL

  31. Do we need four starters in the LDS, anyway? I guess since everybody’s used to this 6-man rotation, bringing people back on three days’ rest might not be a super great idea, but I’d seriously consider it, especially if we’re down 2-1.

  32. Since the beginning of August, Teheran has a 3.13 ERA in 54.2 IP with just 4 HR allowed and 25 BB and 52 K. He’s the best Game 4 option.

  33. 54 — Yeah, our guys are used to pitching on 5 days rest now. Folty would be the one coming back on short rest for Game 4. Not sure he can.

  34. Acuna is 3/23 over the last few games including tonight. I hope they haven’t found a weakness in his swing. 11 K’s in that time.

    Sure am glad to see him get a key hit tonight though. Go get’em Ronald!! Make that 4/24.

  35. Chipism of the night: “I don’t think Minter has pitched in the 7th inning all year.”

    This is his 9th game he has appeared in the 7th.

  36. Before this season, Minter’s career high in appearances in his short minor league time was 31.

    This is his 64th appearance this season.

  37. The degree to which the Rockies are blasting the Phillies this week can’t be overstated BTW. The Phillies are so done that the word “done” doesn’t really serve to fully describe it.

  38. Sobotka looks dominant. He can be our K-Rod, coming on late in the season to pitch well in the playoffs.

  39. Another example for not taking the division championship for granted…the Cubs may not win the division after all…

  40. I think Gausman will start Game 1. Forty will start the home game and Sanchez will start the road game depending on where we are for playoff seeding. Most likely Teheran will pitch game 4. We don’t have a super ace worthy of bringing back for game 4 to pitch on short rest.

  41. Why would there be such a huge contrast in Touki’s control in the rain yesterday – fastball vs off speed?

    You might think a wet baseball that can be firmly held and then thrown hard would find its target more readily than one whose grip is more tenuous and has to be ‘pushed’ up there through the rain.

    Mind you, I ain’t ever pitched one. Dry or wet.

  42. I know this will be an unpopular opinion here, but I’d leave Minter off the LDS roster. He appears incapable of getting people out at the moment and I would have zero confidence in him in a high leverage situation.

  43. This is the same logic I have for Newcomb. He is not bad, but he has hit the wall. Leave them aside for now but I expect them to be good again next season. No point to force blind loyalty as they have never been through the whole season before.

    I still think that 130+ pitch no hitter game for Newcomb against the Dodgers was a very bad idea. That’s when he started going downhill.

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