Today at Baseball Prospectus the always amazing James Click devoted some mathematical attention (reg req'd) to the current losing streak of a certain midwestern team. While the tendency here has been to link the losing streak to some kind of inherent idea of the team's horrible quality, Click points in a complicated way towards a simple idea: a team's true ability usually isn't a flat .000 winning percentage.
After some heavy statistical lifting, Click writes:
Now, let's assume for a minute that the Royals are actually a .319 team (their current winning percentage). What are the odds that they'll lose any given 18 games in a row? By binomial distribution, we know that that probability is .000984 or approximately 1015.5:1. That seems very impressive, but that's only the probability that they'll lose any given stretch of 18 games. A 162-game season can be viewed as 144 separate 18-game opportunities to lose 18 games in a row. While the Royals chances of losing any given 18-games in 1015.51:, their chances of losing any stretch of 18 games over the course of a 162 game season is actually closer to 6.6:1. What's more, the Royals, given their .319 winning percentage, had a 50:50 chance of losing 13 games in a row at some point during the season...As mentioned above, there seems to be something too this analysis, namely that we're not only watching alot of bad baseball, but also a fairly rare event-distribution, something akin to say, a coin landing tails 15 straight times.
The Royals' streak is already more improbable than all but 2 stretches of 50 games since 1901 as well as those few teams that notched longer pure streaks than they did. But each game that the Royals' lose makes their stretch more and more improbable, likely vaulting them past those few teams remaining ahead of them. Is there some solace to be taken in the fact that the Royals' improbably bad stretch was over one 18-game stretch and not a 50-game valley? Maybe, but if you're looking for the most improbable losing streak in baseball, the Royals' are certainly making a case.
On the other hand, the very nature of the method seems to lend itself in the other direction as well. Maybe the team's month and half of .470 ball immediately before the streak was the real anomaly, and now, a horrendous losing streak is almost a Old Testament version of regression towards the mean.
What the streak has done, which I think that a similar 3-21 stretch wouldn't do, is forced a national and local dialogue about the State of the Royals. I'd be curious to know how many Buddy/Glass/Allard supporters have finally broken down this month, or, conversely, how many apathetic fans have become weirdly energized by the free fall.
From where I sit, the best result of the streak has been the attention called to the team's most glaring problem: a lack of talent. While milder losing methods allow fans, media and management to wax poetic about focus, fundamentals, the little things and strategy, an 18 game losing streak does a nice job of just saying, "you suck".
Oakland, already a contributor to the streak, sits in wait for the Royals after a disapointing series against the Orioles. (B'more still fields a team? I though l'affair du Raffy forced the entire franchise to quit playing in disgust?) As I said yesterday, the exclusive Royals Review win prediction is the second game of the series against Oakland...
When the win comes, we will celebrate madly and consume the finest meats and cheeses. In the meantime, back to writing my lyric poem about the glories of the Muser era.