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What happens after a long winning streak?

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Do they end with a bang or a whimper?

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals have finally had their nine-game winning streak snapped, but there is still a lot of work to be done. They currently trail the Orioles by five games for a playoff spot, and with about six weeks remaining, the Royals will have to stay hot. Does a long winning streak mean they have a good chance of staying hot down the stretch?

I was curious what teams the past few years had done after winning streaks end. I sifted through all winning streaks this decade that were nine games or longer using baseball-reference’s handy Team Winning and Losing Streaks Analyzer.

Two quick disclaimers: First, as with any retrospective study, past performance is not indicative of future results. I had the running title of this “what happened after recent winning streaks ended”; it’s just too cumbersome but keep that in mind. Second, I couldn’t automate a lot of what I was doing so there’s some potential for manual errors.

For each streak, first is the year, team and length of streak. We’ll talk about some of the other columns after all the tables are laid down. For the record, there were 34 separate 9+ game winning streaks during this six-year span.

Raw Data

Year Team Month Length Final W-L Playoffs Loss Next 10
2016 KCR Aug 9 ??? ??? ??? ???
2016 CLE Jun 14 ??? ??? 2 4-6
2016 CHC Jul 11 ??? ??? 2 6-4
2015 TOR Jun 10 93-69 ALCS 2 5-5
2015 TOR Aug 11 93-69 ALCS 2 7-3
2015 NYM Apr 11 90-72 WS 1 3-7
2015 HOU Apr 10 86-76 ALDS 3 4-6
2015 CHC Aug 9 97-65 NLCS 3 6-4
2014 LAA Sep 10 98-64 ALDS 1 4-6
2014 TBR Jul 9 77-85 1 4-6
2014 KCR Jun 10 89-73 WS 4 3-7
2014 MIL Apr 9 82-80 2 4-6
2014 ATL Jun 9 79-83 4 4-6
2014 WAS Aug 10 96-66 NLDS 1 5-5
2014 TOR May 9 83-79 2 6-4
2013 TOR Jun 11 74-88 2 3-7
2013 ATL Apr 10 96-66 NLDS 1 3-7
2013 ATL Aug 14 96-66 NLDS 1 6-4
2013 CLE Sep 10 92-70 ALWC NA NA
2013 OAK Apr 9 96-66 ALDS 2 4-6
2013 DET Aug 12 93-69 ALCS 1 4-6
2013 KCR Jul 9 86-76 1 7-3
2013 LAD Aug 10 92-70 NLCS 2 5-5
2013 MIL Apr 9 74-88 2 3-7
2013 PIT Jun 9 94-68 NLDS 1 4-6
2012 OAK Aug 9 94-68 ALDS 3 6-4
2012 NYY Jun 10 95-67 ALCS 3 5-5
2012 CWS May 9 85-77 1 4-6
2012 CIN Jul 10 97-65 NLDS 1 5-5
2011 DET Sep 12 95-67 ALCS 1 5-5
2011 PHI Jul 9 102-60 NLDS 1 6-4
2011 TEX Jul 12 96-66 WS 2 4-6
2011 BOS Jun 9 90-72 1 5-5
2011 ARZ Sep 9 94-68 NLDS 1 7-3

Fun Notes

  • 2015 had all three playoff opponents of the Royals (although no Royals), including the Jays twice. There was this narrative that the Jays were just scuffling along for two-thirds of the season before turning it on, which was kind of true in the long view. However, they had two 10+ game winning streaks and one was back in June.
  • One of KC’s two appearances on the list was 2014. The Royals were were 29-32 but reeled off 10 in a row to take first place. But then they fell back, bottoming out at 48-50. That started a 16-3 stretch that stormed them into the playoffs (coinciding with the visit from Sung Woo Lee) and we all know what happened then.
  • Also in 2014, the Nationals had 5 of their 10 wins in a row as walkoffs. Toronto had a similar streak but Kansas City ended it.
  • 2013 was a beast to compile. Not only did it have 10(!) different streaks but the Indians ended their regular season on a 10-game streak so they had to be excluded from a couple of other calculations. Then they went out and lost the wild card game against Tampa. The Royals also had a streak during this season as part of the 15-2 stretch after the infamous "15 out of 20" comment by Dayton Moore.
  • There were two teams with a pair of 10+ game winning streaks in a season: the 2015 Jays and 2013 Braves.
  • Speaking of the Royals (3), Braves (3), and Jays (4), they are the only teams to appear on this list more than twice. The A's, Brewers, Tigers, Indians, and Cubs appear twice. Considering how many long losing streaks the Royals had last decade, maybe they were due.

Season Record and Playoffs

Next up are the season record and playoffs. A couple of notes:

  • The last six World Series winners did not have a winning streak of nine games or longer. That is probably just a statistical quirk of such a small sample size. Three World Series participants were there including, of course, the 2014 Royals.
  • 22 of 31 teams with 9+ game winning streaks made the playoffs. That makes sense- the better a team, the more likely it’s going to put together a long winning streak. Not only that, but a 9+ game winning streak sure helps make the playoffs.
  • Only four teams with a 9+ game winning streak had a below .500 record. So, essentially, these are teams who played 76-win baseball or worse the rest of the season but still were able to win 9 in a row. The teams on the list were the 2014 Rays, 2014 Braves, 2013 Jays, and 2013 Brewers. Prior to the 2016 Royals winning streak, they were 53-59, which is, well, a 77-win pace.
  • The average number of wins for a team with a 9+ game winning streak is 90. So, teams that were good enough to have a 9+ winning streak, averaged .530 ball the rest of their season (86-win pace).

Losing Streak

After year, team, and length, I noted the “losing streak” that ended the winning streak. So, if the losing streak was 1, that means the team had their 9+ winning streak, lost a game, and then won the next game. Make sense?

Why look at that? When I'm mowing the lawn or exercising, I like to listen to podcasts. One I frequently enjoy listening to is Soren Petro’s on 810 WHB. Now I know there are some here who just groan when they hear his name (citing Jair Jurrjens, WHIP as an advanced statistic, or whatever). But I enjoy the local sports talk flavor that I miss living out of state, he has some very good guests and is a good interviewer, and I think the show is a step smarter than the average sports talk show (which some may see as damning with faint praise, but I’m a pop-tart eating, mom’s basement dwelling blogger so what do I know).

The experiences he shares from working in Vegas are an interesting look into a different life I’ll never live and also give an interesting shade to his his way of looking at sports. One of the things he has talked about (and I’m probably butchering the below a bit) is how there’s decent money to be made on winning streaks, specifically at the end and betting against the streaking team. Even after the loss that ends the winning streak, Vegas is still giving a bit of an edge to that winning team. Meanwhile, a lot of losing streaks end with a “double thud” (two or more losses).

In the 32 streaks we can look at (we don’t know about the Royals and the pesky 2013 Indians), 15 lost a game and then won the next. However, 17 lost two or more in a row. There were a couple more three-game losing streaks, and the 2014 Royals were one of a pair of teams that lost four in a row after their winning streak. So, if Vegas does give a kiss to teams even after a winning streak, which would make sense, as they’d still be close to their peak record, then there appears to be a chance at an edge there.

Next 10

Finally, while this study likely isn’t predictive. If it were, what would it mean for the Royals in the short term? How many wins did teams in a similar situation win out of the next 10? Of course 10 is impossible (as they had to lose a game to win the streak). Unfortunately, it doesn’t look so good.

  • 3 wins: 5 teams
  • 4 wins: 11 teams
  • 5 wins: 7 teams
  • 6 wins: 6 teams
  • 7 wins: 3 teams

In short, the median is 4.5 (as there are exactly 16 teams 4 or less and 5 or more). Which, I guess makes sense. After the loss to break the streak, teams average .500 the remaining nine games. Unfortunately, that’s not what a team needs if it needed that win streak just to get back into the playoff hunt and needs to keep playing well to gain a playoff spot.

Conclusion

Again, retrospective studies aren’t all that conclusive so this is probably best looked at as fun trivia rather than predictive science. Hopefully whenever the Royals lose, they’ll follow that up with another 9+ game winning streak.