The significance of winning streaks

cano_250.jpgLET’S TRY THIS AGAIN, 1947 STYLE
A couple of data bits got dropped in yesterday’s entry on Robinson Cano. I’m going to put them in here a bit differently and hope they make it past my normally reliable interlocutors. First, the top ten batters in percentage of runners driven in:

NAME     ROB     %
Joey Votto     118     .237
Joe Mauer     124     .234
Todd Helton     190     .232
Hanley Ramirez     197     .218
Albert Pujols     216     .218
Prince Fielder     249     .217
Bobby Abreu     185     .216
Jarrod Saltalamacchia     100     .210
Evan Longoria     225     .209
Brad Hawpe     206     .209

Next, the batters with the highest percentage of double plays per double play situation:

NAME     DP SIT     DP     DP%
Yadier Molina     41     12     26.8
Mike Lowell     58     15     25.9
Jose Guillen     45     11     24.4
Geovany Soto     50     13     24
Fernando Tatis     42     13     23.8
Chase Headley     47     12     23.4
Austin Kearns     48     11     22.9
Delmon Young     44     10     22.7
Magglio Ordonez     53     14     22.6
Bill Hall     45     10     22.2
Robinson Cano     50     11     22

And now you don’t have to look it up. You also don’t have to look up the fact that, after yesterday’s break for a left-handed pitcher, Cano is back batting fifth again today. As I said in yesterday’s entry, this isn’t the end of the world–lineup variations are vastly overrated, and the Yankees are currently seven for their last seven games. That said, the argument about the batting order is worth having, because although these differences may not be writ large, they can still show up in all kinds of small ways. The Yankees have played 19 one-run games and are 10-9 in those contests. There are more close games coming, and if the Yankees are going to put those in the win column they’ll need every extra run they can get.

The current win streak is a good thing, but shouldn’t be overrated–you’re never as good as you look when you’re winning. At exactly this time 62 years ago, the Yankees reeled off the greatest winning streak in team history to that point, and maybe since then. On June 29, 1947, the Yankees lost the first game of a doubleheader to the Washington Senators. At that moment they were 39-26. That’s a pretty good record, good for a 92-win pace then and a 97-win pace now. In either era, it might be good enough to get you postseason spot in a down year for your league or division, but you’re not dominating, not doing an impression of the 1927 or 1998 Yankees.

The Yankees took the second game of that twin bill, and didn’t look back again for almost three weeks. They won 19 straight games. They swept five series and took both ends of six doubleheaders. They outscored their opponents 119-41. They finally lost a game on July 18, when they were shut out by a good Tigers right-hander named Fred Hutchinson. Thanks to the streak, the race was for all intents over. The Yankees were up by 11.5 games. There were 70 games to go, but the Yankees weren’t going to play that lead back. That fall they won a famous, hotly contested World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. This was the one famous for Bill Bevens’ wild, not-quite no-hit start in Game 4.

Here’s the relevance to the 2009 Yankees: The 1947 team managed to toss the coin 19 times and have it come up heads over and over again. Before the streak they were a .600 team. During the streak, they were, obviously, a 1.000 team. What kind of team were they after the streak? The answer is that they went 39-31. That’s a .550 pace, the equivalent of 89 wins in a 162-game schedule, 85 wins in a 154-game schedule. It’s the same pace as the current Rays, Tigers, Angels, and Giants are on now–a pace good enough to lead one of the softer divisions, but not good enough, for say, the American League East of 2009. Despite the 19-game streak, overall, the 1947 Yankees were just a pretty good edition of the team. Some underlying weaknesses started causing problems the next season, they lost a close race, and fired the manager–but that’s another story.

The point is that a club can never take anything for granted when it’s trying to win, including interpreting a winning streak as meaning that you’re doing everything correctly. The ’47 Yankees didn’t, dealing for starting pitcher Bobo Newsom in the midst of the streak when an injury sidelined rookie righty Spec Shea. You can choose to look upon the discussion of the batting order as a kind of niggling cavil, but I figure that a team that wants to win a championship, that is behind the Red Sox and has yet to win a game against same, would want to pick up every extra hit, walk, and run that it can. The current winning streak is a great thing, but as the 1947 team shows, perfection isn’t perpetual, and can be followed by play that is merely above average. And above average might not win anything this year. Shuffling the batting order isn’t about disrespecting the present, but trying to optimize the club for the future. 

10 Comments

Interesting thoughts. One area where there the analysis may be flawed is your inference that the 39-31 record is an accurate indicator of the ability/quality of the team. Perhaps, with a 11.5 game lead, as you mentioned, the team didn’t play the most urgent/pedal to the mettle-type baseball. They could’ve sat regulars more often, used the bullpen in ways that they normally wouldn’t be used, etc. In which case, the 39-31 record wouldn’t really tell you the true aptitude of the team. In fact, just a few more wins northward would raise them to a .600 percentage, good for 97 wins in a 162-game season, rather than the 89 wins (at the .550 clip).

Well sir, you can talk about the Yankees being inconsistant but the biggest problem thus far with the Yankees is their horrendous play against the Red Sox. One can argue about which team is better, but one thing for certain, the Red Sox are not better to the point of having a 8-0 advantage.

1. I don’t see any Yankees listed in the top 10 for ROB%, which makes it hard to use as an argument that Cano is a worse choice than, say, Posada. And is that for all runners on base, or just those in scoring position?

2. As for double plays, you have to extend the list past the top ten to top 11, and gloss over the fact that there isn’t a huge statistical difference between #8 and #11 is arguably insignificant. Having the whole list, and again seeing if Cano’s numbers have a significant difference between the league average and, more importantly, the rest of the team would be more meaningful.

And Cano goes 3-3 with a walk today , go figure. The point is though. if Cano isn’t a particularly adept guy at bringing guys in, then he shouldn’t bat infront of guys who is making less outs on a rate bases than him, which is …. um… just about everyone on the team. Particularly Swisher and Posada. should both bat in front of him. (That is actually less of a knock against Cano than the amazing fact of how damn complete this lineup is this year. entering this game EVERYONE from 1 through 9 had a OPS of .800 or more if they started Melky at CF.) I also don’t really buy the spliting up theory. since this is a team with *4* legit switch hitter. while neither Cano or Matsui show a particularly strong (negative) split against lefty pitchers anyway. and if you REALLY care that much about the left/right combo, you COULD just bat Matsui 7th, Cabrera 8th, and Cano 9th. though that’s kinda taking it over the top.

I think you’re right that Cano should be lower in the lineup, at least beneath Posada. This is a lineup that, if healthy, is capable of going far (certainly far worse lineups have won championships). But it’s not the lineup that will win or lose a title – it’s the pitching. It’s true that winning streaks can lead to complacency. The club still needs an eighth-inning guy, no question. Got to assume that Hughes will be needed in the rotation before the year is out and find a way to improve the bullpen.
http://thepitchbaseballlife.blogspot.com/

I think you’re right that Cano should be lower in the lineup, at least beneath Posada. This is a lineup that, if healthy, is capable of going far (certainly far worse lineups have won championships). But it’s not the lineup that will win or lose a title – it’s the pitching. It’s true that winning streaks can lead to complacency. The club still needs an eighth-inning guy, no question. Got to assume that Hughes will be needed in the rotation before the year is out and find a way to improve the bullpen.
http://thepitchbaseballlife.blogspot.com/

I think you’re right that Cano should be lower in the lineup, at least beneath Posada. This is a lineup that, if healthy, is capable of going far (certainly far worse lineups have won championships). But it’s not the lineup that will win or lose a title – it’s the pitching. It’s true that winning streaks can lead to complacency. The club still needs an eighth-inning guy, no question. Got to assume that Hughes will be needed in the rotation before the year is out and find a way to improve the bullpen.
http://thepitchbaseballlife.blogspot.com/

so sorry that my comment appeared three times – that was not intentional

You’re right about moving Cano down in the batting order. But I’m confused. If you take out the winning streaks, you take out the games they won. You’re saying, “Without the games they won they’re average”. Well they did win. 19 in a row. Just like we won seven in a row. What’s your point?

Again, before moving Cano, don’t we need to see the same stats for the OTHER YANKEES? What good does it do to compare Cano’s production to Mauer, when we don’t have the ability to put Mauer in our 5 hole?

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