MLB Hot and Cold Streaks

By: Jim Feist | Thursday, June 23, 2016

Baseball is a game of stats and streaks.  Boston began this season with high expectations, which didn't pan out during an 8-9 start.  However, a 16-5 run followed and they've been in contention for the AL East title ever since.  The Seattle Mariners started worse, at 5-8 and 8-9 before the offense started to rack up hits -- and wins. 

Last year the Kansas City Royals got off to a sizzling 28-14 start -- then they dropped 9 of 11.  Would the real Royals please stand up?  They did in October, winning their second straight ALCS and their first World Series title since 1985. 

From a betting perspective, streaks need to be approached with a careful eye and a cautious head.  Playing against "the law of averages" is no way to wager.  For example, some bettors think, "This team has won nine in a row, therefore it is time to bet against them, as they are due for a losing streak." This doesn't work in the world of eleven-to-ten. 

A little perspective: A few years ago the Giants were 46-40, losing seven of nine heading into the All-Star break.  That same San Francisco squad celebrated a World Series title that October. 

Five years ago this week the Cardinals were 41-38 after dropping their third in a row.   They won the whole thing in October.  Six years ago at this time the Giants lost seven straight games and 13 of 18.  They didn't look like postseason material while sitting at 40-39, but put it all together down the stretch for a World Series title. 

Remember the high payroll Dodgers a year ago?  With Kershaw and Greinke they'd never have a rough patch, right? That team started 2-3 and had a stretch losing seven of ten before the All-Star break. 

Five years ago the Yankees started 0-3 and 21-21 with all kinds of problems with pitching, before turning things around and winning the division.  In recent campaigns the Tigers started the season losing seven straight games, despite being favored in the first five.  In 2009 the Florida Marlins started 11-1 before going in a massive funk, not even coming close to the postseason. 

There will be all kinds of streaks over the course of a 162-game season: Consecutive shutout innings thrown by pitchers, a batter hitting safely in X number of games, or consecutive saves by a closer.

Before winning their first World Series title since 1918, the Boston Red Sox played close to .500 baseball much of the 2004 season from May through mid-August. Starting on August 16, the Sox won six in a row.  If you supported the law of averages, you might conclude that the Sox would be due for several losses and bet against them. In fact, they did lose, 3-0 to Toronto ending that streak - only to then go on a ten-game win streak.  When that streak ended, they won nine of the next 12 games.  The "anticipated" losing streak never arrived. Simply put, the law of averages can't predict what is going to happen the next game, or the next ten games.

Some teams can slip out of a funk that had gone on for months, as that Red Sox squad did, and begin to play very well, while others do not.  In fact, that is the point -- there are almost always tangible reasons why a team goes on hot or cold streaks, more so than the law of averages. 

You will see 10-game win streaks, 10-game losing streaks, pitchers ripping off 7-straight wins, teams losing 4-straight one-run games.  All these add to the excitement and interest in the game. 

Injuries can play a role, too, especially if an ace pitcher is out, and other times teams go into a collective hitting or pitching slump, like the 2011 Red Sox in September.  Think about the talented 2007 NY Mets.  They ended the year 5-12, blowing the division lead to the Phillies.  If you had bet on them the last week with the reasoning, "They're too good to keep playing this bad," you would have lost your shirt when they went 1-6 against the Nationals and Marlins, two of the worst teams in baseball.

At the start of the 1988 season the Baltimore Orioles lost their first 21 games.   Sports bettors playing the law of averages hoping the Orioles "were due to win" blew out their betting bankrolls before May 1st.  Overall, it is better to ride a hot team or continue to bet against a cold team, than to rely on the law of averages and bet the other way.

For more of Jim Feist click here.

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