Friday, May 15, 2009

First to Third: Do Hitting Streaks Matter?

As a lifelong baseball fan, I recognize the importance of numbers to the game: Hank Aaron's 755 home runs, Pete Rose's 4,256 hits, Ty Cobb's .367 career batting average, and Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak are among the game's most hallowed stats. As I mentioned Ryan Zimmerman's hitting streak as it hit 30 games Tuesday, it came as an absolute shock to me when the person I was discussing this with couldn't care less about Zimmerman's streak, DiMaggio's streak, or hitting streaks in general. To be honest with you, I think my friend is a bad baseball fan.

Good baseball fans recognize the difficulty of being able to get one hit, let alone one hit every single game for a month or two. That's why good hitters have success at the plate 30% of the time (that's a .300 batting average). In the history of baseball, there have only been 53 hitting streaks to last at least 30 games and six that last 40 games. Baseball has been around for over 100 years. 53 is not a lot. The difficulty of hitting a baseball somewhere that enables the batter to reach base coupled with baseball's infatuation with numbers is why hitting streaks matter and why long streaks are rare and special.

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