Closure for Lester (he finally gets a hit)

As the season opened I reported on Jon Lester’s potential to break the record for most hitless at bats to start a career this season, now that he’s batting regularly as a National League pitcher.  Later, I reported on his breaking that record.  Now, at last, there is closure.  On Monday Jon Lester got his first career hit, and it was off former teammate John Lackey (literally – it ricocheted off Lackey).  He tallied 30 AB and 30 plate appearances this season before getting that hit, adding to his prior career totals of 43 PA and 36 AB without a hit.

Here is the new top 10 list:

Name Team(s) Pos PA AB First hitless game Last hitless game Hitless Games RBI SO BB HBP SH SF
Jon Lester BOS-OAK P 73 66 6/16/2006 7/1/2015 30 1 37 1 0 5 1
Joey Hamilton SDP P 66 57 5/24/1994 6/3/1995 24 1 34 2 0 6 1
Ron Herbel SFG P 63 55 5/6/1964 5/11/1965 27 0 36 2 0 6 0
Marv Breuer NYY P 57 to 60 47 to 49 4/27/1940 9/4/1940 20 1 22 or 23 4 or 5 0 6
Luke Walker PIT P 56 48 4/18/1966 4/18/1970 27 2 29 2 0 6 0
Don Carman PHI P 53 48 9/13/1984 5/11/1987 28 0 21 0 0 5 0
Fred Gladding DET-HOU P 49 47 7/1/1961 7/5/1969 40 0 27 0 0 2 0
Chris Short PHI P 45 44 4/19/1959 6/24/1961 26 0 19 0 0 1 0
Randy Tate NYM P 47 41 4/14/1975 9/18/1975 23 0 22 1 0 5 0
Pat Jarvis ATL P 45 41 8/13/1966 6/12/1967 18 1 24 2 0 2 0

Congratulations, Jon. You’ve hit some balls pretty hard to this point in your career, and streak records like this one always involve some luck, either bad or good. Now forget about hitting, because you’ve got more important concerns.

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Mookie Betts challenge to a Red Sox record may have been ruined by a bad call

Mookie Betts is closing in on a Red Sox team record.  Or at least he should be.  The record would be for consecutive multi hit games, and Mookie should now have 7 of these in a row, two shy of the team record of 9.  However on June 17 in Atlanta, Mookie was called out on a bunt hit in the second inning that replays clearly show was an unmistakably bad call.  The Red Sox had blown their challenge in the first inning, however, so the call stood, despite manager John Farrell’s pleadings to the umpire to review the call.  The play went as a sacrifice, so it didn’t cost him an at bat; Betts would finish the game with one official hit.  Officially, his multihit streak now stands at 4 instead of 7 because of this. Here are his official stats over these 7 games:

Name

Dates

Year

Games

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SO

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Mookie Betts

6/15-6/21

2015

7

31

8

18

3

2

2

7

1

1

0.581

0.594

1.000

1.594

Where would he be on the Red Sox all time list had this call been corrected?  The chart below shows all Red Sox multiple-hit game streaks of 7 or more since 1914, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.  Betts’ numbers as they would have been are added in here.  (Though there are likely a few more from before 1914 that should be added to this list, we know none of those missing streaks exceed 9 games, thanks to this SABR article.)

Name

Dates

Year

Games

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SO

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Kevin Youkilis

5/20-5/29

2007

9

40

11

19

8

0

3

8

6

2

0.475

0.500

0.900

1.400

Jim Rice

5/1-5/9

1978

9

35

11

20

3

2

5

17

3

2

0.571

0.590

1.200

1.790

Roy Johnson

6/17-6/23

1934

9

39

11

22

7

0

0

11

0

2

0.564

0.585

0.744

1.329

Ted Williams

4/28-5/6

1940

8

34

12

18

5

2

1

11

1

3

0.529

0.568

0.882

1.450

Dale Alexander

6/19-6/25

1933

8

36

11

18

3

1

1

6

4

2

0.500

0.526

0.722

1.249

Dick Hoblitzell

8/3-8/19

1914

8

26

4

17

3

0

0

5

4

2

0.654

0.679

0.769

1.448

Mookie Betts

6/15-6/21

2015

7

32

8

19

3

2

2

7

1

1

0.594

0.606

1.000

1.606

Adrian Gonzalez

7/24-7/31

2011

7

32

7

17

2

0

1

10

3

2

0.531

0.556

0.688

1.243

Johnny Damon

7/3-7/10

2004

7

38

12

22

1

0

3

8

1

0

0.579

0.579

0.842

1.421

Mo Vaughn

5/15-5/22

1996

7

33

8

15

1

0

5

11

7

3

0.455

0.500

0.939

1.439

Billy Hatcher

5/22-5/29

1993

7

29

7

16

1

1

2

5

3

1

0.552

0.548

0.862

1.410

Marty Barrett

9/7-9/14

1987

7

28

5

16

2

0

1

3

0

1

0.571

0.567

0.750

1.317

Fred Lynn

8/10-8/17

1979

7

26

11

15

2

0

6

13

0

3

0.577

0.621

1.346

1.967

Carl Yastrzemski

6/22-6/27

1965

7

29

6

16

6

0

2

6

3

4

0.552

0.606

0.966

1.572

Billy Goodman

9/6-9/12

1954

7

33

5

14

0

0

0

1

0

1

0.424

0.441

0.424

0.865

Ted Williams

6/21-6/27

1951

7

28

11

16

5

1

0

10

0

5

0.571

0.636

0.821

1.458

Vern Stephens

5/2-5/7

1950

7

30

8

14

2

0

2

7

1

2

0.467

0.500

0.733

1.233

Johnny Pesky

9/5-9/12

1942

7

35

10

18

5

1

0

6

1

2

0.514

0.541

0.714

1.255

Doc Cramer

8/26-8/31

1939

7

32

6

16

1

0

0

3

1

1

0.500

0.515

0.531

1.046

Doc Cramer

6/16-6/24

1939

7

33

10

15

0

2

0

2

0

1

0.455

0.471

0.576

1.046

Ben Chapman

9/2-9/6

1938

7

27

8

17

1

1

1

7

2

6

0.630

0.697

0.852

1.549

Earl Webb

9/14-9/18

1931

7

29

6

15

6

0

1

8

1

1

0.517

0.533

0.828

1.361

Buddy Myer

6/27-7/1

1928

7

30

7

17

4

1

1

5

1

2

0.567

0.594

0.867

1.460

Del Pratt

7/4-7/10

1922

7

32

2

14

1

1

1

6

0

0

0.438

0.438

0.625

1.063

Larry Gardner

8/8-8/16

1916

7

29

4

16

1

1

0

1

1

5

0.552

0.618

0.655

1.273

Tied for 7th, and possibly still counting.

Especially interesting are his overall offensive totals during this run.  Only Jim Rice in 1978 (his best offensive year) and Fred Lynn in 1979 have higher OPS’s.  And this brings a note of consolation.  The best streaks on this list, going by OPS, came from players in the primes of their careers.  Mookie, on the other hand, is just starting his career.  In other words, he’s likely to get a few more shots at topping this list in the years to come.

His official streak of 4 is still going, and based on the above, Mookie Betts is about as hot a hitter right now as any Red Sox player has ever been.  I’ll be watching tonight.

Hitless wonders: Where Jon Lester stands among the leaders in complete futility at the plate

This year we will find out whether Jon Lester will set a new standard for all players. Not in greatness, though, but in futility. And not in pitching, but in hitting.

Jon Lester now has more plate appearances than any active player without a career hit. His 43 plate appearances dwarf the next longest streak of 28, held by Odrisamer Despaigne in his one season thus far pitching for the San Diego Padres. He is also tied for the longest ever stretch of seasons with a plate appearance without a career hit, a record shared with Justin Verlander of the Tigers. Both went hitless in their first 8 seasons of play in which they had a plate appearance. With Verlander getting his first career hits last season though, the record could become Lester’s alone in 2015. But now that he has switched from the American League to the National League by signing with the Cubs, and given how deep into games he pitches, he’ll get a few plate appearances every time he pitches, and a lot more plate appearances on the season than he’s ever had before. The consequence being that he is almost certainly going to end both strings in this coming 2015 season.

It’s not just the increased number of chances, as numerous as they will be (he is bound to match his previous career total of 43 plate appearances by July, and potentially double that total by the end of the season, tripling his career total in the process). He should also have a better chance of getting a hit each time he comes to the plate, due to increased practice time; even if he didn’t put any added emphasis on hitting in preparation for this coming year to avoid having his bat become a much bigger liability to his team, he’ll get more practice in the games themselves, and with greater frequency.

So it seems a good assumption that he won’t set a new mark for seasons at the start of a career with a plate appearance but no hits. But perhaps he could set the mark for the longest string of hitless plate appearance to begin a career. This speculation brought me to the questions, just what is that mark, and how much longer will Lester’s hitless streak have to continue to for him to break it? The answer has not been so easy to come by.

The answers for complete careers without a hit are easier to find. Baseball-reference.com’s Play Index provides that quite easily. If Lester’s career ended today, here is where he’d place on that all-time list:

Name Team(s) Pos PA AB Hitless Games SO BB HBP SH SF
Randy Tate NYM P 47 41 23 22 1 0 5 0
Bo McLaughlin HOU-ATL P 45 37 25 20 3 0 5 0
Tony McKnight HOU-PIT P 44 37 20 16 2 0 5 0
Jon Lester BOS-OAK P 43 36 16 22 1 0 5 1
Daryl Patterson DET-OAK-STL-PIT P 37 35 29 23 2 0 0 0
Armando Galarraga DET-ARI-HOU P 36 31 18 16 3 0 2 0
Charley Stanceu NYY-PHI P 34 31 18 16 2 0 1 0
Ted Davidson CIN-ATL P 34 31 22 19 1 0 2 0

Note that this only counts games from the last 101 years (beginning with 1914).

He’s squarely in fourth place, and not far off the lead. Were Lester to retire after two more games played, he just may well top this list. But that’s not likely to happen.

Getting the list of longest hitless stretches to begin a career proved to be more difficult. I got quite far by making liberal use of the “First to nth seasons” fields in Baseball-reference.com’s Play Index, but that only provided totals for hitless full seasons. To determine exactly how long a given player’s career-opening hitless streak went, I had to add to their prior career total how far into the next season their first career hit came. This let some players slip through the cracks, when their first career hit came deep into a season with a lot of plate appearances in it. I later discovered their streak finder for games, and was able to get a list of hitless games at the start of a career, and sort by number of at bats. This has made things much easier. Adjustments from this list have always proven to be small, and it gives me confidence that I now have a complete list – at least back to 1914.

Here is the list of the longest few hitless stretches to start a career, ordered by number of plate appearances (and please note that strikeout totals in a few cases may be low by 1 or 2 strikeouts):

Name Team(s) Pos PA AB First hitless game Last hitless game Hitless Games RBI SO BB HBP SH SF
Joey Hamilton SDP P 66 57 5/24/1994 6/3/1995 24 1 34 2 0 6 1
Ron Herbel SFG P 63 55 5/6/1964 5/11/1965 27 0 36 2 0 6 0
Marv Breuer NYY P 57 to 60 47 to 49 4/27/1940 9/4/1940 20 1 22 or 23 4 or 5 0 6
Luke Walker PIT P 56 48 4/18/1966 4/18/1970 27 2 29 2 0 6 0
Don Carman PHI P 53 48 9/13/1984 5/11/1987 28 0 21 0 0 5 0
Steve Stone SFG P 50 40 4/8/1971 5/16/1972 24 2 22 6 0 4 0
Fred Gladding DET-HOU P 49 47 7/1/1961 7/5/1969 40 0 27 0 0 2 0
Randy Tate NYM P 47 41 4/14/1975 9/18/1975 23 0 22 1 0 5 0
Roberto Hernandez CLE-TBR-PHI P 47 40 6/12/2007 6/18/2014 22 0 21 0 0 7 0
Denny Neagle PIT P 47 40 4/21/1992 5/16/1994 25 0 11 0 0 7 0
Dick Drago KCR P 47 36 4/11/1969 8/30/1969 21 1 17 2 0 9 0
Darryl Kile HOU P 46 38 4/24/1991 4/8/1992 21 1 23 4 0 4 0
Curt Raydon PIT P 46 36 5/7/1958 9/3/1958 20 1 24 6 0 3 0
Chris Short PHI P 45 44 4/19/1959 6/24/1961 26 0 19 0 0 1 0
Pat Jarvis ATL P 45 41 8/13/1966 6/12/1967 18 1 24 2 0 2 0
Bo McLaughlin HOU-ATL P 45 37 7/20/1976 7/29/1979 25 0 20 3 0 5 0
Brandon McCarthy CHW-TEX-ARI P 44 39 5/22/2005 9/7/2013 19 0 14 2 0 3 0
Tony McKnight HOU-PIT P 44 37 8/10/2000 10/6/2001 20 0 16 2 0 5 0
Miguel Batista CHC-MON P 43 41 8/11/1997 9/25/1998 24 0 26 0 0 2 0
Alex Wood ATL P 43 38 6/18/2013 7/6/2014 21 0 25 2 0 3 0
Jon Lester BOS-OAK P 43 36 6/16/2006 8/17/2014 16 1 22 1 0 5 1
Tom Gorzelanny PIT P 43 36 9/20/2005 5/9/2007 19 1 21 2 1 4 0
Mike Cuellar CIN-STL-HOU P 42 40 4/18/1959 4/25/1966 21 0 20 1 0 1 0
Greg Hibbard CHC P 42 37 4/7/1993 8/3/1993 19 0 9 2 0 3 0
Mark Lemongello HOU P 41 38 9/14/1976 7/4/1977 20 0 15 1 0 2 0
Ted Power LAD-CIN P 41 33 9/14/1981 8/1/1986 32 0 27 3 0 5 0
Brian Moehler DET-CIN-HOU-FLA P 40 36 6/15/1997 5/1/2005 21 0 14 3 0 1 0
Claudio Vargas MON P 40 35 4/26/2003 4/18/2004 20 0 18 1 0 4 0
Vic Harris TEX 2B,3B 39 36 7/21/1972 8/3/1972 12 1 10 3 0 0 0
Manny Sarmiento CIN-PIT P 39 34 7/30/1976 5/10/1982 30 0 10 1 1 3 0
Hideo Nomo LAD P 39 35 5/2/1995 7/5/1995 13 0 19 0 0 4 0
Wilcy Moore NYY P 38 or 39 31 or 32 4/14/1927 7/4/1927 16 1 16 3 0 4 0

Though it’s probably fairer to sort by at bats instead of by plate appearances. Here’s that list:

Name Team(s) Pos PA AB First hitless game Last hitless game Hitless Games RBI SO BB HBP SH SF
Joey Hamilton SDP P 66 57 5/24/1994 6/3/1995 24 1 34 2 0 6 1
Ron Herbel SFG P 63 55 5/6/1964 5/11/1965 27 0 36 2 0 6 0
Marv Breuer NYY P 57 to 60 47 to 49 4/27/1940 9/4/1940 20 1 22 or 23 4 or 5 0 6
Luke Walker PIT P 56 48 4/18/1966 4/18/1970 27 2 29 2 0 6 0
Don Carman PHI P 53 48 9/13/1984 5/11/1987 28 0 21 0 0 5 0
Fred Gladding DET-HOU P 49 47 7/1/1961 7/5/1969 40 0 27 0 0 2 0
Chris Short PHI P 45 44 4/19/1959 6/24/1961 26 0 19 0 0 1 0
Randy Tate NYM P 47 41 4/14/1975 9/18/1975 23 0 22 1 0 5 0
Pat Jarvis ATL P 45 41 8/13/1966 6/12/1967 18 1 24 2 0 2 0
Miguel Batista CHC-MON P 43 41 8/11/1997 9/25/1998 24 0 26 0 0 2 0
Steve Stone SFG P 50 40 4/8/1971 5/16/1972 24 2 22 6 0 4 0
Roberto Hernandez CLE-TBR-PHI P 47 40 6/12/2007 6/18/2014 22 0 21 0 0 7 0
Denny Neagle PIT P 47 40 4/21/1992 5/16/1994 25 0 11 0 0 7 0
Mike Cuellar CIN-STL-HOU P 42 40 4/18/1959 4/25/1966 21 0 20 1 0 1 0
Brandon McCarthy CHW-TEX-ARI P 44 39 5/22/2005 9/7/2013 19 0 14 2 0 3 0
Darryl Kile HOU P 46 38 4/24/1991 4/8/1992 21 1 23 4 0 4 0
Alex Wood ATL P 43 38 6/18/2013 7/6/2014 21 0 25 2 0 3 0
Mark Lemongello HOU P 41 38 9/14/1976 7/4/1977 20 0 15 1 0 2 0
Bo McLaughlin HOU-ATL P 45 37 7/20/1976 7/29/1979 25 0 20 3 0 5 0
Tony McKnight HOU-PIT P 44 37 8/10/2000 10/6/2001 20 0 16 2 0 5 0
Greg Hibbard CHC P 42 37 4/7/1993 8/3/1993 19 0 9 2 0 3 0
Dick Drago KCR P 47 36 4/11/1969 8/30/1969 21 1 17 2 0 9 0
Curt Raydon PIT P 46 36 5/7/1958 9/3/1958 20 1 24 6 0 3 0
Jon Lester BOS-OAK P 43 36 6/16/2006 8/17/2014 16 1 22 1 0 5 1
Tom Gorzelanny PIT P 43 36 9/20/2005 5/9/2007 19 1 21 2 1 4 0
Brian Moehler DET-CIN-HOU-FLA P 40 36 6/15/1997 5/1/2005 21 0 14 3 0 1 0
Vic Harris TEX 2B,3B 39 36 7/21/1972 8/3/1972 12 1 10 3 0 0 0
Wes Stock BAL P 38 36 4/23/1959 6/13/1964 29 0 26 2 0 0 0
Ramon Ortiz ANA-CIN P 38 36 6/9/2001 6/1/2005 15 0 13 1 0 1 0
Billy McCool CIN P 37 36 5/8/1964 8/17/1965 29 0 20 0 0 1 0

That puts Lester in a tie for 19th place overall when going by plate appearances, and tied for 22nd overall when going by at bats. However, after his first two starts of the season, he could very likely reach 6th and 8th on these lists respectively. Barring injury, we should know no later than June whether he takes the overall record of 66 PA and 57 AB away from Joey Hamilton.

Some interesting observations I made along the way in tabulating these lists:

As one might expect, all the top positions on these lists are held by pitchers. Vic Harris leads position players with 39 PA and 36 AB.

My list goes out to about the top 45 or so players. Of these, most got a single for their first hit, but about 10% got doubles. The only one to break through with a home run was Stephen Vogt, a catcher and outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s who did so in 2013.

About 10% got two hits in the game in which they ended their streak. Highest on the list to do so was Marv Breuer, who went 2 for 4 with a walk and double and scored 2 runs in the game in which he ended his streak. I don’t have game details for his breakthrough game, so I can’t tell if the hits were consecutive. Pat Jarvis, at around 9th place on these lists, did get a hit in the next plate appearance after his first hit, having going 0-for-41 before his first hit.

Most players on these lists struck out more than half the time.

Previously I mentioned that Lester and Verlander were tied for most seasons with a plate appearance without a career hit. It is notable that they are both American League pitchers playing in the era of the designated hitter and also in the era of interleague play. This affords the best chance at such a streak, giving each only a few plate appearances per year; not enough for them to care about their hitting all that much, and of course meaning a “string of bad luck” can go a long way by lasting over several seasons.

Predictions for all the division series

So far of the 3 predictions I’ve made this October that have been tested, 2 ended up being correct:

  1. Rays beat Rangers on the strength of David Price’s performance: correct.
  2. Pirates beat Reds because it’s just the right ending: correct (the Pirates fans pretty much willed them to win).
  3. Indians defeat Rays: incorrect.

So, not bad so far.  I am emboldened to make some division series predictions now!

I’ve already called the Red Sox and A’s as winners.  Let’s add the Pirates and the Dodgers to the mix.  But let’s also get a little more specific.

Red Sox’s “rust” from not having played live baseball since Sunday could cost them game 1 against the Rays, despite their efforts to create some game-like intensity for Wednesday’s scrimmage, including letting fans come watch, a move I have publicly encouraged.  We’ve seen the effects of this many times before; perhaps none so clear as in the 2004 ALCS (also notable in my memory is the 2007 World Series).  So I won’t call game 1 either way, despite the Red Sox having home field and having their pitching lined up the way they like.  I’ll just say that neither team scores more than 5 runs in the first 9.  I will predict that the Red Sox will take every game starting with Game 2.

Rust won’t be a factor for A’s and Tigers who’ve had equal amounts of rest.  It’ll be a good matchup, so A’s in 5 games.  I won’t call specific games except as implied by the series going 5 games … so basically games 1-3 will be split, game 4 will be taken by whoever trails in the series, and game 5 will be taken by the A’s.

The Pirates will have a better chance against St. Louis than some may think, and I don’t think they can lose at home in this series with the best “10th Man” going in their very enthusiastic fans.  I think they can take 1 of 3 in St. Louis, so it’s just a question of which one.  I’ll play the rust card here again (hmm, but “rust” and “cardinal” are shades of red … interesting) and say Cardinals take game 2, and Pirates take games 1, 3, and 4.

The Dodgers and Braves: the Dodgers’ injuries make them vulnerable, but their 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Greinke makes them favorites.  Starting pitching is huge in the playoffs, and these two ought to be able to handle the Braves’ lineup.  In this series, the road team may be the victor each time.  I’ll go with that bold prediction: the road team wins each game.  Dodgers in 5.

So, if I count correctly, that’s 14 or 15 distinct predictions, depending on whether the Rays win game 1 against the Red Sox (15) or the Red Sox win (14).  We shall see how it goes!

Prediction: Pirates take NL wildcard

Why am I predicting that the Pirates will take the NL wildcard?  Because I’ve studied and compared the two teams carefully?  Because I’ve considered all the pitcher-batter matchups, factored in injuries, fatigue, home field advantage, etc.?

Nope.  I’m predicting this because it’s just too soon for the Pirates’ incredible season to end.  Baseball has been getting the pennant race drama right this year, so the Pirates must win.  Simple as that.

And perhaps logically flawed as that, too …

Nobody backed into this wildcard spot!

Wow, what a finish in the AL wildcard race.  The Indians winning their last 10 games, and needing every one of those wins to take the top wild card spot, as the Rays and Rangers both went 8-2 at the end (the Rangers with a 7-game winning streak of their own).  This is the way you want to see a playoff race finish … lots of winning!

Reminds me a bit of the Rockies’ mad dash to the playoffs at the end of the 2007 season.  They had to win, I believe, 13 of their last 14 to tie for the wildcard spot.  It was exciting to watch!

Predictions:  The Rays are a stong team, but weaker on the road.  The Rangers have been impressive how they’ve turned things around at the end of the season, turning a big slump into a big winning streak.  I’m inclined to give the Rangers the edge here given their home field advantage and momentum, but the fact that the Rays have David Price pitching gives me pause.  At times this season he’s been lights-out, and though lately he’s been just consistently good, I have to think for a big game like this you’ll see him pitching well.  Slight edge to the Rays because of Price.  Should Price get injured before he’s done, edge goes back to the Rangers.

As for the following matchup with the Indians, I give the edge to the Indians.  They’re a good team with a manager that knows about getting into and through the postseason, in Terry Francona.  They’re on a roll and they’ll have a very partisan crowd in their favor, as their Wednesday wildcard game is already sold out, and their opponent is yet to be determined.

But in the end, the ALCS will be between the Red Sox and the A’s.  Let’s just hope for a lot of fun baseball to watch on the way there!

Red Sox chances of having home-field advantage about 7 out of 11

The Red Sox will lose any tiebreaker against the Oakland A’s this season, should their records end up tied.  As each team has only 4 games remaining, and the Red Sox have just a 1 game lead over the A’s, to end up ahead of the A’s, the Red Sox must at least match the A’s win for win.

There are 256 possible outcomes of the Red Sox and A’s remaining 8 games (16 outcomes for the Red Sox’s 4 games times 16 outcomes for the A’s 4 games).  Outcomes here means, for example, win-loss-win-win, or win-win-win-loss (order matters).

When you examine all possible combinations of these outcomes, and even factor in their likelihoods of occurring, and keep in mind the statements made above, it turns out that the Red Sox have about a 7 out of 11 chance of securing home-field advantage over the A’s.  When you factor in the remote possibility of the Red Sox beating out Oakland for home-field advantage, but not beating out Detroit, the odds are slightly lower, but still about 7 out of 11.

Now let’s break down some of the above statements to see what’s behind them.

First, why is it that the Red Sox will lose any tiebreaker against the Oakland A’s?

The first tiebreaker is record in head-to-head games between the teams.  With each team winning 3 of the 6 games they’ve played against each other, that tiebreaker has no effect.

The next tiebreaker is intradivision record (record against the other teams within their own division).  Each team will finish with 76 intradivision games, and currently each team has 30 intradivision losses.  So this tiebreaker will go to the team that gets fewer intradivision losses the rest of the way.

This may seem hard to predict, but we can use two facts to our advantage here: 1) To end up tied, the Red Sox must lose exactly one more game the rest of the way than do the A’s. 2) There is only one non-intradivision game left for either team, and that is tonight’s Red Sox-Rockies game.

If the Red Sox win tonight’s game with the Rockies but end up tied with the A’s, it will be because they lost one more of their other games, all intradivision games, than did the A’s.  Since both teams currently have the same number of intradivision losses, that will give the Red Sox one more intradivision loss than the A’s, and the worse intradivision record, and so they lose this tiebreaker to the A’s.

If on the other hand the Red Sox lose tonight’s game with the Rockies but end up tied with the A’s, it will be because they lost the same number of their other games, all intradivision games, than did the A’s.  Both teams end up with the same intradivision record in this case, and so we move on to the next tiebreaker.

The next tiebreaker is higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games – games against other teams in the American League.  Currently, the Red Sox are 40-28 in these games, and the A’s are 40-27.  The Rockies game is again the only one of the remaining games that doesn’t contribute to this tiebreaker, which means, since we are considering the case in which the Red Sox and A’s lose the same number of the other games, all of which are intraleague games, the Red Sox would end up with one more loss in the same number of games for this tiebreaker, thus having the worse record, and losing the tiebreaker.

All of the above considered, the Red Sox will lose any tie with the A’s for best record, and therefore must maintain or grow their current one-game lead over the A’s to get home-field advantage.

Next we consider the question of why this means the Red Sox have a 7 out of 11 chance of getting home field advantage.

Of the 256 possible outcomes of the 8 remaining Red Sox and A’s games, in 163 of them the Red Sox at least match the A’s win for win, if not surpass them.  This represents 63.7% of the 256 possible outcomes.  If we assume all outcomes have an equal possibility of occurring, that means the Red Sox have a 63.7% chance of ending up with home field advantage over the A’s, or about 7 out of 11 (which is 63.64%).  But saying all outcomes have an equal possibility of occurring is to assume that both teams have a 50-50 chance of winning each of their remaining games, and that’s probably not the case.  If instead we assume a 60% chance for each team winning each remaining game (which essentially matches their winning percentages on the season), we can redo the calculation, weighting less likely outcomes (like loss-loss-loss-loss) lower than more likely outcomes (like win-win-win-win).  When you do this, the Red Sox’s odds turn out to be just a little bit better, 64.0%, to end up with home field advantage over the A’s.  Still pretty much 7 out of 11.

To get their chances of ending up with home field advantage, period, we have to subtract the likelihood of the Tigers tying or surpassing the Red Sox, while the A’s do not.  These odds, right now, are very small.  Assuming 50-50 chances in the games, the Red Sox have a 63.5% chance of ending up with home field advantage, and assuming 60-40 chances in the remaining games for each division leader, the Red Sox have a 63.9% chance.

No matter how you slice it, it’s pretty much 7 out of 11.

Of course you could argue that due to schedules, the odds are better now for one team or the other.  But I think the schedules are not too slanted for one team or the other right now, so I’m sticking with 7 out of 11.

I hope somebody out there enjoys reading this even half as much as I enjoyed producing it.

My sources for the data and tiebreaker information in this post were:

http://www.overthemonster.com/2013/9/23/4761626/red-sox-athletics-playoff-tiebreaker-home-field-advantage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_League_Baseball_tie-breaking_procedures

Royals don’t have a shot

My last blog post is now no longer applicable.  With the Royals losing last night and everybody ahead of them winning, they’re out of it.  Don’t care that there’s still a mathematical chance for them; it’s too slim to heed.  We all can ignore Kansas City, Baltimore, and New York now, and just focus on the Rays, Indians, and Rangers.

I predict Rays and Indians.  (Yeah, a stretch, I know.)

6-team AL wildcard race now looking like a 3-team race

It’s been exciting watching the wild card race in the American League evolving these last couple of weeks, with 6 teams having a real shot.  With division leaders pulling away, making the division races relatively uninteresting, and with the National League’s 5 playoff entrants pretty much a done deal (with only positioning remaining a question), this race has provided most of the late-season playoff race drama.

But as we approach the last week of play of the regular season, 3 of those 6 contending teams now look like outside longshots.

Each of these 6 teams has either 7 or 8 games remaining in the season.  It’s not likely that any of them will lose more than 3 or 4 of these remaining games.  However, the Yankees, Orioles, and Royals, each with 73 losses, will require at least two of the Rays (now at 69 losses) , Indians, and Rangers (70 losses each) to lose 3 or 4 games just to have a chance at tying.  Were the Indians and Rangers both to lose exactly 3 of their remaining games, one of the 73-loss teams would have to win all their remaining games just to tie.  Not unheard of; the 2007 Rockies faced this sort of scenario with just over 2 weeks to go that season, needing to win their last 15 games to make a wild card berth probable; they won 14 of those 15 to tie for the wild card and force a one-game playoff for the spot (which they won).  These streaks would be half as long, and with 3 teams poised to try for it, it’s not too out-of-the-question that one may do it.

At this point, scheduled opponents can make a big difference.  The Orioles seem to have the short end of the stick here, with 2 of their remaining 8 games against the Rays (who are fighting to keep their slim wild card lead). and 3 against the Red Sox (who will likely be trying to maintain their lead for home-field advantage against the other division leaders, Detroit and Oakland).  The Yankees also have 3 games against the Rays, but otherwise have an easy schedule, with 3 games against the bottom-dwelling Astros.  The Royals seem to have the best schedule of all though, with today’s game against the Rangers their only one against a contending opponent.

Though the Rays have the best record right now by a slim margin, if the Yankees or Orioles make a charge now, the Rays’ position in the standings will fall rapidly, while the Rangers and Indians, with easier schedules, would most likely stay put at the lead of the wildcard race.  Unfortunately for the Yankees and Orioles, this would only allow them to leapfrog one of the three leading teams; not enough to take a wildcard berth.

In the end, two of the 3 leading teams must falter, and that just doesn’t seem all that likely.  The Yankees, Orioles, and Royals are all positioned to make it interesting by winning, but won’t likely catch a wild card berth even if they do.