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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, June 13, 2002
The Inconsistently Inconsistent Astros
Rich Rifkin doesn’t believe everything he hears on TV.
When the Houston Astros passed through Oakland this past weekend, on their way to getting swept by the increasingly hot Athletics, I heard Astros’ radio announcer, Milo Hamilton, interviewed on the Oakland radio broadcast. Hamilton was asked what he thought was wrong with the Houston ballclub, and one thing he mentioned was that this year’s club was "inconsistent." Considering the fact that Hamilton sees the Astros every game, I took him at his word.
Sure, I knew that Houston’s bullpen had let them down quite a few times, that they were 4-12 in 1-run games, and that their Pythagorean winning percentage was 50 points higher than their actual winning percentage. But I didn’t know that they were playing such "inconsistent" baseball. And after thinking about that, I wondered what Milo really meant. Was it the case that the Houston players were giving an inconsistent effort? Or that mentally they were well focused some games, but not so others? One measure of an inconsistent team, I suppose, is a club that goes on a real hot streak for 15-20 games, and then goes completely cold for the next 15-20 games (or vice versa). Being that the Athletics - my favorite team - had gone 5-11 (after a 17-15 start), and then followed that with their current 13-4 mark, I know what an "inconsistent" team looks like, if you’re basing that on winning and losing streaks. So I decided to look up the numbers on Houston, and I found something quite amazing.
As of today, the Astros have played 64 ballgames. That divides neatly into four sets of 16 games. So how have the 28-36 Astros performed over each of these four sets? Inconsistently? Not quite. For their first 16 games, Houston was 7-9. For their second 16 games, again 7-9. Their third? Again, 7-9. And finally 7-9 once more over their last 16 games. Milo must have had something else in mind.
Granted, there’s nothing concrete in measuring "consistency" over 16 game sets. That’s a completely arbitrary assignment, that just happens to divide nicely into the 64 games the Astros have played, and happens to (almost) equal 10 percent of the season. It also can be misleading, as some hot and cold streaks run over that arbitrary dividing line. For example, Houston had one weird 18-game stretch in which they lost five straight, won their next seven games, and then lost their next six. That sort of cold-hot-cold streak is missed when looking at 16-game sets.
Nonetheless, I was interested to see how other teams in baseball have performed this year, consistency-wise, when breaking the 64 or so games per team this season down into quartiles of 16 games.
One odd thing I discovered was how eerily similar the seasons of Cleveland (31-33) and Pittsburgh (31-33) have been. Both started 11-5, then each went 5-11, then each went 6-10, and finally the both have gone 9-7. The Orioles (30-33) have had a season much like those. However, instead of winning of 11 of 16 and then losing 11 of their next 16, Baltimore went 5-11, 11-5, 6-10, and 8-7.
Another odd coincidence? Here’s how the Diamondbacks (40-25) and the Twins (37-28) played in their first, second and fourth quartiles: 10-6, 10-6, and 10-7. The 3-game edge Arizona now enjoys came in each club’s third quartile, 10-6 for the Snakes versus 7-9 for the Twinkies. The Diamondbacks, by the way, have been the most "consistent" winning team in baseball, using this 16-game measuring stick.
Yet another oddity? The Braves (38-27) and the Mariners (39-25) look like they’ve had mirror opposite seasons, so far. Seattle started hot, 13-3, and since has gone 9-7, 9-7, and 8-8. The Braves’ mark is the reverse: 7-9, 9-7, 9-7, and 13-4.
As everyone who looks at the standings knows, the best race in baseball this year is the Red Sox-Yankees contest atop the AL East. One thing dividing those two club’s seasons into quartiles shows, though, is that Boston’s best results came in the first two 16-game sets (12-4, 12-4, 9-7, 8-6), while New York’s have come in the latter two quartiles (9-7, 9-7, 13-3, 11-7). Uh oh, smells like a curse.
At the bottom of the AL East, Toronto (7-9, 3-13, 7-9, 10-4) and Tampa Bay (6-10, 3-13, 7-9, 5-10) had almost the exact same season at the exact same times until the fourth quartile began. Oddly, JP Ricciardi fired Buck Martinez when the Blue Jays were on a 3-game winning streak in the last quartile. Nonetheless, the Jays have since gone 7-2 sans Buck.
One final oddity? How about the seasons of Oakland and San Diego? The A’s began 9-7, 8-8, and 5-11, while the Padres began 8-8, 9-7, and 5-11. Unfortunately for the Fathers, they went 6-12 in their last quartile. But fortunately for my smoking hot Athletics, Oakland has won 13 of 17 since their Padre-like start.
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