Monday, May 09, 2005

cub losing streaks

now that the cubs have snapped their slide on the 135-pitch back of carlos zambrano, i think it's finally safe to talk a bit more about it. in the grand scheme, a seven-game slide isn't the end of the world. but it may be significant. there's a sabr paper i haven't read by a man named keith karcher -- which is too close to "karchner" to contemplate -- titled "winning streaks, losing streaks, and predicting team performance" (included in this compilation). if anyone out there has read it, feel free to comment.

i can only suspect that the news isn't good. looking at the list of longest NL losing streaks, articulated on page 3 herein, one can see it (sensibly) is rare for good teams to suffer prolonged droughts. but digging into the cub archive from 1970 on, one finds that, even if a seven-game skid doesn't have to mean the end of a team, it does severely stack the deck. five of the ten winning teams and two of the four playoff squads since 1945 have suffered such an event; but, of the 23 teams since 1970 to slide seven consecutively, only 5 posted a winning record in the end.

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the unvarnished truth is that only ten cub teams in that span have gone over .500 -- what cub fans painfully know to be a small sample size. one has to dig deeper into cub history for winning teams to become plentiful enough to paint a more meaningful picture of winning teams and losing streaks. between 1900 and today, there have been 48 such cub clubs -- and plotting their longest losing streaks against their winning percentage gives some idea of the maximum potential of this club in light of recent events.

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only twelve of the 48 winners suffered as many as seven straight losses, and only three of those 12 surpassed a .556 winning percentage -- the equivalent of 90 wins.

taken as the whole this means, on the basis of this losing streak alone, the 2005 squad has something like a 1 in 4 chance of being a winner, and only a very minute chance of reaching 90 wins. if we were to compound this probability with their overall record to this point, i suspect the odds would get yet worse.

so dig in and hunker down, cub fans -- this isn't very likely to be a winning season anymore. but there's always the chance of an unlikely comeback and, barring that... next year.

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