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Color By Numbers: Going Streaking

Posted By William Juliano On June 22, 2012 @ 6:59 am In 1: Featured,Baseball,Baseball Musings | Comments Disabled

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The Yankees hope to start a new winning streak against the Mets at Citi Field.

The Yankees entered yesterday’s off day in unfamiliar territory: on a losing a streak. It had been almost a full month since the Yankees last lost consecutive games, so you can bet the Bronx Bombers will be chomping at the bit to get back in the win column tonight at CitiField.

Over the first three months of the season, the Yankees have had seven stretches featuring consecutive losses, but none has lasted longer than three games (three have been two games and four have been three games). Even when they weren’t playing particularly well, the Yankees managed to avoid the kind of long losing streak that can put a team deep in the hole. As a result, the Yankees recent hot stretch has allowed them to build a lead instead of chip away at a deficit.

Distribution of Yankees’ Losing Streaks, Since 1918
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Note: Includes all streaks of three or more losses.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The last time the Yankees avoided a losing streak of at least four games was 1980. Probably one of the most overlooked teams in franchise history, Dick Howser’s club won 103 games that year, but all was forgotten when they were swept by the Royals in the ALCS. Ironically, the Yankees had only lost three games in a row on three occasions during the regular season, just once more than the lowest total in franchise history. Unfortunately for Howser, the team’s fourth three-game losing streak came at an inopportune time as it not only denied him a chance to manage in the World Series, but also wound up costing his job.

It’s a good thing the Yankees have avoided losing streaks in June because, over the first two months of the season, they were on pace to rank near the bottom in terms of both the number of losing stretches and games contained therein. Since 1918, 26 different Yankees’ teams have finished the year with four or fewer losing streaks of at least three games, which puts this season’s current total in perspective. Pro-rated over the entire season, the 2012 Yankees would still fall toward the bottom quintile in both catgeories, which illustrates the extent to which the team sputtered in April and May.

Yankees’ Top-10 and Bottom-10 Total Streak Losses, Since 1918
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Note: Totals are the sum of losses that are a part of distinct losing streaks of three or more games in one season.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Tomorrow night against the Mets, the Yankees will be seeking to avoid another three-game losing streak. After winning at least 10 in a row for only the 26th time in franchise history, the last thing the Yankees want to do is start ceding some of the ground they gained by following up that stretch with a string of losing. Over the years, the Yankees have done a good job of avoiding a winning streak hangover, so history seems to be in their favor. Not only has the team gone 14-11 after having a long winning streak snapped (one streak came at the end of the season), but on only three occasions did the Bronx Bombers lose three or more games in a row.  Is that a good omen heading into the Subway Series? Perhaps, but having Andy Pettitte on the mound doesn’t hurt either.

Yankees’ Season Record in Years with and Number of Losses Immediately Following a 10-Game Winning Streak, Since 1918
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Source: Baseball-reference.com

Another good sign is the amount of success enjoyed by Yankees’ teams that have won at least 10 games in a row during a season. The 23 different Bronx Bomber ballclubs to record such a lengthy stretch of winning (three teams had two 10-plus game winnings streaks in one season) have posted a combined winning percentage of .628, and all but six wound up finishing the year in first place (four of which still won at least 94 games). The only real outlier in the group was the 1968 team, which won 10 in a row in September. Unfortunately, it was too little too late as the winning streak only pulled the Yankees to within 16 games of first place. Besides, even had they been closer in the standings, losing six in a row and nine of 10 immediately thereafter would have been the final nail anyway. At the very least, the 10-game winning streak helped the 1968 club finish above .500, thereby avoiding a share of the franchise record of four consecutive losing seasons.

Even the very best baseball teams lose 30%-40% of their games, but the ones who enjoy the most success seem to spread them out evenly over the season. Although the long stretches are the ones that gain the most notoriety, streaks of three and four games can really take a toll. The 2012 Yankees probably won’t become the fourth team in franchise history to have two 10-game winning streaks in one season, but if they can avoid those smaller losing streaks, another division title could be in the offing.


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