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Fun With Streaks and Slumps, Part 2
That's how many homerless atbats Mark McGwire strung together last year in his longest drought of the season. Hard to believe, isn't it? The guy hits 58 homers for the season, an astounding rate of one every 9.3 atbats. That means he averaged 7.6 homers per 71 AB. Yet he managed to go 0-for-71. And he still got 58 for the year with no help from that 3-week stretch.
Imagine what the media will say if McGwire goes dinger-less for even 30 or 40 atbats this season:
"There's too much pressure."
Suppose it's perfectly normal to have one or two of these dry spells in season. That means there's no story. But how many sports editors are going to let it go at that? Not too many, I'll wager.
In my previous article, I wrote about some of the more interesting batting average streaks and slumps that we saw in 1997. This time around, we'll focus on homeruns. Of course, we didn't find anything resembling Sosa's record-breaking June of 1998. But there were some interesting results nonetheless.
For those of you who didn't see the previous article, here's how we went about it. Luke Kraemer (a Diamond Mind software engineer) wrote a terrific little program that put every atbat from the 1997 season in chronological order, then determined the minimum and maximum number of hits and homers for any stretch of X atbats, where X ranged from 20 to 250.
Let's work through one example to see how this works. Barry Bonds had 532 atbats last year. That means there were 513 stretches of 20 atbats in the sequence -- 1 through 20, 2 through 21, and so on up to 513 through 532. In total, the program looked at 513 sets of 20 atbats, 512 sets of 21 atbats, and so on up to 283 sets of 250 atbats. If I remember my high school math well enough, that's a total of 91,655 sequences. The output tells us that Bonds' went 41 atbats without a homer and had a stretch of 72 atbats in which he went deep only once. He got very hot, too, cranking 11 in one span of 75 atbats.
Some guys just don't have any power. So it's not hard to come up with a list of guys who went homerless for a very long time:
Disarcina -- 0 for 384
And so on. But this isn't very revealing. There will almost always be guys who go a whole season without hitting one out. It's more interesting to see the longest homerless streaks among guys who hit at least one homer every 25 atbats last year:
Alou -- 180 atbats (23 homers on season, one per 23.4 atbats)
Others of note include Palmeiro (88), Belle (81), Justice and Thomas (74), Gonzalez (72), McGwire (71), TMartinez (62), and Griffey (59). So even the most prolific sluggers went two weeks or more without leaving the yard. It won't surprise me, therefore, if at least one of the guys chasing Maris has one of these little slumps between now and the end of the season.
Todd Hundley was the most consistent, with his longest homerless stretch lasting 35 atbats. Larry Walker's longest was 38. Eduardo Perez, Ellis Burks and Chili Davis followed with 40.
Eight players go deep 6 times in 20 atbats
Among the 268 players in our sample (those with 250 or more atbats last year), eight had streaks of 20 atbats in which they hit six long balls -- Lankford, Griffey, Thomas, McGwire, Walker, Tino Martinez, Matt Williams, and Buhner.
If we stretch things out to 50 atbats (or 2-3 weeks), we see that there are still quite a large number of very hot streaks. McGwire had 11 in one sequence of 50 atbats. Five players (Justice, Walker, Buhner, Finley, Griffey) hit nine. Another thirteen players maxed out at eight.
The top 100-atbat streak belongs to, you guessed it, Mark McGwire, with 18. Three others (Thomas, Griffey, Thome) had fourteen. Four players had 13, a dozen more peaked at 12, and yet another 21 players banged out at least 10 homers in 100 atbats.
Leaders at 20-atbat intervals
Here are the top streaks of varying lengths...
Streak Players 6-for-20 Lankford, Griffey, Thomas, McGwire, Walker, Tino Martinez, Matt Williams, and Buhner 9-for-40 McGwire, Finley 12-for-60 McGwire 16-for-80 McGwire 18-for-100 McGwire 20-for-120 McGwire 22-for-140 McGwire 23-for-160 McGwire 23-for-180 McGwire, Griffey 24-for-200 Griffey
Long homerless streaks are pretty common. This is not news. After all, when the best homerun hitters struggle to produce a longball every 15 atbats, it's not surprising to see some 0-for-50s popping up here and there. But 0-for-70s, or worse, by guys like Belle and McGwire are more common than I thought. And with the intense heat of the media spotlight focused on McGwire, Griffey and Sosa this year, you can bet that any of these dry spells that do occur will get a lot more attention than they deserve.
So, to all of you fans of Mark McGwire, don't panic if he goes two weeks or more without a homer. It's not as big a deal as you think. It doesn't mean he's lost his chance for the record. He's already got 42, and he should get another 200+ atbats. If goes without a homer for, say, the next 60 atbats, he'd have to hit 20 in the remaining 140+ atbats. Definitely not an easy task, but he's done it before.
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