Monday, April 28, 2008

Simulated likelihoods of Joe Dimaggio's hitting streak

By SAMUEL ARBESMAN and STEVEN STROGATZ (via Eddy Elfenbein):
The real surprise is when the record was set. Our analysis reveals that 1941 was one of the least likely seasons for such an epic streak to occur.

Figure 2 shows the number of times, out of 10,000 simulations, that the longest streak occurred in a particular year. The likeliest time for the longest streak to have occurred was in the 19th century, back in the misty beginnings of baseball. Or maybe in the 1920s or ’30s.

But not in 1941, or afterward. That season was the miracle year in only 19 of our alternate major-league histories. By comparison, in 1,290 of our baseball universes, or more than a tenth, the record was set in a single year: 1894.

And Joe DiMaggio is nowhere near the likeliest player to hold the record for longest hitting streak in baseball history. He is No. 56 on the list. (Fifty-six? Cue “The Twilight Zone” music.) Two old-timers, Hugh Duffy and Willie Keeler, are the most probable record holders. Between them, they set the record in more than a thousand of the parallel baseball universes. Ty Cobb did it nearly 300 times.

DiMaggio held the record 28 times. Plus once more, when it counted.

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