The odds couple

If you caught the Bill James piece on “60 Minutes” last night and came away as confused as Morley Safer looked when discussing the benefits of sabermetrics, maybe this isn’t the best time to bring this up.

But anyway, that 56-game hitting streak by Joe DiMaggio? Not that big a deal.

No, really. Common occurrence. So say Cornell grad student Samuel Arbesman and professor of applied mathematics Steven Strogatzin an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times.

In a fit of scientific skepticism, we decided to calculate how unlikely Joltin’ Joe’s achievement really was. Using a comprehensive collection of baseball statistics from 1871 to 2005, we simulated the entire history of baseball 10,000 times in a computer. In essence, we programmed the computer to construct an enormous set of parallel baseball universes, all with the same players but subject to the vagaries of chance in each one….

More than half the time, or in 5,295 baseball universes, the record for the longest hitting streak exceeded 53 games. Two-thirds of the time, the best streak was between 50 and 64 games.

In other words, streaks of 56 games or longer are not at all an unusual occurrence. Forty-two percent of the simulated baseball histories have a streak of DiMaggio’s length or longer. You shouldn’t be too surprised that someone, at some time in the history of the game, accomplished what DiMaggio did.

I’m too confused to even comment.

As for the James piece, if you missed it thanks to an NCAA-related DVR mishap, here you go:


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