Dan Uggla’s Hitting Streak and What It Teaches Us About Baseball

It’s a shame that I had to miss out on the last month or so of blogging, because I like baseball a lot and I have a bunch to say about it. Sadly, Comcast hates me. Or Comcast hates baseball. Or Comcast hates the internet. Any of those could be true, but it is undeniable that Comcast certainly hates customer service.

I hate to bring my personal cheering interest into posts, and I know I did it pretty heavily in my last post, so I’ll give you a break on it for tonight, but my invested attention in the Bravos has led me to follow the current Dan Uggla hitting streak very closely. Please don’t read over that “very” lightly, because I’m talking about listening to play-by-play or watching the televised game for all of those at-bats except for a handful.

At this point, Uggla’s hitting streak has gotten to 31 games is long enough to be one of the primary stories in Major League Baseball, if not all of sports.

Dan Uggla uses his fingers to describe his longest hitting streak in the first half of 2011.

Of course, no baseball player can put together a hitting streak of more than about six games before Joe D’s 56-gamer finds its way into conversation. And this is never necessary. It’s the unbreakable sports record equivalent of comparing NBA players to Michael Jordan.

The natural next step for me (a math person) was to take a look at the odds of Uggla reaching that magical 56. To be brief, it’s not good, but I’ve never been brief, so here’s the rest: First, Uggla still has to go on a 25-game hitting streak to get to 56. That’s hard. Especially for a guy hitting about .225 for the year. If Uggla’s 31-gamer is a big enough deal to make headlines, think of how hard it would be to strap a 25-game one on to the end of that. Given the entire spectrum of his season, it’s a significantly major miracle that Uggla, who hit about .180 before the all-star break has put together what he has. That the streak has grown this far is already a statistical impossibility. But so is his 47-inch neck.

The moral of the story is that DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is a feat just slightly more probable than getting struck by lightning while winning the lottery and slightly less probable than turning water into wine.

The numbers on Uggla’s hitting streak are so improbable that to go any further would do little more to illustrate my point. Instead, how about we analyze the odds of anyone ever breaking it. Even if that batter were a great hitter playing in ideal circumstances.

In my opinion, the most ideal situation for a hitter to match a 56-game hitting streak involves a player who does two things:

1. Bats .300. That assumes that he has a .300 chance of getting a hit in every at-bat of every game, no off-nights or difficult pitchers or intentional walks or pitching around a hot hitter or any of that. Completely impossible in real baseball, but this isn’t real baseball, it’s a loosely fact-based blog about sports and pop culture that happened 15 years ago.

2. Averages 4 at-bats per game. That number is heavily dependent on how the other players on his team perform, and some nights it will be higher, some will be lower. This assumes no games where he pinch-hits (one AB) and hopefully cancels out games with unusual numbers of walks, HBP, sacrifices, injuries, errors, or any other plate appearances that don’t result in an AB.

Here’s how the math works:

  • Chances of hitting in first AB of game 1: .300
  • Chances of hitting in one of first two ABs of game 1: (.300 + .300) – (.300 x .300) = .51
  • Chances of hitting in one of first three ABs of game 1: (.51 + .300) – (.51 x .300) = .657
  • Chances of hitting in game 1 (all four ABs): (.657 + .300) – (.657 x .300) = .7599

I’ll even round it up to .76. Under the ideal circumstances, the ideal hitter has a chance to get a hit in a game 76% of the time.

What are the odds of:

  • 1-game hitting streak: .76
  • 10-game hitting streak: .0643
  • 20-game hitting streak: .00413
  • 30-game hitting streak: .000266
  • 31-game hitting streak: .000202
  • 40-game hitting streak: .0000171
  • 50-game hitting streak: .00000110
  • 56-game hitting streak: .000000212
  • 57-game hitting streak: .000000161

Under these ideal circumstances, the ideal hitter breaks Joe D’s record 1 time in 6,217,636 tries. Needless to say,I think it’s pretty safe.

DiMaggio hit a lot of things in 1941 and they weren

And what’s the craziest thing about the DiMaggio hitting streak? It isn’t the long odds of anyone ever coming close to breaking it. It isn’t how 99% of pro players won’t even make it a third of the way there. The craziest thing about this Joe DiMaggio’s streak is that it isn’t the most unbreakable record in the sport. It would take more than 6 million of the best hitters playing under perfect circumstances to find a player statistically capable of hitting in 57 games consecutively, and it’s not even the longest shot in baseball.

What is? Objectively, probably the single season wins mark, held by Old Hoss Radbourn (that’s his real name), who won 59 games in whatever kind of baseball they played in 1884. Speaking in only modern-era terms, like we should be, it’s Cal Ripken’s record of 2,632 consecutive games played.

What does it that mean? It means that Dan Uggla’s hitting streak is a lot of fun to watch and the more you think about it, the more baseball will make you realize how ridiculous it can get. Hats off to Cal Ripken, and Joe DiMaggio and anyone whose been keeping track of a team or a player for this season or any season.

After all, if it weren’t for baseball, we wouldn’t remember how much fun math is.