Friday, November 25, 2011

Longest NFL Win Streaks

So, not living in Wisconsin anymore, I've been a little out of the loop. I mean, don't get me wrong - I watch the Packers pretty much every week (although once in a while, living in Chicago, I don't actually get the games, and I'm not always free to just go to a bar). I at least always follow a play-by-play online.

Anyway, I'm writing about the NFL today because of a couple of things. First, I haven't written about anything besides baseball in a really REALLY long time. Second, it seems like a good time to do it. Anyway, I've been wondering what the longest winning streak in NFL history is. Honestly, it's pretty hard to find. At the moment, SI has a gallery of the longest single-season winning streaks, and that's pretty neat, but not what I'm looking for. So I looked elsewhere online. Everyone knows the longest regular season winning streaks and keeps track of those. But what about the longest OVERALL streaks? At the current time, I have yet to find it. So, I went digging. Using only my knowledge of teams who happened to win a lot of games, I found some pretty long streaks. I think this is pretty complete.

First of all, if we allow for going WAY back, and not even to the NFL, the Cleveland Browns of the AAFC once won 18 in a row - the end of the 1947 season, and all 14 (plus one playoff) in 1948. They tied the opener, then won four in a row to start 1949, giving them a 22-0-1 record in a span of 23 games. Of course, it wasn't the NFL, but they still rocked it, and won 18 in a row. Of course, is that as good as the 1985-86 Bears going 24-1 over a 25 game stretch? Probably not, in a more competitive league. But regardless, those have blemishes. These do not. And like I said, I'm fairly certain these are ALL the streaks of 15 or more consecutive wins in NFL history. Here you go!

The 1971 Dolphins lost the Super Bowl. So the started with a blank streak. But of course, the went undefeated, including playoffs, to win the title. The didn't lose until week two the following year.

1972-73 Dolphins: 15 games

The 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers will, undoubtedly be the oddest team on this list. They lost in week two. They lost the AFC Championship Game. They're utterly forgettable. Except, of course, that they won all 15 games they played in between.

2004 Pittsburgh Steelers: 15 games

Perhaps it's because the '72 Dolphins had already filled the need for a football team with a long winning streak, but their Super-Bowl-era record winning streak was eclipsed later in the same decade. The 1976 Oakland Raiders were absolutely CRUSHED by the Patriots in week three. Apparently, that made the mad enough to win their next 13 in a row, including the Super Bowl. It carried over to 1977, when they started 4-0.

1976-77 Oakland Raiders: 17 games

Now, of course, the failure of the 2004 Steelers reminds us of an even greater failure, and a longer streak. What can be said about the 2007 Pats that hasn't already been said? This, by the way, is the most familiar and most recent of our 18-gamers. It's also the only one that doesn't include a championship with it.

2007 New England Patriots: 18 games

The 1933 Chicago Bears won their last five games, to win the NFL Championship. That probably wouldn't mean anything special, except they also won all 13 of their regular season games in 1934 (they lost to the Giants in the NFL Championship Game). They were the first team to win 18 in a row.

1933-34 Chicago Bears: 18 games

In a somewhat eerie repeat for the franchise, the 1941 Bears won their last seven (Championship Game inclusive), and went undefeated the following year, only to lose the Championship Game, this time to the Redskins.

1941-42 Chicago Bears: 18 games

The 1989 49ers are, for whatever reason, not often considered to be among the best teams of all-time. But, during the season, they lost once by 1, and again by 4. After that 4-point loss to the Packers, they reeled off 8 straight. Then they began 1990 10-0. Although they would eventually lose in the NFC Championship game that year, in many ways, this was the crowning achievement of the 49ers dynasty under Bill Walsh and George Seifert.

1989-90 San Francisco 49ers: 18 games

Finally, other than the 2007 Patriots, can you name the most recent team to win 18 consecutive games? By the way, this team is also interesting because it's the only team on this entire list other than the 1972-73 Dolphins and the last team (I'll let the suspense keep building) to have streaks which covered two seasons, and to actually WIN the title in both seasons. That's right: the 1997-98 Broncos won 18 straight. They won their final regular season game of 1997 heading into the playoffs. Then they won four in a row, including upsetting the heavily favored Packers in the Super Bowl, in one of the best Super Bowls ever played. Then, they began the 1998 season 13-0 before losing two in a row. They recovered to win their final regular season game, and breezed through the playoffs, outscoring their opponents 95-32.

1997-98 Denver Broncos: 18 games

Finally, there's one team that absolutely DWARFED the 18 game streaks of other teams. Many people forget, I think, because they didn't start either season particularly hot. In 2004, they won their first 6 games. But that's nothing that special. It happens almost every year. And in '03, they had started out 2-2. Of course, after that 2-2 start, the New England Patriots won 15 straight, including the Super Bowl, and then the first six the following year. It's kind of unbelievable that Bill Belichick has presided over the two longest winning streaks in NFL history, but it's true. So this is the standard. Oh, and of course the 2004 Pats were repeat champs, like the Broncos and Dolphins before them, so that have that going for them, too.

Finally, why have I written all this? Well, the Green Bay Packers have, as of Thanksgiving day 2011, tied the 1976-77 Raiders with 17 straight wins. They will have a very tough game against the NFC East-leading Giants to tie the record. What will the fate of this Packers team be? Will they tie the 18-game mark against the Giants? Surpass it against the Raiders? Can they possibly catch the 2003-04 Dolphins (they'd have to keep winning, and they would tie it on Christmas day versus the Bears - to pass the Pats, they'd have to go undefeated, beating the Lions in week 17)? Will they join the 1934 and 1942 Bears by having undefeated seasons following a Championship? Will the buck the trend of those two teams, and follow in the lead of the 1973 Dolphins and 1998 Broncos and 2004 Patriots and win back-to-back titles? Or will they carve out some completely new, uncharted legacy? We will have to see between now and the Super Bowl. But no matter what the outcome, I think it's safe to say the 2010-2011 Packers have etched their names among the elite teams in NFL history already, regardless of how it all turns out.

2010-2011 Packers: 17 games (and counting?)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Warning . . . warning . . . EXTREME stat nerd post!!!

Are there two more irritating words in today's sports lexicon than "overrated" and "underrated?" I use them all the time, so I'm as guilty as anyone else. But here's the thing: when referring to numbers, any argument using the words "overrated" or "underrated" will inevitably put the cart before the horse by assuming a conclusion before looking at the evidence.

For example, there's an article up on Fangraphs right now about the 2011 Phillies rotation, claiming it's the best rotation ever. I'm not here to argue about that, actually, although it might be fun. What I am here to talk about is the comments.

[As an aside, let me just note right now that my life would be a lot happier, and yours would be, too, if we never read internet comments. There are a LOT of stupid people posting stuff on the internet. In order, I would say ignore comments about: religion, then politics, then sports. Seriously, it would save me a lot of stress, but for whatever reason, I can't stop reading comments. Please, do as I say, not as I do, and save yourself a lot of headaches.]

In said comments, there are a number of people near what is now the bottom talking about how certain FIP statistics "underrate" the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Braves. Interesting. How can that be? Statistics, believe it or not, don't "rate" anything, at least not in the sense to which these commenters are referring. HR don't "underrate" Babe Ruth's power. They don't "overrate" Hank Aaron's. They are a record of how many of a certain type of hit happened. That's it. They're not "rating" anyone. If people choose to interpret those statistics in such a way as to rate players/rotations/infields/outfields/ballparks/players/stadium food/Jumbotron race competitors/anything else you can think of, that's a problem of the analysis of statistics.

But, frankly, no one thinks about it that way. Instead, commenters on Fangraphs say that FIP "underrates" the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Braves because the numbers for them are lower than for a HANDFUL (like three) other rotations. FIP has a vendetta against the Braves. Did you know that? It goes in and deletes strikeouts! I know that's not what people mean, but that's how it comes across. Because you see what happens is people form a conclusion. In this case, "The Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Braves had the best rotation of all time." Then, they go look at the evidence. They find support (ERA-, for example, or WAR - go read the article and see), and they're pleased. Then, they see counter-evidence. "Oh no! I already have my conclusion!" they cry. "Therefore, these statistics must be UNDERRATING my solution to the problem."

Well, that's just wrong. FIP is a statistical measure that takes into account strikeouts, walks, and home runs. The Braves didn't walk too many people, and they (comparatively) never gave up home runs (in the biggest HR era of all-time). But you know what? They really didn't strike anyone out (comparatively speaking, and in the biggest strikeout era of all-time). So FIP- (FIP relative to league average) ranks the 2011 Phillies first. And you know what else? It's more likely that the 1997 Braves (who fare the best of the 1990s Braves) are OVERRATED than it is that FIP UNDERRATES them. The Braves had great defenses, and their pitchers couldn't strike anyone out, so it worked out totally fine to allow a ton of balls in play, as long as they didn't leave the park. The Braves used that MO for the entirety of the Bobby Cox era, and it worked beautifully. The Twins used that same formula from the day Johan Santana left until today. It worked well until 2011, when the defense sucked. And you know what happened? Carl Pavano went from being lauded as a great pitcher in 2010 to a lousy one in 2011. Carl Pavano didn't really change. His defense did. And if Greg Maddux's defense had been different, history would probably "underrate" him, too.

Look, it's really quibbling over spilled milk. The thing most people are offended by is that the Braves are considered the 2nd-, or maybe 3rd-best rotation ever. That's AMAZING!!! There have been literally thousands of rotations in the history of baseball. To say that you're one of the three best is an accomplishment most people wouldn't dream of. But for those who "know" that the Braves are the best, anything but the top spot is unacceptable. And that's just unreasonable.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

BBWAA Hall of Fame Standards for Hitters, Part II

So, I've been thinking about my last post, and I had some problems with it. First, it definitely weighted career length way too highly. So, I was trying to think of a remedy. I though, "should I square the decimal (generated by averaging batting average, secondary average, and R+RBI/AB), or should I take the square root of playing time?" I wound up doing both. This definitely weights production much more heavily than career length, and should give some relief to some of the odder choices the first system made. Then I multiplied the whole thing by 100, just to make the numbers friendlier. Here are the highlights from each position.

For example, I assumed the lowest scoring catcher would be Roy Campanella. He was. But I was surprised to see that Mickey Cochrane scored as low as he did. However, with the new system, the catcher who scores lowest is actually not Campanella, but rather Gary Carter. I suspect that, if you ask most baseball writers who they would rather have in the Hall, Carter or Campy, they would pick Campy. The system now reflects that. The old system left Hank Greenberg out in the cold. The new version ranks him behind only Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, in spite of his short career. The new system ranks Jackie Robinson near the middle of the 2B crowd, rather than at the end. The old system didn't like Wade Boggs - the new one ranks him above Brooks Robinson. Keeping in mind that my system (obviously) only ranks players as hitters, this makes total sense. At SS, Rabbit Maranville and Ozzie Smith move behind Lou Boudreau. In LF, Ted Williams comes in first (as it should be), while Ralph Kiner gets an unexpected bump. I don't think he's the worst LF the BBWAA selected, so this probably makes much more sense. CF is where we see the biggest changes. DiMaggio, for example, moves ahead of Duke Snider and Andre Dawson, instead of being only above Puckett (who remains the least qualified CF in the Hall). Interestingly, Mantle moves from 4th to 1st, followed by Mays, Cobb, and Speaker. Finally, the only player within 30% of Babe Ruth at any position is Ted Williams (which I think is more or less how people see things in baseball - at least the writers). Other than a big jump by Harry Heilmann, it's pretty much the same list, although I must say I'm a little surprised Mel Ott leapfrogged Hank Aaron. Anyway, here's the complete list, by position. If you don't like long, boring lists of names and arbitrary numbers, go ahead and skip it. Here it is:

Yogi Berra, 38.94; Mickey Cochrane, 38.90; Carlton Fisk, 38.57; Gabby Hartnett, 38.55; Bill Dickey, 37.34; Johnny Bench, 37.14; Roy Campanella, 32.58; Gary Carter, 32.10
Lou Gehrig, 76.19; Jimmie Foxx, 72.39; Hank Greenberg, 55.53; Harmon Killebrew, 53.89; Willie McCovey, 51.84; Eddie Murray, 41.95; Tony Perez, 37.62; Bill Terry, 34.78; George Sisler, 31.69
Rogers Hornsby, 59.44; Joe Morgan, 49.41; Eddie Collins, 48.91; Charlie Gehringer, 45.79; Nap Lajoie, 38.29; Roberto Alomar, 36.51; Jackie Robinson, 35.81; Frankie Frisch, 34.25; Ryne Sandberg, 32.63; Rod Carew, 32.62
Mike Schmidt, 55.79; Eddie Mathews, 47.71; George Brett, 41.42; Wade Boggs, 34.87; Pie Traynor, 30.65; Brooks Robinson, 27.60
Honus Wagner, 46.17; Joe Cronin, 43.19; Ernie Banks, 38.15; Cal Ripken, 35.31; Luke Appling, 32.95; Robin Yount, 32.76; Lou Boudreau, 27.55; Ozzie Smith, 24.60; Rabbit Maranville, 22.01; Luis Aparicio, 21.96
Ted Williams, 86.23; Rickey Henderson, 59.78; Stan Musial, 57.81; Willie Stargell, 47.57; Carl Yastrzemski, 45.92; Al Simmons, 45.73; Ralph Kiner, 44.40; Billy Williams, 39.22; Jim Rice, 36.50; Joe Medwick, 35.29; Lou Brock, 31.66
Mickey Mantle, 63.57; Willie Mays, 59.94; Ty Cobb, 59.57; Tris Speaker, 51.78; Joe DiMaggio, 49.48; Duke Snider, 48.94; Andre Dawson, 37.49; Kirby Puckett, 28.30
Babe Ruth, 105.29; Mel Ott, 61.99; Hank Aaron, 57.70; Frank Robinson, 57.38; Reggie Jackson, 48.29; Harry Heilmann, 44.68; Al Kaline, 44.06; Dave Winfield, 43.13; Paul Waner, 39.54; Tony Gwynn, 33.95; Roberto Clemente, 32.04; Willie Keeler, 31.80
Paul Molitor, 37.92

Now doesn't that all look better? I think so. It really "feels" like how the BBWAA voters think about players. Sure, there are some wild inconsistencies, but most of those can be explained away. And, as our series continues, you'll see how the Veterans' Committee stacks up (let's just say this: the writers don't miss too many, even by their own "unusual" standards - there's a reason the Vets committee has a bad reputation). And we'll look in the 4th part at the some players who are favorites for people to talk about as possible Hall of Famers. Finally, in Part V, assuming I keep this up another few weeks, we'll look at some current players and not-yet-eligibles who have already met the standards for the Baseball Hall of Fame.