Understanding baseball team standings and streaks
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- Sire, C. & Redner, S. Eur. Phys. J. B (2009) 67: 473. doi:10.1140/epjb/e2008-00405-5
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Can one understand the statistics of wins and losses of baseball teams? Are their consecutive-game winning and losing streaks self-reinforcing or can they be described statistically? We apply the Bradley-Terry model, which incorporates the heterogeneity of team strengths in a minimalist way, to answer these questions. Excellent agreement is found between the predictions of the Bradley-Terry model and the rank dependence of the average number team wins and losses in major-league baseball over the past century when the distribution of team strengths is taken to be uniformly distributed over a finite range. Using this uniform strength distribution, we also find very good agreement between model predictions and the observed distribution of consecutive-game team winning and losing streaks over the last half-century; however, the agreement is less good for the previous half-century. The behavior of the last half-century supports the hypothesis that long streaks are primarily statistical in origin with little self-reinforcing component. The data further show that the past half-century of baseball has been more competitive than the preceding half-century.