Major League Baseball’s Streakiest Team

Streaks can be maddening or joyful, depending on which side of the coin your allegiance happens to lie. When it happens to players, we say the player is hot or in a slump. He might be performing better or worse for a particular reason — like good health or lack thereof — but, often, it’s just the product random variation over a long season.

For teams, the situation is a bit different. If a player goes 2-for-4, that’s good and potentially part of a hot streak. A team, however, can record only a win or a loss. Long winning or losing streaks are fairly rare. Only the Indians and Cubs have managed winning streaks of at least 10 games this season — and the only double-digit losing streaks this season have come from the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, and Tampa Bay Rays. Good teams tend to rack up winning streaks; bad teams, losing streaks. If you want to get somebody who can do both, however, look no further than the Detroit Tigers.

That win streaks translate to season-long success is probably not news. As the graph below confirms, going on win streaks leads to a lot of wins in general. (Data from Baseball Reference.)

Team Win Streaks in 2016

That’s a rough look at the standings, although Detroit might be a bit higher than their wins suggest and the Mets and Marlins have had difficulty pulling off a run despite solid overall records. And poor San Diego: the Padres have yet to pull off a single four-game win streak all season.

Of course, having win streaks just means you are a winning team. The chart below looks at the percentage of wins within a streak that a team compiled compared to their total wins.

Percentage of Wins from Win Streaks

While the Cubs have recorded the most toal wins from streaks, at 42 — and the Rangers are second at 41 — the Tigers have produced the greatest percentage of their wins during the course of win streaks. Those win streaks are just half of the streakiness equation. There are the losses, too. The graph below shows the teams with the most losing streaks of at least four games.

Losing Streaks in 2016

We see essentially the reverse of the graphs from above, with the good teams now occupying the right side of the graph; the bad teams, the left side. The Braves have as many losing streaks of at least four games as the Indians, Marlins, Red Sox, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Blue Jays combined. The Royals and the Pirates, two teams that have struggled at times, but are not out of the playoff race yet, both have six losing streaks this season. The Tigers aren’t too far behind. As a percentage of losses, the Braves still take the top spot.

Percentage of Losses from Losing Streaks in 2016

Detroit, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh are among those winning teams whose losses have tended to come in bunches. Kansas City hasn’t quite felt the same streakiness from the winning side, as the team is closer to the middle of the pack. The Pirates are one of just two teams who’ve recorded more than 40% of their wins and 40% of their losses coming from streaks as they have 26 wins and 26 losses on streaks this year. You might say they’re the most consistently streaky. The other team is the aforementioned Detroit Tigers, who have a greater percentage of their wins come from streaks than any team and also managed to stay in the top half on the losses side. Aside from the Atlanta Braves, who are just streaky-bad, no team has had more games this season occur during a winning or losing streak.

Percentage of Games in a Winning or Losing Streak

Among winning teams, the gap between the Tigers and Cubs is quite large, greater than the gap between the fourth-place Cubs and the San Francisco Giants, who come in 15th here. On the other end of the spectrum, the Marlins are the least streaky team in baseball. They’re the only team with fewer than 25% of both of their losses and wins coming from streaks. The Brewers, Cardinals, and Yankees are the only teams under 30% in both categories.

There doesn’t appear to be a common theme between the teams grouped together. Jose Fernandez appears to be the type of pitcher who might help prevent longer losing streaks, while some of the rest of the staff might prevent win streaks. The Cardinals have had an inconsistent bullpen, while the Yankees had a great one. The Brewers and Padres are bad, even as many other teams without many streaks are very good. I’m not sure there’s too much here to identify the types of teams that might be prone to winning streaks or losing streaks or both other than being good, bad, and mediocre. On the other hand, if you want to know if the streaks matter, they do.

Common wisdom would indicate that putting together as many winning streaks as possible and limiting losing streaks is a good way to get to a lot of wins. Vice versa in terms of losses. However, these streaks amount to only around 35% of a team’s games. I was curious whether what happened in those 35% of games was a good indicator of what might be happening in the rest of the games. To determine if there was a relationship and how strong that relationship might be, I put together a streak percentage.

A team’s streak percentage is relatively simple: games in winning streaks minus games in losing streaks, with the total divided by total games. The chart looks like this:

Streak Percentage
Streak Wins/G Streak Losses/G Streak %
Indians 26.19% 0.00% 26.19%
Cubs 33.33% 10.32% 23.02%
Rangers 32.03% 9.38% 22.66%
Red Sox 19.69% 3.15% 16.54%
Nationals 26.77% 11.81% 14.96%
Blue Jays 21.26% 7.09% 14.17%
Dodgers 21.26% 7.87% 13.39%
Orioles 27.56% 14.17% 13.39%
Tigers 31.50% 18.90% 12.60%
Astros 22.05% 10.24% 11.81%
Marlins 11.81% 3.15% 8.66%
Cardinals 15.08% 7.14% 7.94%
Giants 22.83% 14.96% 7.87%
Yankees 15.08% 14.29% 0.79%
Pirates 20.80% 20.80% 0.00%
White Sox 15.08% 16.67% -1.59%
Mets 13.39% 15.75% -2.36%
Mariners 14.17% 18.11% -3.94%
Royals 18.90% 22.83% -3.94%
Rockies 14.17% 18.11% -3.94%
Phillies 14.17% 18.90% -4.72%
Brewers 9.45% 14.17% -4.72%
Angels 14.17% 25.20% -11.02%
Diamondbacks 14.84% 26.56% -11.72%
Rays 15.87% 28.57% -12.70%
Reds 7.14% 23.81% -16.67%
A’s 11.81% 29.92% -18.11%
Twins 9.45% 33.07% -23.62%
Padres 0.00% 26.77% -26.77%
Braves 10.94% 40.63% -29.69%

As for how it relates to win percentage overall, the relationship is incredibly strong as seen by this graph.

Comparing Streak % and Actual Win % (1)

For comparison’s sake, that is a slightly stronger relationship than current PythagenPat win percentage (r^2= .80) or BaseRuns win percentage (r^2= .70). While those other two are likely a better representation of how a team played than a team’s actual record, at least for this season, a team’s streak percentage will likely tell you a bit more about a team’s actual record. The use of this might be limited given finding out a team’s actual record is incredibly easy, but this does suggest that streaks do matter over the course of a season.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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7 years ago

The Indians haven’t lost two games in a row and the Padres haven’t won two in a row this year?


Mr. Mojorisin
7 years ago
Reply to  Gavin

Clearly not, as neither team has a record within a game of .500. The streaks are 4 or more in a row.

7 years ago
Reply to  Gavin

Unless a “streak” is universally defined as “four games in a row with the same outcome” and I am not aware of that, you should have been more clear about your definition from the outset. I noticed a throw away comment about four games in the first paragraph after the first graph otherwise I wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

7 years ago
Reply to  Gavin

While graphs and prose should be able to exist independently and tell the same story… The graph is pretty darn clear about it in more than one place.

7 years ago
Reply to  Gavin

The graphs have it in their titles where appropriate.

7 years ago
Reply to  Gavin

The question I have to clarify the definition, is if an 8-game streak would be worth 1, 2, or 5 4+game streaks?

7 years ago
Reply to  11235813

My interpretation was that it was wins and losses during the streaks, so an 8 game winnign streak would be 8 wins and a 4-game would be 4 wins, etc.

7 years ago
Reply to  Gavin