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Anatomy of a Hit Streak

As Jimmy Rollins carries his hitting streak into the 2006 season, all eyes are focusing on whether he can continue in April what he did last August and September. With his 8th inning hit off Adam Wainwright, courtesy of Tony LaRussa, Rollins needs to hit in 20 more consecutive games to overtake DiMaggio.

One thing that I wanted to investigate in looking at Rollins' streak is whether the fact that he got the bulk of his hits after August 31 helped him. After August 31, teams can expand their rosters with minor leaguers, many who otherwise have very little business being on a major league roster. The same isn't true for April. So, was Rollins helped by facing minor leaguers cloaked in a major league uniform?

No, absolutely not.

In fact, Rollins got his streak-extending hits against an array of veteran major leaguers, many of whom were in the midst of excellent seasons. Here's the list in alphabetical order:

Antonio Alfonseca, Jason Bulger, Brian Cooper, Brandon Backe, A.J. Burnett, Hector Carrasco, Joey Eischen, Kyle Farnsworth, Aaron Harang, Brad Hennessey, Livan Hernandez, Tim Hudson (twice), Randy Keisler, Brad Lidge, Esteban Loiaza, Braden Looper, Pedro Martinez, Eric Milton, Brian Moehler, Roy Oswalt, Juan Padilla, John Patterson, Horacio Ramirez (twice), Jae Seo (twice), Jorge Sosa, John Thomson, Steve Trachsel, Ismael Valdez, Claudio Vargas, Jason Vargas, Adam Wainwright (2006), Brandon Webb, and Dontrelle Willis.

Of that list, only Jason Vargas and Jason Bulger were in their first major league year. (Bulger's appearance against Rollins on August 26 (day 3 of the streak) was his first major league appearance.) Adam Wainwright may as well be lumped in with them, as he pitched only 2 innings last year.

Aside from those three pitchers, the rest of the list is surprisingly established, with many having excellent seasons. Burnett, Eischen, Farnsworth, Harang, Hernandez, Hudson, Lidge, Loiaza, Martinez, Oswalt, Patterson, Seo, Webb, and Willis all had above-league-average ERAs last season, with several posting ERAs under 3.00. Rollins was decidedly not benefiting from facing AAA competition.

One thing that Rollins may have benefited from though is that most of the hitting streak came against teams in the NL East and pitchers who have been in the NL East for quite some time. During the course of the streak, the Phils played the Mets, Braves, and Nationals 6 times each and the Marlins 7 times. Thus, 25 of the 37 games were against foes Rollins is very familiar with. Only 9 of the 21 games to start this season are against familiar NL East teams (Braves, Nationals, Marlins); the other games are against the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Rockies (two series).

And, finally, just as an aside, to dispute ground Jayson Stark apparently covered in his insider blog today, Rollins was decidedly not overly-dramatic with his hit streak in terms of late hits.

In only 11 of the 37 games did he get his streak-extending hit in the 8th or 9th inning; that's only a few more than would be expected by random distribution. On the other hand, 16 of his streak-extending hits were in the first or second inning, almost double the number that would be expected by random distribution. 24 were before the sixth inning started. For much of the streak, Rollins took care of business early and did not have a flare for the dramatic.

Here's the distribution:

First inning: 13
Second inning: 3
Third inning: 4
Fourth inning: 2
Fifth inning: 2
Sixth inning: 0
Seventh inning: 2
Eighth inning: 6
Ninth inning: 5

That's not to say that Rollins' streak hasn't been without some drama. In three of the games that he extended the streak in the ninth inning, there were two outs already when Rollins stepped to the plate. Plus, in all three of those games, Rollins was the fifth batter to come to the plate that inning. This hasn't been his norm throughout the streak, but Rollins has had to face his share of improbable situations to keep it going.

To hit in 37 games in a row, who would expect anything less?