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Have the A's been unlucky?

Their manager thinks so. From Carl Bialik (aka the WSJ's "Numbers Guy"):

The Oakland A's are a very good baseball team that nonetheless will miss the playoffs, thanks in large part to a stretch of bad play at home late this season.

Just how much of a fluke was that stretch from August 12 to September 7, in which the A's lost five straight three-game series at home? A's manager Ken Macha hazarded a guess last week in a chat with Sacramento Bee sports columnist Mark Kreidler: a 512-to-1 shot.

Bialik did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation assuming each series is a toss-up, which implied that the odds are more like 32-to-1. Still improbable, but not as flukey as Macha let on.

But hold the phone: the A's lost a series to the lowly Royals during that stretch! Incorporating winning percentages into the calculation yields odds of 940-1. Wow.

Bialik has a nice discussion of streaky events and baseball, with quotes from one of the deans of the baseball professoriate, statistician Jim Albert. Interpreting streaks is tricky business, but one thing is clear to this reader. The A's were either lucky at the start of the year, inflating their winning percentage, or very unlucky during the streak. Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Thanks to David Patton for the link. And after last night's comeback win over the Cards, please allow me a little hee-hah: go Astros!!