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Hot Hand: The Statistics Behind Sports' Greatest Streaks Hardcover – November 1, 2011
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About the Author
Alan Reifman teaches in the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University and writes the popular blog Hot Hand. He lives in Lubbock, Texas.
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Top Customer Reviews
In contrast this short book treats two related phenomena that can be studied across many sports. The “hot hand” is the notion, prevalent amongst players, that at certain times a player is better at making plays than usual. A ``streak” is a succession of wins for a team, or successful plays for an individual. Interest in extremes — exemplified by Guinness World Records being one of the best-selling copyrighted books ever — makes us perhaps overly fascinated by record length streaks such as Joe DiMaggio’s. The book describes many examples of such phenomena in different sports, primarily baseball and basketball. Under the surface lies a longstanding argument over whether observed streaks are more than “just chance”. Of course a better player is likely to have longer streaks, so ``just chance” needs to be related to the hypothetical model where success on each play has the same probability (the player’s percentage success) and is independent for different plays.
As a college teacher of probability and statistics, I view this book as a valuable companion to a first course in mathematical statistics. “Tests of significance” — to answer such “more than just chance?” questions — were one of the things that mathematical statistics was invented to do. Seeing the results of statistical analysis without technicalities but paying attention to real-world matters — to other possible explanations of non-randomness than the “hot hand” possibility, for instance — provides a wonderful illustration of reasoning about statistics outside textbooks.
The book is pleasantly non-dogmatic about the extent to which the hot hand phenomenon is real or illusory. It, and the author’s authoritative Hot Hand blog, will be enjoyable to the general reader interested in looking beneath the surface of sports statistics.
The best part of the book is this: it doesn't take a hard line on anything. It goes to great lengths to provide evidence of the hot hand in certain scenarios, and then it goes to equally great lengths to discuss all the places where it doesn't seem to exist. It is designed to be a 'gap bridger' that can enlighten both the casual sports fan and the hardened statistician.
Because of this, it is not a book JUST about sports, or JUST about math. It looks at famous streaks (and some not-so-famous ones) and tries to discern how much was due to skill and how much was due to luck.
It covers both individual and team streaks, as well as winning streaks and losing streaks. It discusses different statistical methods used to measure the likelihood of streaks, and it explains the psychology and physical aspects of why certain sports (or certain people) lend themselves to being streaky. Along the way, it answers things like whether amateur athletes are streakier than professionals, and whether teams are less prone to streaks than individuals.
It covers all of the big sports: Was it inevitable that the UConn women would win 90 games in a row? Was Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak a fluke, or due to some unique physical or psychological factor? But it also covers the history and explanation of interesting streaks from many of the minor sports (golf, bowling, softball, horse racing--even chess).
There is some math, but it's the right amount: if you don't like numbers, you can ignore it and you will still be able to follow the book entirely. If you do like math, you can use it to gain a quicker understanding (and use the bibliography to find the original research papers).