Statistically speaking, it's unbreakable

September 05, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

Cal Ripken has said that someday, someone will break the consecutive-games record that likely will become his tomorrow night. But according to the calculations of a Vanderbilt University professor, the chances of that happening are extremely remote.

Dr. Richard Larsen, a teacher of statistics at Vanderbilt and a rabid baseball fan, figured that baseball's second-most durable shortstop of 1995, San Francisco's Royce Clayton, has a .000000000000000017 chance of playing 2,130 consecutive games. That's 16 zeros.

Put another way, Clayton's chances are less than 2 in 10,000,000,000,000,000.

For comparison's sake, check out these odds:

* Testimony at the O. J. Simpson murder trial stated that the chances of a DNA match to Simpson's blood were less than 1 in 170 million.

* The odds of being struck by lightning in any one year are 1 in 2 million.

* The chances that you will be killed by a meteor are 1 in 1.2 million.

* The odds of picking the six winning numbers in the Maryland State Lottery are 1 in 6.9 million.

Larsen generated several different ways of quantifying Ripken's streak, noting that there's no perfect formula for gauging the likelihood of somebody challenging the record again.

First, the Clayton test. Larsen said:

"One way to gauge the unlikelihood of Ripken's streak is to calculate the probability that today's next most durable shortstop -- in this case, Clayton -- would replicate the feat. Based on his performance this season, Clayton has a 98.2 percent chance of appearing in his next game." Clayton appeared in 111 of the Giants' first 113 games; Larsen based his calculations on games through Aug. 28.

"His estimated probability, then, of appearing in the next 2,130 games would be .982 to the 2,130th power, [which equals] .000000000000000017.

"In all fairness, the above figure somewhat overstates the unlikelihood of Ripken's streak. We would not require, for example, that Clayton necessarily breaks the record on the very next 2,130 games: He could start the streak a week from now or a year from now. Still, 2,130 games would constitute a major portion of any player's total number of games in the majors. Unlike a hitting streak, in other words, it could not occur at too many places during a player's career.

"We must also allow for the fact that the streak can be broken by any player, not just Clayton. Since the game began, there have been some 12,000 major-leaguers. Discounting pitchers, that would leave maybe 6,000 or 7,000 position players. But even multiplying that figure by the number calculated earlier leaves an astronomically small probability.

"[Clayton's] was the best figure this year [besides Ripken's], but other players in other years have certainly done better. If we assume daily probability of, say, 99.2 percent, the streak probability [increases] to a much larger .000000037."

That's seven zeros. Still less than 4 in 10 million.

Another way of quantifying probability is establishing standard deviations from the norm. Using this formula and based on the total number of players and the 33 longest streaks in history, Larsen figured the odds at 5 in 1 billion.

In other words, Ripken's record probably would be safe for a very long time. Like forever.

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