San Francisco Giants: Shutout Streak's Infinitesimal Odds

Categories: Sports
Joel Gomberg
You guessed it -- it's the scoresheet from Matt Cain's perfect game. Click image for larger version.
Everyone who's come up a bit short has heard the old adage "You can't win them all." A lesser-known corollary is that "you certainly can lose them all."

Simply put, failure is easier than success. So, when unbridled successes begin to stack atop one another -- as is the case for the San Francisco Giants these days -- it's good to take a step back and calculate how unlikely this all is. And how good we've got it as fans.

Tonight, Matt Cain will attempt to hurl the team's fifth consecutive shutout. How unlikely is this? Glad you asked. Baseball, like smoking, provides us with a plethora of statistics to wade through.

Though baseball records stretch back to the Dark Ages, let's use 21 years as a statistical window.

Between 1991 and 2011, the Giants played 3,355 regular-season games (remember, there were only 115 games in 1994. Dammit). The team only recorded shutouts, however, in 54 of those. The team averaged a little over 2.5 shutouts per season; roughly every 62 games, you can expect a shutout.

So, four shutouts in a row is, to put it mildly, unusual. Normally you'd have to wait 249 games for that many. Over the past two decades, Giants hurlers have had about a 1.6 percent chance of tossing a shutout on any given day; those are one-in-62 odds.

If you have a one-in-62 chance of tossing a shutout, you have a one-in-3,844 chance of doing it twice in a row. You have a one-in-238,328 chance of doing it three times in a row. And you have a one-in-14,776,336 chance of pulling it off four straight times.

And if Matt Cain blanks the Reds tonight? The Giants will have achieved a one-in-916,132,832 occurrence.

In other baseball statistics news, did you know it took former Giants journeyman infielder Harry Spillman 13 Big-League seasons to hit his first triple? It's true.

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