By Adam W. Bloom, CBS Local Sports
My buddy Brent first told me about his streak when it was at 32. I was familiar with MLB.com’s ‘Beat the Streak’ game but little did I know that for the next two weeks I’d be following his picks each night to see if he could keep the streak alive. ‘Beat the Streak’ is a free game that MLB.com hosts each year with the simple goal of picking 57 players who will get a hit each game – tying in to the famous 56 game hit streak of Joe DiMaggio. Do that and you win a cool $5.6 million. As of this post the closest anyone got is 49 straight picks in 2007. Brent’s streak came to an end this week at 42 – currently holding the lead for 2015. Find out more about his wild ride, his unique strategy and how his streak ultimately ended below.
How did you hear about Beat the Streak? Had you been doing it for years or was this your first year?
I’d heard of BTS years ago from ‘promotional’ emails from MLB but it wasn’t until this year that I actually clicked one to play. I’ve had a little more time this year and have been working on writing a book on employee effectiveness and productivity. Apparently my irony levels were out of whack and I needed to find myself a productive endeavor to start my day since actually working was far more difficult.
What is your previous high streak?
Two, I think.
This streak was a combination of beginner’s luck and beginning statistics. I can’t be sure since MLB doesn’t allow me to look back but I’d taken an ‘0-fer’ for what seemed like the 57 games prior to the streak. Not easy to do when you are picking the best of the best. Speaking of, there should be prizes for picking guys who are nails and just can’t muster hits. I basically threw the MLB Beat the Streak equivalent of like 5 no-hitters in a row.
There seems to be some strategy here on who you pick? Can you walk us through how you made your decisions each day?
Now that I think of it, I don’t think I ever picked the same guy in back to back games. It didn’t seem like a superstition until you made me say it. My goal was to be objective and spend all 90-seconds I invested in my picks efficiently by basing it on the over/under line and starting pitcher FIP. But I guess all luck needs a little superstition.
In the beginning it was the March Madness equivalent of picking which mascot would win in a fight. I just didn’t think about the match up. It was all ‘gut,’ with one hard and fast exception being to never to pick anyone on the White Sox. I couldn’t stand the thought of deciding to tune into a game and listen to Hawk Harrelson for even a batter.
The streak started to get real when I could sniff the leaderboard. But even then 56 was just so far away I didn’t pay any more attention to the picks other than the day’s starting lineup (pinch hit appearances seemed like a horrific way to bow out), the over/under line, and the starting pitcher’s FIP, which I’m nerdy enough about to have a feel for where most guys stand without having to look up 30 pitchers.
Once I was on the board and could see the top I started to factor in the weather forecast because I didn’t want to be the bozo who was almost to the top and then let a 5-inning, 2 at-bat game do me in. And despite most hitters hitting better at home, I’d pick the guy on the road if I couldn’t decide between two with the thought that the possibility of getting an additional at-bat in the ninth would be more valuable than the home advantage. I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about that when you do the math, but it felt very thoughtful and gave me comfort that I’d picked the right guy.
Were there one or two players that you relied on the most during the streak?
I read MLB had done some research that those with the longest streak used 10.3 players on average. Seventeen are listed under my ‘recent picks,’ but I’m sure I used a handful more than that over the course of the 42 games.
At one point I got the ‘garden variety’ badge for picking 8 different players in a row to keep the streak alive.
Ugh, and while we’re at it I also refused to pick Cubs. I may have picked Rizzo once but as I climbed higher in the standings I didn’t want any Cub players to be the one who ended it.
Goldschmidt, Trout and Miggy were the three I’ve used most since the start of the season. It’s hard to go wrong with any of those guys, and it seems like this would be an easy game when you list them out like that.
Did you watch the games on TV or online or did you not pay attention? (Did that change during the streak?)
It wasn’t until I got halfway and was almost to the point of tickling the leaderboard that I told anyone that I was playing. It just felt like a good outlet to think about baseball when I’d get stuck while working on a project.
I never watched any of the games because I was too busy watching the Cubs. I’d keep my computer on my lap if I was at home, or the MLB At Bat app up if we were travelling. Sometimes I’d watch a ‘live’ at-bat via Gameday but for the most part it was like scratching a lottery ticket at the end of the night or the next morning. It was a three-part emotional swing. First you’d see the final score. If it was a decent number of runs you’d feel good. Then you’d see the abbreviated box score. If the team got double-digit hits you could count on it. And only then could you check the player.
It was those days like number 41 that really got the adrenaline firing. The Angles were shut out on four hits. But Trout got one of them. It was the Cliff’s Notes version of an emotional rollercoaster.
Did MLB award you any prizes during the streak? If so – what did you get?
At the risk of not having MLB’s Ed McMahon show up on my doorstep with a giant check, the awards aren’t terribly interesting (e.g. discounts to the MLB shop). I was playing the game more to see my name in lights on the leaderboard.
At 30 though they started to get useful with a free MLB Premium subscription for the remainder of the year. At 35, I got the cruel, cruel joke of a blank scratcher. Perhaps a subtle reminder from the MLB development team, that it’s not all about the prizes. At 40, MLB granted a free Premium subscription for next years MLB package, which is a nice little win.
This is going to sound corny, but the biggest ‘win’ I got out of it was reconnecting with a couple of friends I hadn’t spoken to in years. On the first day of having the longest current streak I got a text from a long-lost friend asking if the acronym MLB BTS meant anything to me. Since we’d last spoken I’d started a company, had two kids, moved, and been fired from my own company. It’s been great to reconnect with the ones who knew you before you were a famous baseball streak picker.
Was there one time during the streak you thought it was all over, but then a player got a hit during his last at bat?
I’m sure there were a couple of last at-bat saviors for me, but because I didn’t watch the games I didn’t know. There were two moments though where I thought it was curtains for sure. The Trout experience at 41 that I mentioned early was the biggest. But I also happened to be watching the Dodgers one night to get my weekly fill of Vin Scully when Adrian Gonzalez clanged one off the fair pole. He had not looked comfortable in the box during his first two at-bats so I assumed the worst. He wound up 1 for 4 and about 8 inches away from an 0 for 4.
Tell us about the player that ended the streak? How did you decide on him and walk us through that feeling when it ended.
The last day of my streak I’d originally picked Buster Posey and Brett Gardner working under the assumption that Billingsley still had a couple years of rust to knock off and that the Yankee/Red Sox series typically involved football scores. Ten minutes before the game locked I chickened out on Gardner because he was facing a lefty and switched to Andrew McCutchen, who I hadn’t picked once during the streak, with the thinking that the Pirates/Cardinals were in a dogfight and he wouldn’t get pulled early to give the star some extra time off heading into the break.
It was such a crazy, nearly improbably game that it felt like if McCutchen pulled the rabbit out of his hat that I was going to be like the ’88 Dodgers and be the team of destiny. Going against my guideline of picking road warriors I found myself cheering hard for the Cardinals to tie it up in the 8th so that the Pirates would have a chance to churn through the order at least a time or two in extras. When the Cards picked up two in the tenth I knew it was over. But then the Pirates came back with two more and had two outs with the bases loaded. If Rosenthal could get out of the inning with just the perfect amount of damage done then McCutchen would be due up 4th in the 11th facing a pitcher not named Rosenthal.
When Polanco singled I was disappointed, but also still giddy to have had the chance to get that far.
I’d found myself thinking about the players I’d picked all the time as well as daydreaming about how I could put 5.6 million to work. In the end it’s like buying a lottery ticket. You spend the dollar less because you think your 1 in a gazillion chance will pay off, but because for a single dollar you buy yourself time to daydream about what you could do with those winnings. I got endless hours of entertainment for free. Not to mention the chance to reconnect with friends, who agonized over my picks more than I did, on a daily basis. I won this one.
Will you do it again after the All Star break? Would you recommend other people try it?
I’ll dive in again and have already picked Trout and McCutchen for Friday. I love watching McCutchen play and don’t want to always think of him as the player who ended my improbable run. A run I’ll likely never have again. Argh, thanks Andrew.
I was playing so I could furiously procrastinate. Ultimately, I think it’s far more fun for people if they take advantage of the group feature, which I did not. If you’re real team is tanking and your fantasy team has gotten blown up then it’s a great way to keep your rooting interest alive.
Since you currently have the longest streak of the year could you win any additional prizes?
For the first time in my life, I read contest rules after the streak hit 40. As it turns out, the longest streak of the year wins ten grand and a chance to hit BP at Wrigley Field with three friends. (That last part may not be true but I’m hoping MLB reads this and feels obligated to fulfill it since it’s live on the Internet.) I’m not banking on it though. There are several people who are within easy spitting distance of 42 so my 15-minutes of fame and chance to hit BP at Wrigley will likely end this weekend.