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The Boston Globe

Ideas

The ‘hot hand’ might be real after all

Is that ballplayer ‘in the zone,’ or just lucky? A new challenge to statisticians’ skepticism

In the zone. In a groove. En fuego. Sports broadcasters—and fans—have coined any number of terrible clichés to describe an athlete, especially a basketball or a baseball player, on a hot streak. The idea that a player might have the “hot hand”—a greater chance of draining his next shot or driving his next pitch—is, to many people, a fact as undeniable as the numbers on the scoreboard itself.

To researchers, it’s something else: a problem to be solved. Do players really get hot—quantifiably? Or are we just seeing inevitable patterns in an ultimately random world?

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