Thursday, July 15, 2010

God and Baseball Statistics

In the six days of sports creation, God created sports successively closer and closer to the perfect divine image. To be precise:

Day 1: Basketball (Intended for the Nephilim, to keep their minds off the daughters of men. Alas it didn't work, because the sport was too boring, and the daughters of men were hawt.)
Day 2: Soccer
Day 3: Real Football
Day 4: Hockey
Day 5: Baseball

And on the seventh day he watched NASCAR. And it was very good. Except for Mark Martin hitting the wall in turn two.

A "Sports Theodicy" is an attempt to explain the puzzle of where figure skating, gymnastics and Formula One Racing came from, since God had nothing to do with these. He is never the author of sports that are highly feminized.

Though baseball is not the pinnacle of sports creation, it's darn close. And it has been given the special honor as the sport-most-holy in its conduciveness to statistical analysis.

We all know about batting average (BA). If you don't—well in the words of that great American philosopher Foghorn Leghorn, "I say, there's just something yech about a boy who don't, I say don't like baseball." BA is simply the number of hits divided by the number at bats. By divine fiat the number of significant digits shall always be kept at three. Never four, and five is just out of the question. And thou shall omit the leading zero, lest thou be sentenced to be a Pittsburgh Pirate fan.

So a player who has 207 hits in 611 at bats has BA of .339.

A more interesting statistic is the batting average on balls in play (BABIP). For this statistic, you take the number of times the batter gets the ball in play, i.e., hits it into fair territory, divided by plate appearances. Strikeouts and home runs are excluded. Sacrifice flies, however, count as plate appearances. The formula is:

BABIP = (H – HR)/(AB – K – HR + SF)

where H is hits, HR is home runs, AB is at bats, K is strikeouts, and SF is sacrifice flies.

By comparison, the regular batting average is given by:


The average BABIP is around .300. Usually, but not always, a hitter's BABIP is higher than his BA.

Here is where things get interesting. If you are a general manager and your team needs a hitter, you generally snag the one with the highest BA. But suppose there are two players available with the same BA but different BABIP. For example:

Bill Buckner: BA: .280, BABIP: .290
Omar Moreno: BA: .280, BABIP .340

Which would you take? The counter-intuitive answer: take Buckner, the hitter with the lower BABIP.


Because it turns out that to a good first approximation once a batted ball is in play whether or not it results in a safe hit is random. Does the ball go to where a defender ain't? So a BABIP below the average of .300 indicates a player who has, statistically speaking, been unlucky. His BA should be higher. Conversely a player whose BABIP is higher than .300 has been lucky. His BA is artifically high.

Over time you expect the BA of a player with a high BABIP to drop, and the BA of a player with a low BABIP to rise.

So take Bill Buckner. Send Omar Moreno to AAA.


  1. What if Omar Moreno gets to first base a lot quicker than Bill Buckner?

  2. Gah! Hey should have stopped at day 2...

    Reminds me of this a bit:'s_paradox

  3. Tom,

    Don't get all second-ordery on me! We physicists solve problems with no air resistance, massless ropes, and frictionless planes. Corrections are left to little people--engineers.


    Simpson's Paradox rocks. I went to your link and thought: hey, wiki stole my example! But actually, I stole theirs. I sure do miss my memory.

  4. Why would God invent football twice?

    Or is the second one rugby? Or, if this is a really perverse God, Aussie Rules?

  5. Bob O'H:

    careful, these are kinds of sports.

  6. How do you know football wasn't front-loaded to become American football, rugby, Aussie Rules etc? Eh?


  7. OMG, I'm going to get banninated for that, aren't I.

    Where's my next sockpuppet?

  8. Bob O'H, AKA Rich Hughes, AKA Lenny's Pizza Delivery Man, AKA Galapagos Finch, AKA Mr. French, AKA GEM of TKI-- is no longer with us.

    We hope he returns, but he is no longer with us. Aloha.

  9. For BA, aren't walks considering "not at bat"?

    So BA = H / (AB - W)


  10. nedbrek,

    The AB, in both equations, already excludes walks. (I think. Baseball stats are more complicated than quantum field theory.)

  11. You're right (it is more complicated than quantum physics)...
    I was thinking OBP was (H+W)/AB, but it is (H+W) / (AB+W) [they add back the walks, instead of subtracting it in other stats].

    I am leaving of sac-flies and hbp...

  12. Anonymous11:06 AM


    This prayer is from Jesus that we may hear from Him, that He may speak to our hearts. It only consist of three simple steps.

    1) We need to read one scripture. This will focus us in the word that brings everlasting life.

    2) Since this prayer is from Jesus we need to direct our prayer to Him personally. Too often Christian focus they're prayer's to G_D the father. Scripture proclaims that Jesus can be the focus of our prayer.

    3) The simplest part of this Prayer is to ask Jesus one question. Please, all that is required for this question is that it should be simple. Let Jesus Himself finish the question when He gives you that understanding in this prayer.

    The PRAYER

    The scripture that is the focus of this prayer is "ACTS 2:38". It's not necessary to do any study into this scripture. Jesus Himself will bestow the understanding that will resonate in your heart.

    The most important part of this prayer is that we need to direct our prayer directly to Jesus. If you normally would say Father in your prayer, change your focus from the Father to Christ Jesus, by lifting Jesus name up every time you would normally use Father in your prayer.

    Maybe the hardest part of this prayer is the question that we need to ask Jesus. For man as we are, always try's to understand the question instead of listening to the answer. The simplest question is all that is required.

    Simply ask Jesus 'WHY'

  13. The Deuce4:09 PM

    My one problem with the batting average is that walks are counted against it. But a walk gets you on base just as well as a single!