Monday, October 30, 2017

God and Baseball Statistics (modified)

Note: I have heard that tomorrow, 31 October 2017, the 95 Reasons the Dodgers Will Win The Series will be nailed on the doors of Joel Osteen's "church". It will mark the closest ever penetration of the gospel into that establishment. It's just the first shot--the gates of hell (which are believed to be in the basement) will not prevail.


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, with too many stoppages and fouls and semi-infinite timeouts, not to mention 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 Kevin Harvick hitting the wall in turn two.

A "Sports Theodicy" is an attempt to explain the puzzle of where figure skating, prepubescent 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. They are believed to be the result of free will.

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.

Here is something from Numbers. 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 in the BA 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.

And thou shall also reference the BA as if multiplying by the holy number 1000, holy because it is 103, with 10 being the number of commandments, and 3 being the persons of the Trinity. (Modern students may need a calculator.) Thus the player with the batting average of .300 shall not be said to be hitting "point 3 oh oh" nor  the even more heretical "point 3", but "three hundred." Because inscrutable reasons.

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 who is available 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.

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