Being Skeptical of Batting Average

From the primordial mists of the creation of baseball to the twenty-first century, batting average has been revered as a definitive representation of batting skill.  Batting average is simply the number of hits divided by the number of official at bats.  It’s not even an average, it’s just a ratio. Traditionally in baseball we call values like “.300” as “three hundred”. A batting average of .300 is considered excellent while a batting average of .400 is considered an extraordinary achievement.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s the idea that on-base percentage was a better indicator of skill started to take hold. A good on-base percentage changes from year to year relative to the rest of the league, but on-base percentage of 0.360 to 0.370 is always pretty good.  It should be noted that we don’t really use proper percentage values and, like with batting average, just covert the decimal value into a whole number for the purpose of speech.  An on-base percentage of 0.360 is said out loud as “three sixty”.

In order to test the idea that on-base percentage is better than just batting average I wrote a game simulator in PHP: https://github.com/spbr/BaseballSim.  The program sets up a highly unrealistic scenario.  There are only three possible outcomes to each at bat: out, walk, or hit.  Each hit or walk can only advance a runner one base.  No singles to center score a runner from second.  Each player on one team has the same hit and walk percentages, which means, sadly, the simulator pretty much has a designated hitter.  For each set of batting and onbase settings I tested, I simulated 1,000,000 games.  

As expected the team with the better on-base percentage but lower batting average, won the majority of games:

Home Avg: .300
Home OBP: .310
Visitor Avg: .280
Visitor OBP: .340
Home Wins: 448,639
Visitor Wins: 551,361

Home Avg: .350
Home OBP: .370
Visitor Avg: .270
Visitor OBP: .400
Home Wins: 494,596
Visitor Wins: 505,404

Home Avg: .330
Home OBP: .350
Visitor Avg: .250
Visitor OBP: .430
Home Wins: 370,131
Visitor Wins: 629,869

This was a simple experiment to create but I think it also is a clear explanation of why on-base percentage is more important than batting average.  Batting titles are great I guess, but I want to see the on-base percentage title now.  The over one hundred year obsession with batting average has been misplaced.  This example also shows how basic skepticism can be applied to lots and lots of things we interact with.  Maybe for some, the lessening of batting average is a negative, but I look at it as very interesting that I know have a whole new set of players whose greatness hasn’t been realized.  Skepticism enriches the experience for me.

So next time you see any baseball stat flashed up on the screen, be skeptical.

Being Skeptical of Batting Average

From the primordial mists of the creation of baseball to the twenty-first century, batting average has been revered as a definitive representation of batting skill.  Batting average is simply the number of hits divided by the number of official at bats.  It’s not even an average, it’s just a ratio. Traditionally in baseball we call values like “.300” as “three hundred”. A batting average of .300 is considered excellent while a batting average of .400 is considered an extraordinary achievement.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s the idea that on-base percentage was a better indicator of skill started to take hold. A good on-base percentage changes from year to year relative to the rest of the league, but on-base percentage of 0.360 to 0.370 is always pretty good.  It should be noted that we don’t really use proper percentage values and, like with batting average, just covert the decimal value into a whole number for the purpose of speech.  An on-base percentage of 0.360 is said out loud as “three sixty”.

In order to test the idea that on-base percentage is better than just batting average I wrote a game simulator in PHP: https://github.com/spbr/BaseballSim.  The program sets up a highly unrealistic scenario.  There are only three possible outcomes to each at bat: out, walk, or hit.  Each hit or walk can only advance a runner one base.  No singles to center score a runner from second.  Each player on one team has the same hit and walk percentages, which means, sadly, the simulator pretty much has a designated hitter.  For each set of batting and onbase settings I tested, I simulated 1,000,000 games.  

As expected the team with the better on-base percentage but lower batting average, won the majority of games:

Home Avg: .300
Home OBP: .310
Visitor Avg: .280
Visitor OBP: .340
Home Wins: 448,639
Visitor Wins: 551,361

Home Avg: .350
Home OBP: .370
Visitor Avg: .270
Visitor OBP: .400
Home Wins: 494,596
Visitor Wins: 505,404

Home Avg: .330
Home OBP: .350
Visitor Avg: .250
Visitor OBP: .430
Home Wins: 370,131
Visitor Wins: 629,869

This was a simple experiment to create but I think it also is a clear explanation of why on-base percentage is more important than batting average.  Batting titles are great I guess, but I want to see the on-base percentage title now.  The over one hundred year obsession with batting average has been misplaced.  This example also shows how basic skepticism can be applied to lots and lots of things we interact with.  Maybe for some, the lessening of batting average is a negative, but I look at it as very interesting that I know have a whole new set of players whose greatness hasn’t been realized.  Skepticism enriches the experience for me.

So next time you see any baseball stat flashed up on the screen, be skeptical.

Baseball, Bigfoot, and Skepticism

In the last couple years I’ve personally noticed a lot of little digs at meetings like TAM, referring to them as nothing but “Bigfoot and UFO’s”.  These digs are meant to imply that TAM contains subjects of little substance or importance unlike whatever pet cause the digger has.  TAM has never been or will be a meeting just about Bigfoot or UFO’s, though there will be talks and presentations here and there.  The workshops done before and after TAM often talk about UFO’s and Bigfoot, but I’ve always felt they’re meant to add some levity to TAM attendees after they’ve traveled to Las Vegas in addition to acting as gateways to skepticism.

Bigfoot is always a great example to use because belief in Bigfoot hits on so many skeptical points and is a great introduction to the use or non-use of the scientific method.  It’s relatable because so many of us have been outside in the middle of the night, heard a strange noise, and instantly imagined something sinister due to the evolution of our brain.  You can be taught the differences between evidence and anecdotes, investigation and speculation, the objective versus the subjective, etc.  

I’m proposing another avenue to make skepticism accesible to all: Baseball.  I’m a huge baseball fan.  I love the game, the sport, and the history.  Baseball has a history stretching back to before the Civil War and some modern teams can be traced back to 1876.  That kind of continuity against the backgrop of history is fascinating to me.  

You read history books that descrive the end of the Reconstruction Era and how it led to a nadir in race relations.  At the same time, you can read how baseball did use to have players of color, but like the rest of the country, segregation took hold after Reconstruction ended and the Jim Crow era began.  It wasn’t until 1946 that Jackie Robinson signed a professional contract with the Montreal Royals that began the end of segregation in baseball.

Aside from this history, baseball also has many traditions based in superstition and folklore.  Things like the sacrifice bunt, the save rule, use of small sample sizes are still rife in baseball, though, finally, in the last decade or so the old traditions are slowly falling away.

In the 1980’s when I watched the Mets, each time the player came up to bat, we’d see his batting average, homeruns, and rbi.  Two of those stats are now considered antiquated and inadequate.  Batting average is only one component of a batter’s skill.  We now know, empirically, that onbase percentage is superior to batting average.  A player with a .300 batting average and a .310 onbase percentage is not as good a batter as a player with a .280 batting average and a .340 onbase percentage.  We know that rbi are contextual in that they only tell us people were on base ahead of a hitter.  

If you are a baseball fan, there is a whole world of stats, somewhat easily explained and accessible, that show the falsehoods behind conventional wisdom and the unwritten rules.  Through baseball, skeptics might have a new way to relate the material to people who otherwise don’t relate to other topics skeptics use.  I’ll be doing a post soon explaining why onbase percentage is better than batting average, and show how a simple experiment can illustrate this.  

Move over Bigfoot, it’s baseball’s time!

Baseball, Bigfoot, and Skepticism

In the last couple years I’ve personally noticed a lot of little digs at meetings like TAM, referring to them as nothing but “Bigfoot and UFO’s”.  These digs are meant to imply that TAM contains subjects of little substance or importance unlike whatever pet cause the digger has.  TAM has never been or will be a meeting just about Bigfoot or UFO’s, though there will be talks and presentations here and there.  The workshops done before and after TAM often talk about UFO’s and Bigfoot, but I’ve always felt they’re meant to add some levity to TAM attendees after they’ve traveled to Las Vegas in addition to acting as gateways to skepticism.

Bigfoot is always a great example to use because belief in Bigfoot hits on so many skeptical points and is a great introduction to the use or non-use of the scientific method.  It’s relatable because so many of us have been outside in the middle of the night, heard a strange noise, and instantly imagined something sinister due to the evolution of our brain.  You can be taught the differences between evidence and anecdotes, investigation and speculation, the objective versus the subjective, etc.  

I’m proposing another avenue to make skepticism accesible to all: Baseball.  I’m a huge baseball fan.  I love the game, the sport, and the history.  Baseball has a history stretching back to before the Civil War and some modern teams can be traced back to 1876.  That kind of continuity against the backgrop of history is fascinating to me.  

You read history books that descrive the end of the Reconstruction Era and how it led to a nadir in race relations.  At the same time, you can read how baseball did use to have players of color, but like the rest of the country, segregation took hold after Reconstruction ended and the Jim Crow era began.  It wasn’t until 1946 that Jackie Robinson signed a professional contract with the Montreal Royals that began the end of segregation in baseball.

Aside from this history, baseball also has many traditions based in superstition and folklore.  Things like the sacrifice bunt, the save rule, use of small sample sizes are still rife in baseball, though, finally, in the last decade or so the old traditions are slowly falling away.

In the 1980’s when I watched the Mets, each time the player came up to bat, we’d see his batting average, homeruns, and rbi.  Two of those stats are now considered antiquated and inadequate.  Batting average is only one component of a batter’s skill.  We now know, empirically, that onbase percentage is superior to batting average.  A player with a .300 batting average and a .310 onbase percentage is not as good a batter as a player with a .280 batting average and a .340 onbase percentage.  We know that rbi are contextual in that they only tell us people were on base ahead of a hitter.  

If you are a baseball fan, there is a whole world of stats, somewhat easily explained and accessible, that show the falsehoods behind conventional wisdom and the unwritten rules.  Through baseball, skeptics might have a new way to relate the material to people who otherwise don’t relate to other topics skeptics use.  I’ll be doing a post soon explaining why onbase percentage is better than batting average, and show how a simple experiment can illustrate this.  

Move over Bigfoot, it’s baseball’s time!

A Personal Improvement Experiment

Starting tomorrow night I will be be on vacation for a little over two weeks.  I’ve never taken a vacation this long since probably winter break of some year in high school.  My college didn’t have long breaks and I’ve been pretty dedicated to my job so I never really took any time off before.  This changes this year.

Like any human being, I have lots and lots of bad habits.  Some are mostly harmless, like leaving cabinet doors open, but others, like not exercising enough can have harmful effects on my quality of life. To address this I’ve decided to see if I can break a total of twenty bad habits in two weeks and develop new habits.  Ten of these bad habits will be chose by me, the other ten by my wife.  She’s picking some habits because I’m sure I’m quite annoying sometimes and some of them should be easy to fix.

The next post I will have will be the actual lists and my proposed solutions.  It might be unlikely that I could actually break that many habits in two weeks, but on the other hand I’ve never given myself this much time to work on it.  I want to come out of the two weeks more focused and more productive.  It’s also big that I’ll annoy Kelly less.

My initial thoughts were that I need to multi-task less and write more things down.  I might be changing the kinds of things I play on my office stereo.  I’m expecting that I will be re-arranging my office a little bit too.  Everything is on the table.