Playing with the numbers, baseball and politics

Print Friendly

Many diehard baseball fans love to play with the numbers, the statistics, associated with the game. One reason is that there are just so many of them, but the other is the hope that somehow they might predict the future for your favorite player or team. If you are into fantasy baseball, and I am not, they are the lifeblood of how the whole system works.

Let’s say the bases are loaded in the bottom of the 9th, two outs, and the manager has a choice between sending up two batters, one with a .350 batting average with men in scoring position, and the other with a .250 average. Which one should he choose? The first seems pretty good.

However, what if that first batter was 2 for 10 when he was hitting in the 9th inning and the second was 4 for 8? The second now seems better.

What if the pitcher is a lefty and each batter is 1 for 3 against left handed pitchers in the 9th inning. Hmmm? Do you then look at the day of the week, the weather conditions, what the batters had for lunch?

Last week was election day in the US and we were swamped with many numbers. Numbers in states, numbers of voters in demographics, likelihoods of certain people to vote. If you are into stats, you can play the same sorts of games with politics as with baseball.

All of this is really just lead up to a link to a New York Times article this morning about Nate Silver, founder and chief numbers guy of FiveThirtyEight.com. In the piece, “Finding Fame With a Prescient Call for Obama,” author Stephanie Clifford talks about Silver’s obsession with stats and his shift from analyzing baseball trends and probabilities to looking at the fire hose of politics-related numbers. Many of us have been following FiveThirtyEight.com for some time, but I was not aware of Silver’s background with baseball.

By the way, I can’t stand to watch the tv show “Numb3rs.” It makes my skin crawl the way they abuse and misstate mathematics for the sake of supposed entertainment.


One Comment

  1. == By the way, I can’t stand to watch the tv show “Numb3rs.” It makes my skin crawl the way they abuse and misstate mathematics for the sake of supposed entertainment. ==

    Indeed. But isn’t it always the case? “House” abuses and misstates medicine[1], “CSI” abuses and misstates forensics, “Law and Order” abuses and misstates law. I think no one ever likes “entertainment” that’s steeped in their own field of work.

    See this post for a rant of mine about computer security in a movie:
    http://staringatemptypages.blogspot.com/2006/08/scienceblogger-question.html

    — Barry

    [1] …as well as social decency; the guy would have been fired years ago if he were a real doctor at a real hospital, instead of being Hugh Laurie.

Comments are closed