Monday, May 21, 2018


If, like us, you learned to do basic math-- division, multiplication, and especially percentages, percentages percentages-- by obsessively studying and figuring baseball statistics during your time in the primary grades, we've got a very entertaining book for you to read.

It's called "College Mathematics Through Baseball," by Dr Fred Worth, Professor of Mathematics at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  Prof. Worth describes the tone of his book as being directed toward "math-phobic" liberal arts students who need a good and interesting reason to care about a subject they'd rather not take. We're with him all the way on this; it worked for us and it can work for you.

A real-world application of Prof. Worth's mathematical knowledge and good old horse sense surfaced when we referred to a term we hear all the time from sportswriters and sportscasters: "games above .500," as in, "Well, if the Giants can sweep this series they'll be six games over .500 going into the All-Star break."

Our legendarily contrarian nature has always taken issue with this, since invariably the speaker or writer is contrasting the team's wins versus their losses and assuming the difference between them is the "number of games" that team is "above (or below) .500." This is rather obviously (to us, anyway), not the case, as anyone who's followed a pennant race ought to know. The difference between a team's wins and its losses, compared to a constant such as a .500 record, is one-half game per win, not one game. Anyone who's ever followed a pennant race when the team leading the league has a day off knows perfectly well that if Our Boys win today, they gain only a half-game, not a full game, on the leaders, who are idle.

And a .500 record is always "idle." It's stationary, a constant. If the Giants had taken 3 of 4 from Colorado this past weekend, they'd be 25-23, one game above 24-24, which is .500. They'd be two games above 23-25.

What people mean when they say this, of course, is that if our team is at 23-25 and they win the next two games, they'll be at .500. That's absolutely true. So our fellows would be two wins below .500, not two games below .500.

This viewpoint was not met with, shall we say, unanimous approval and acclaim on the Giants' website comments page, where sundry snarky comments about "New Math" and other unmentionable topics were tossed around. So, in the face of such overwhelming opposition, we took the issue to Professor Worth and agreed to let him settle the subject. We used the example of a team with an 80-60 record, which is commonly held to be "20 games over .500."

With Solomonic sagacity and equanimity came Professor Worth's response:

"An 80-60 record is both 10 games above .500 and 20 games above it, depending on whether your reference is "games played" or "games won."  If it is the former, then you are right, 10 games going the other way would put you at .500.  But if it is the latter, the traditional term is correct."

And so we are good with that. We understand the common reference, and it's not going away any time soon, and there's no point in belaboring the subject. But it is nice to get even half a loaf every now and then.

The book is "College Mathematics Through Baseball," and we heartily endorse it here:

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