Baseball, perhaps more than any other major sport, is a game of numbers
. The sheer number of games (162 in the major league schedule) leads to a large amount of statistical information. Students who understand baseball better than math may understand many mathematical concepts without realizing it. For these students, harnessing the connection between baseball math and classroom math topics can prove to be an effective teaching strategy.
While the applications among younger grades are straightforward (batting averages equate with fractions, etc.), it is in high school that the real interesting connections can be made. The field of sabermetrics involves advanced statistical interpretations of baseball. As a result of sabermetrics, new baseball statistics have been created, statistics that are far more complex than earned run average (ERA) or batting average. This includes statistics such as WAR (wins above replacement), WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and the Pythagorean Expectation Statistic (used to predict a team’s performance over a season). The generation of these formulas is an engaging way to teach algebra. The use of sabermetrics in baseball is the foundation behind the best-selling book Moneyball by Michael Lewis, which was also made into a movie starring Brad Pitt.
Baseball can be used to teach statistics. One of the primary applications of sabermetric data is the comparison between players between different eras. Was Barry Bonds a better homerun hitter than Babe Ruth? The answer is that it depends on how you consider the question. Barry Bonds had the most home runs in his career as well as the most home runs in a single season ever. However, his achievement is less than Babe Ruth in terms of his t-score ranking. In other words, the Babe Ruth was more standard deviations above the median home run totals for the era he played in than was Barry Bonds.
There are games online that emulate baseball based on mathematical algorithms. Whatifsports.com is a “historic fantasy sports website” that allows competitive play based on baseball player’s performance history, with statistics “normalized” to average performance. Sabermetrics are utilized extensively in fantasy baseball. In an advanced baseball math lesson, students would be expected to justify their drafting and roster moves in statistical terms. Since this is a fun activity and baseball is primarily a summer game, this is a great method to keep students thinking about math while on break, and could help fight academic summer slide.
An earlier Math Hub blog looked at the connection between math and baseball as focused on elementary education. Could we extend the use of baseball to middle and high school algebra and statistics lessons? Share your thoughts here.
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know that I’m a big sports fan and that I love to integrate sports into math lessons whenever possible. I think that doing so is just one way that we can bring a student’s world into the classroom. In the past, I’ve used baseball players’ batting averages or the percentage of wins of a basketball team to demonstrate a math concept. But when I opened up the sport page of my Sunday paper this week, I came across far more extensive mathematical content. As a New York Yankees fan I was proud of Derek Jeter for reaching the 3,000-hit milestone, but I think I may have been more excited to see the mathematical spread that highlighted his accomplishments. You can find the graphs from the article in New Jersey's Star-Ledger newspaper, which includes an analysis of Jeter's 3,000 hits, and how he compares to others aiming for 3,000.
You don’t have to be a Yankee fan, or even a baseball fan to appreciate the graphs displayed on these pages. They are more than your standard bar graph and require the reader to read and analyze to a greater depth than is typically necessary for newspaper graphs. When I first envisioned using this in a math class, I thought about using it as a tool for differentiation. In middle school, not every student would be able to extract information from some of these graphs. However, advanced students may find these graphs challenging and rewarding to decipher. I plan to search for a series of more simplistic graphs appropriate for other students. Then, by developing a series of individualized questions, I can have students at a variety of skill levels analyzing sports graphs that are appropriate for their ability.
Yes, I’m a fan of math, as well as the Yankees, so of course I was immersed in these graphs for a while. But, I think students would also find these unusual displays intriguing. It shows that data analysis doesn’t just include bar graphs, circle graphs and histograms. These images may even inspire students to think of alternate ways to display this or other data…why not let them get creative?
Last weekend marks one of my favorite times of the year – the opening games for Major League Baseball. I always find the winter months to be a bit boring because I can’t watch my favorite team, the New York Yankees, play ball each evening. Of course, you can imagine that there’s more to the baseball season than just balls and strikes. Like so many things that I am passionate about, I always look for the math in baseball. Finding mathematical connections to students’ interests will lead to more successful lessons and more motivated students. There are so many possible math activities using baseball statistics, but it’s up to you to be sure the math involved is appropriate for each student’s ability level.
My favorite lessons dealing with baseball and mathematics are those that help students understand decimals. One of the most common uses of decimals in the “real world” is in describing baseball batting averages. We see numbers like .305 or .240, but do the majority of baseball fans know what these numbers really mean? It’s a great topic to delve into, because it will help the students better understand the game and what a batter has to do to improve his average. At the same time, it will help students understand the value of decimal numbers. While the batting average is the most familiar statistic that uses decimals, similar studies can be completed using a batter’s on-base or slugging percentage. Another great activity is to help students determine a team’s winning percentage by dividing the number of wins by total games played. It might even be fun to have a student track a player's or team's statistics for an extended period of time.
If you take one look at the Major League Baseball site, you will see a plethora of statistics that students are able to work with. And because teams play almost every night, the statistics change daily, so there’s never a shortage of math to be completed! So go ahead, take baseball from the field into the classroom. I’m sure that your students will have a ball!