Scientist Says He Figured Out Baseball’s Winning Formula

Channel 933 Summer 2015-109
Alex Matthews

Thanks to a new generation of analysts, baseball and math has never been so intertwined.

Bill James and the Society for American Baseball Research, or the more familiar term, sabermetrics, the American pastime have been overrun by math geeks, according to Iowa State University.

Ten years ago, James, now a senior advisor for the Boston Red Sox, wrote a formula to show which teams would be winners and which would be also-rans. Basically, the formula uses the number of runs scored per game and runs given up per game to estimate a team's winning percentage.

Kerry Whisnant, an Iowa State physicist, has taken this formula a step further by taking into consideration run distribution. He'll be talking about it this weekend at MIT's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Simply, does a team that scores runs in bunches have a better chance of winning than a team that scores on a more consistent basis?

Whisnant took into account a team’s slugging percentage (total bases divided by at bats) and it’s RPG. He concluded that a team with a higher SLG had a narrower run distribution (scored more consistently.) If you take two teams with the same RPG, a team with a SLG of .080 higher will average one more win per year. If that same team’s pitching/defense RPG was the same but allowed a SLG .080 lower, you could add another win.

Your head hurt yet?

Basically, a team that consistently scores runs instead of scoring them in bunches has a better chance of winning. Ask any Red Sox fan that and they’ll point to last year’s team as an example. 

I can make it even easier to understand: teams with good hitters who can get on base and get extra base hits will win more than a team without. Also, good pitching and defense with a good offense leads to even more wins.

So for all the new-fangled theories by baseball-obsessed scientists, it always boils down to three things. Three things that have been a constant throughout the years: Ya gotta hit, ya gotta throw and ya gotta catch if you want to be a good team.

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