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March 6, 2014

Skewed Left

The Art of Explaining Baseball

by Zachary Levine


When you attend a graduate school program that’s 45 percent international, there are some things you expect to come with the territory. You may be asked to edit some classmates’ papers for things that seem pretty simple to us, like subject-verb agreement. You may have to relent and call that all-kicking sport “football” for a couple of years just to avoid an argument. But there will be payoffs. You expect to be introduced to all different cultures, and more importantly all different kinds of food, and that’s more than met my expectations so far.

But one thing I didn’t expect, even in a program that’s so diverse, was to show up at class one day and have this projected onto the pull-down screen.

Except for the part where the word out is up there where no ball could ever be turned into an out, this is actually sensible even for a class on data analytics for business. The lecture du jour was about Moneyball, and the gist was that wins and losses can be predicted by runs scored and allowed, so stop trying to chase wins and start trying to chase the components of them. It was basically a pretty introductory lecture in multivariate regression and what you can do with that. But you can’t walk into that room and just start having a conversation about baseball with so many students from countries that don’t have major league teams—there were students from India, China, Canada, Nigeria, etc. all in the room.

What accompanied the visual was probably four minutes of explaining baseball to the uninformed. It never veered anywhere close to this, but did explain in some painstaking fashion how the season works and how teams make the playoffs and a little bit about the game. But for everything the professor explained about the actual gameplay, he found himself having to back up a step. The concept of a walk, so key to the Moneyball narrative, was meaningless without the concept of a ball, which was meaningless without starting at step one, a pitcher throwing to a catcher with a batter trying to hit the ball between two lines at 90 degrees, and so on.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Changing Speeds: The O... (03/06)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Skewed Left: What it M... (02/27)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Skewed Left: The Good ... (03/13)
Next Article >>
Overthinking It: The 1... (03/06)

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