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By The Numbers: A Review Of 'Sandlot Stats'

By Father Gabe Costa
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It was nearly forty years ago that Bill James coined the term sabermetrics, defining it as the "search for objective knowledge about baseball." And while it is true that technical journals such as "Operations Research" had published articles dealing with sophisticated mathematical models as related to baseball -- dating back to the 1950s and before -- it was James who led the way to the popularization of sabermetrics.

Because of people like James, it was inevitable that sabermetrics would find its way into the classroom. Seton Hall University paved the way nearly a quarter-century ago. In 1988, students were offered the opportunity to take MATH 1011 (Sabermetrics), a course which is still running at that institution. Since then, many other schools have offered courses combining mathematics and baseball, such as the United States Military Academy, Bowling Green University and Tufts University.

Over the past several decades, many books have appeared to "blend" statistical approaches with the game of baseball itself. McFarland & Company, Inc., for example, has published a series of three books on the subject over the past five years. About 10 years ago, Jim Albert and Jay Bennett co-authored "Curve Ball: Baseball, Statistics, and the Role of Chance in the Game," and everyone has heard of Michael Lewis' "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game."

In this issue of By The Numbers, we review a book which has just been released. The text, titled "Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball," was authored by Dr. Stanley Rothman, a mathematics professor at Quinnipiac University. The book was published by The Johns Hopkins University Press located in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball

I found this book to be a very readable. It is especially appropriate for the reader who is knowledgeable about the national pastime and is interested in learning more about statistics.  The book combines the basics of a standard undergraduate statistics course with a lot of baseball examples and applications.

The text, which consists of eighteen chapters and three appendices, is written in such a way that the book reads almost as a novel. One gets the feeling that you can pick it up, open the book at random and just start reading. While the reader is not overwhelmed with mathematical derivations, the theoretical underpinnings are "non-threatening," as the author presents the material in a clear, simple manner, making it easy to follow his reasoning.

As a seasoned educator, the writer should be commended for his clarity and completeness with respect to the following features of the book:

  • The definitions are clear and precise.
  • His use of charts and tables throughout the book is very helpful to the reader.
  • His use of Microsoft Excel reinforces the application of this spreadsheet as a powerful technological tool.
  • His many illustrative examples provide insights into the specific areas covered.
  • A chapter summary is provided at the end of each chapter.
  • There are just the right amount of chapter problems with which the student/reader can test his/her grasp of the material.

From a strictly baseball perspective, some of the topics the author addresses are:

  • Streaks
  • Sports betting
  • The feasibility of batting .400 in a aeason
  • The Top 10 hitters in history

It is clear that the book is a labor of love. In addition to being a gifted mathematician, Professor Rothman is a student of the history of the game. This book is a fitting testimony to this educator.

Dr Rothman has hit a home run. "Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball" is not only a fine book to read, but a text which can also serve as an excellent resource book.

You can find more information about the book here.

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