I’ve been reading the Chronicle’s coverage of the AAAS for public science policy news and trends, and this made a fun break. And if you think about it from an unschooling POV, this story shows how gold-plated stars and team leaders aren’t always the statistical best. Take that, NCLB!
The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2008 annual
meeting runs February 14-18 in Boston.
February 16, 2008
Steps From Fenway, a Statistician Takes a Swing at the Yankees
by Jeffrey Brainard
Boston — This year’s AAAS meeting is taking place a stone’s throw from
Fenway Park, home of last fall’s World Series champions, the Boston Red
Sox. So it was fitting that mathematicians presented here new uses of
statistics to study the game. And maybe it wasn’t surprising that the
results contained unflattering news for the Sox’s archrivals, the New
Shane T. Jensen, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, described how he and two collaborators set about to build an improved measure of fielding performance by major leaguers. . .[Derek] Jeter, according to Mr. Jensen’s number-crunching, was actually the worst in the majors at that position [shortstop].
On balance, Mr. Jeter has earned his pinstripes as a Yankee star because
his batting prowess helps him score more runs for the Yankees than his
underwhelming fielding gives up to opponents. However, Mr. Jensen said,
some teams might find that they’d win more games if they invested more
selectively in great fielders instead of sluggers, who are usually paid
Of course, statisticians stay awake at night thinking how to eliminate
bias in their numbers, so, just to make sure all bases were covered, we
asked Mr. Jensen to name his favorite team. He revealed without
hestitaion that it was indeed the Red Sox. But, he added with a smile,
“My co-authors are Yankees fans, so I think we’re fair and balanced.”
As further evidence of that, Mr. Jensen pointed out that his model ranked Manny Ramirez, one of the Sox’s top sluggers, as the second-worst left-fielder. Hey, there’s always next year — spring training begins later this month. Until then, Mr. Ramirez will have to console himself with his two World Series rings.