The Intuition of Batting Average

One of the most intuitive aspects of the game of baseball is the concept of ‘Batting Average.’ It’s as simple and intuitive as the game itself: Number of Hits divided by the number of At-Bats. It’s a serviceable construct of measuring a batters’ hitting prowess.

One of the curious things about “batting average” is that while it’s quite possibly the most intuitive measurement in the game of baseball, and hence it was one of the first measurements of the game, it wasn’t created until baseball had been organized for almost two decades.

Harry Chadwick, a Britton who found himself enamored by early baseball in the 1850’s while he was covering cricket as a journalist.# Chadwick came to develop the first baseball box score and edited theThe Beadle Baseball Player the first baseball guide for public consumption.# He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 by the veteran’s committee.

Growing up in the late 20th Century, batting average has always been that hits/at-bats ratio and has always been reported to the thousandths decimal place. It feels so completely intuitive and so perfect for the game. However, as intuitive as it may be, it relies on two other statistics which had to be developed first – “hits” and “at-bats.” The elemental nature of these statistics reveal how far the game has come, and how non-intuitive the measurements of the game are.

When the Batting Average was formally adopted in 1876, it took the form of the statistic we know today, however prior to being formally adopted, it was actually a measurement of the number of hits per game. Of course the definition of these elemental statistics have changed and have therefore influenced the measurement of a batting average: for instance, for a year in the late 1800’s, bases-on-balls were counted as hits and plate appearances, which had the effect of driving up batting averages for that year – many up near .500 – and it was discontinued for the following season.# Increase the number of hits to plate appearances using a 1:1 ratio and you’re going to increase batting average, even though it does not reflect the batter’s skill at hitting. The idea, however, was to measure what was going on at plate appearances. Of course, at the time, it took 5-balls to receive a base-on-balls and 4-strikes to strike out.#

Consider the work involved in building the game we know today, a game that is ever more statistically oriented – particularly with the advent of ever faster computers – and it just doesn’t seem as intuitive. The builders of baseball didn’t know what they should be measuring, but they knew the game could be quantified. That’s the intuitive part of the game – it can be quantified, but figuring out how or what to measure is the difficult part.

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Chadwick_(writer) retrieved on 10/10/2010

http://www.ulib.niu.edu/badndp/chadwick_henry.html retrieved on 10/10/2010

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batting_average retrieved 10/10/2010

http://everything2.com/title/Evolution+of+pitching+rules retrieved 10/10/2010

http://www.cosmicbaseball.com/bstats17.html retrieved 10/10/2010

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