Baseball and Math

If you are a Bostonian by address, birth, or just a connection, you can’t help but be full of pride this morning for your baseball team. The Red Sox were amazing, keeping us up late at night and giving us so much to cheer about in a time otherwise to often dreary. And if you are a math teacher you cannot but wonder why so many of our kids find math irrelevant, uninteresting, and difficult when so much of what they heard and saw as we watched those World Series Games was math, math that helped us understand the game, math that we found fascinating, math that we understood. It is truly amazing how much math there is in our national pastime.

There are numbers and shapes everywhere from the backs of player uniforms to counting of balls, strikes, and outs, numbers for the innings and even numbers for the game, the series, the postseason, and the regular season. There are addition totals shown on the scoreboard for hits and runs along with the count for each inning. There is the shape of the diamond, measurements to the bases, the mound, and the various walls, the square bases and pentagonal plate. This is only the beginning because baseball is all about statistics. Batting averages and earn run averages, hits off right handers and hits off left handlers, even stats about which team will win the series after being down by 2 games. Pitchers throw balls that curve in left or right, go straight and rise or go straight and fall. The speed of the ball is posted for each pitch along with its position in the rectangular strike zone..

The game is full of algebra and not just arithmetic, geometry, or simple statistics. The amazing TV graphics shows the parabolic path of the ball when a player hits a homerun where we think quadratically as we wonder about height vs. distance, or time to land. It is about how long it takes for a ball to be thrown across the infield compared to how fast a runner can get to first base. It is about where on the bat the ball hit and the shape of the swing for maximum momentum transfer. It is today about building models for managing teams, salaries, salary caps, offence vs. defence, the number of starting pitchers you must acquire vs. the number of relievers and even the specialized relievers, the closers. And it is about the wealth of statistics and statistical analysis rivaling the stock market in richness and complexity.

I have only begun to scratch the surface of math and our national pastime. For as I watch and listen to the games, I hear and see math everywhere. How could it then be that our school math is so out of sync with this sport math we learn and enjoy so much? That is the question I leave you with today as I cheer Go Sox as loud as I can and think about how much mathematics helped me enjoy the game.

Here is a sophisticated baseball What if Math Lab you may want to try: Hit Streak.