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Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

In Part 1 of this blog, I talked about the role games play in exciting children about math. In his NYT article, Professor Ellenberg states. “The new games are difficult, but also, for many kids, kind of addictive. Which means they also teach sitzfleisch, the ability to focus on a complicated skill for the length of time it takes to master it. Math needs that. (Baseball does, too.) It fits with the research of the psychologist Carol Dweck, which suggests that mentors should emphasize effort over native ability. We can’t really teach kids to do things; we can only teach them to practice things. Every one of these games shows kids mathematical ideas in a spirit of play, which is a big and often hidden part of the true spirit of math.”

In my book “Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball”, I do exactly what Professor Ellenberg preaches. My book focuses on high school and college students learning statistics through games. The game I use to coach my students to understand the subject of statistics is also baseball. But there is no reason why adults can’t also use my book to explore the important world of statistics through the game of baseball.

In Part 1, I talked about the board game All-Star Baseball which introduced me, as a child, to the fun and excitement mathematics offers. As I explained in Part 1 the game consists of disks whose sectors simulate a player’s real-life statistics. The areas of the sectors represent the probabilities of that player hitting a single, double, triple, home run, getting a BB, getting HBP, hitting a SF, or making an out.

So how do I use the All-Star Baseball game in my book? In the first chapter the students are instructed to pick one pair of players from a list I give them (of course they can choose their own pair). Each pair contains one player in the Hall of fame (HOF) and one player that is a future candidate. They will compare their two players, using what they learn in statistics, throughout the course. One of the methods used for comparison in the book is to have each student create an All-Star baseball disk for each of their chosen players. Fortunately, there is free software on the internet that allows a student to create a disk after they calculate the needed probabilities. For example, a student can make a free spinner on this website:  http://illuminations.nctm.org/Activity.aspx?id=3537.

Once the disks are made the student will play a 9-inning game between their two players. Each player will occupy the nine positions in the batting order for their team. The internet software supplies the spinner and off they go. At the end of the course, each student will present a PowerPoint Presentation on whether the HOF candidate should or should not be admitted to the HOF. The class will act as a jury and make a decision on whether they agree or disagree with the student’s argument.

Professor Ellenberg ends his NYT article with these statements about coaching math. “There are many things we’d like to coach our kids to do. And we can’t help playing favorites to some extent. I’ll admit, I’d rather C. J. aimed to be a mathematician than a shortstop. I tried to open his eyes to some more realistic careers that could still satisfy his hunger for the major leagues. “You know,” I told him, “you really like math, and all the teams now have people who work for them analyzing the players’ statistics. You’d probably enjoy that! At this suggestion he became agreeably eager. “Daddy, that’s a really good idea,” he said. “Because almost all major league players have to retire by the time they’re 40 — so then I could get a job analyzing the statistics!”

If you have an interesting story about coaching your child in mathematics through games, please share it with us.


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

The ideas in this Blog came from an article written on 07/25/2014 for the NYT by Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, and the author of the book “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.”

Professor Ellenberg began his article by asking the question many parents have asked him. How can I get my kids excited about mathematics? Then he presented an example of what you do not do. His example involves the child prodigy Norbert Weiner who got a Ph.D. from Harvard at the age of 18. Describing the process his father used to develop his mathematical skills, Norbert said, “He would begin the discussion in an easy, conversational tone. This lasted exactly until I made the first mathematical mistake. Then the gentle and loving father was replaced by the avenger of the blood. ... Father was raging, I was weeping, and my mother did her best to defend me.”

If the above sounds familiar when helping your child with their math, the approach suggested by Ellenberg will be more successful and humane. So, how can we present mathematics in such a way that children can find it enjoyable?

In his article Ellenberg says, “I found an answer in something my 8-year-old son, C. J., likes even better than math: baseball. C. J. is a baseball fanatic. He lives and dies with the Milwaukee Brewers. He plays Little League with a fierce concentration I seldom see at home. And I’ve learned a lot about what kind of math parent I want to be from an unexpected source — his coaches. Baseball is a game. And math, for kids, is a game, too. Everything for them is a game. That’s the great thing about being a kid. In Little League, you play hard and you play to win, but it doesn’t actually matter who wins. And good coaches get this. They don’t get mad and they don’t throw you off the team. They don’t tell you that you stink at baseball, even if you do — they tell you what you need to do to get better.”

He then gives an example of what it means to coach math instead of teaching it. He says, “For C. J., it means I give him a mystery number to think about before bed. I’m thinking of a mystery number, and when I multiply it by 2 and add 7, I get 29; what’s the mystery number? And already you’re doing not just arithmetic but algebra.” As I am writing this blog my 5 year-old granddaughter is watching my wife put fishsticks on a plate. She put 6 fishsticks on the plate and asked my granddaughter how many more fish sticks do we need to have 8 of them? My wife is coaching math.

Ellenberg cites many games that are math related. Such older games include chess, which builds the ability to follow a series of logical steps and Monopoly, which requires basic arithmetic and probability reasoning. He also suggests newer games which include Rush Hour , a board game about search algorithms; Set, a study in higher-dimensional geometry in the form of a viciously competitive card game; and DragonBox, an app for phone or tablet that teaches the formalisms of algebra. If you research on-line you will be able to find many more games that have mathematical concepts built into them.

My own personal favorite as a child was the board game All-Star Baseball, a spinner game with player disks divided into sectors. The area of each sector was based on the probability of the player’s batting outcome using his real-life stats. For example, the area of the sector numbered 1 represented the probability of that player hitting a home run. Of course, the Babe had the largest sector 1. As a GM I drafted the teams for my league. Then I played the games keeping the team standings and calculating the players’ statistics. Not realizing it, I was doing mathematics and enjoying it. This game exposed me to probability, statistical measures, and basic arithmetic.

To be continued:


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

In Part 3 of this 4-part blog we looked at the impressive Mets young pitching staff. We  now look at the future Mets positional players.

We begin with the infielders. At first base the much improved 28-year-old Lucas Duda has14 HR and 49 RBI at the break. It looks like the Mets made the right decision keeping Lucas over Ike Davis. At second base is the 29-year-old All-Star Daniel Murphy who is showing he is a potential.300 hitter. Let’s hope the Mets don’t trade him away. At shortstop is the slick fielding 25-year-old Ruben Tejada. Guess what Ruben has begun to hit. The question is will the Mets try to get JJ Hardy or Hanley Ramirez or stick with Ruben. The franchise third baseman is David Wright. He will only get better when the Mets can protect him with better hitters.

We turn now to the Mets outfielders.  It looks like in the Mets future the 25-year-old Juan Lagaras will be in center and the veteran Curtis Granderson will be in right. Lagaras can be a future candidate for a Gold Glove and after a slow start Granderson is now supplying the power the Mets thought they were getting when they paid up for him.. A dark horse candidate for the left field position is the 27-year-old Earl Campbell. After hitting .355 in Triple AAA, he was called up and has thus far translated his success in the minors to the major league level. He can also backup Duda or platoon with Duda at first base. The speedy Eric Young Jr. gives them a solid backup. Yes, the Mets do need another power hitting outfielder.

Finally, the Mets top prospect the 25-year-old Travis D’Arnaud will be their catcher for years to come. After being demoted to Las Vegas where he batted close to .600, he has returned and has begun to hit major league pitching. The 33-year-old Anthony Recker is an able backup.

To summarize neither the Mets or Yankees are a playoff contender this year. The Yankees go into the second half of the season as a .500 team. The last year the Yankees began a second half below .500 was 1992. The Mets enter the second half 5 games below .500 but they have won 8 of their last 10 games.

Whereas, the Mets future starting pitching is as good as any MLB team, the Yankee future starting pitching is in shambles. It was just announced that CC Sabathia will have season ending surgery on his knee. At 34, CC has thrown far too many innings. Neither CC nor Michael Pineda, who has started only 4 games in the last three years, can be counted on in their future plans. Kuroda is pitching well but will be 40 next year. The 25-year-old Tanaka will undergo TJ surgery. If everything goes well he will be the ace of the staff in the future. The rest of the future starters will be determined somehow. Look for the Yankees, who need two starters and are always buyers, to pick up two veteran pitchers from teams out of contention. The Mets must decide on whether they are buyers or sellers. They have so many teams in front of them their best decision is to forget this year and continue to stockpile for the future.

With money to spend and trading chips available, the Mets should try to get JJ Hardy and a power hitting outfielder. Even with only one new power hitting outfielder the Mets will be strong contenders beginning in 2015. The same is not true for the Yankees. The Yankees are too old and have a bloated budget already. Their biggest need is starting pitching. But they also need a shortstop, second baseman, third baseman (assuming the 39-year old Alex Rodriguez skills keep on diminishing) and one power hitting outfielder. With so many needs and so little trading chips and a depleted farm system, the Yankees have too many needs to fill and no way to fill them. I can’t see how the Yankees can be a future contender.

I predict the city of New York will become the property of the Mets starting in 2015 and for the foreseeable future. 


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

The strength of the Mets is their young pitching staff. Assuming their young pitchers can stay healthy, the Mets will have one of the best and youngest starting rotations in baseball over the next 5 years.

Here is the way I see the future Mets starting rotation beginning in 2015. Returning from TJ surgery, the 25-year-old Matt Harvey will be the Mets ace. For the 2013 season Matt Harvey was an All-Star with a 9-5 record and an ERA of 2.27 with 191 SO in 178 innings. I see the 25-year-old Zack Wheeler as the Mets number two. This year Wheeler has an ERA of 3.90 with 105 SO in 108 innings. Behind these two the next three starting spots will be chosen from the following very capable current list of starters. Dillon Gee and Jon Niese are two 28-year-old veterans. Gee sports a 2.56 ERA with a 4-1 record this year. Niese, being a lefty starter, is a keeper with a 2.96 ERA and a 5-4 record this year. Both these young veterans should continue to improve. Then we have the surprise success story. His name is Jacob DeGrom. The 26-year-old DeGrom has 72 SO in 73 innings with an ERA of 3.18. The 32-year-old Carlos Torres has proven to be successful as a spot starter and a long-reliever. Torres currently sports an impressive 2.88 ERA with 63 SO in 59 innings. Sitting in the high minors waiting for their opportunity are the 24-year-old Rafael Montero, 21-year-old Noah Syndergaard, and the 23-year old Stephen Matz. Of these three you probably never heard of Matz. Matz, a left-handed pitcher, was the Mets number one draft choice in 2009. After TJ surgery he is now healthy with a fastball that consistently reaches 95.Yes, the Mets have assembled an impressive list of young starters that can rival any team in baseball.

The Mets late inning bullpen is also very impressive. Even if the Mets 2014 anointed closer Bobby Parnell, lost for the season with elbow surgery, cannot return to form in 2015; the Mets still have the closer position covered by the 25-year-old Jenrry Mejia. Mejia was converted from a starter to a closer. This year Mejia responded positively to the change by recording 11 saves in 13 opportunities with 65 SO in 64 innings. For setup relievers the Mets have the 25-year-old Jeurys Familia who has a 2.06 ERA with 40 SO in 48 innings. Mejia and Familia seem to be in a constant battle for the closer position which brings out the best in both of them. Other possible setup relievers include Vic Black, received in a trade, sporting a 1.76 ERA with 22 SO in 21 innings and the lefty Dana Eveland who has a 2.63 ERA in 13 games. Every team must have that one lefty specialist to get that one lefty batter out and the Mets lefty specialist is Josh Edgin who has 13 SO in 15 innings and an ERA of 1.76.

I give the Mets future pitching staff a grade of A. As is often said, “You can’t have enough good starting pitching.” We have seen far too often young pitchers going down with arm injuries that require TJ surgery. Having this many solid young starters and with their two old veteran pitchers Bartolo Colon and Daisuke Matsuzaka performing at a high level, the Mets have the trading chips to bring back a power hitting young outfielder and a young All-Star caliber shortstop. To get a big name position player I believe the Mets will also have to part with one of their young pitchers. Which one will go?  Niese is in demand by other teams because he is a lefty starter. If Matz is ready for the big leagues I could see the Mets letting Niese go. The good news is that other young Met pitchers are also in demand. Pitching is really a nice problem for the Mets.   

The expression good pitching will defeat good hitting may be true but good hitting is needed to be a serious playoff contender. We will look at the Mets possible starting positional players for 2015 and beyond in the next posting.

To be continued:


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Having just finished analyzing the Yankee’s pitchers and infielders, we now turn our attention to the Yankee outfielders and catchers.

In the off season the Yankee acquired Carlos Beltran to play right field. He has already broken down at the age of 37. The starting outfield now consists of Ichiro Suzuki, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner. Gardner leads them in power with 9 home runs. Suzuki at the age of 40 is not in the Yankee future plans. The outfield lacks power but is very good defensively. Ellsbury was acquired because of his ability as a leadoff batter. However, injuries and lack of hitting by Soriano (just released), Beltran, and McCann has forced Ellsbury to bat third in the lineup. Gardner and Ellsbury are both excellent defenders, steal plenty of bases, and get on base. Yes, they are both in the Yankees future plans. The third outfielder must be a power hitter. Beltran no longer can fill that role. I give the outfield a B grade.

The Yankees acquired McCann as a two-way catcher. After a miserable start with the bat he has recently raised his BA to .240 and showed his home run hitting ability. I think McCann will have a good second half and give the Yankees what they paid for in the future. Cervelli is an excellent backup catcher. I give a grade of B+ to the catchers.

The average age of the current starting lineup consisting of McCann, Teixeira, Roberts, Jeter, Johnson, Suzuki, Gardner, and Ellsbury is 35. Solarte and Wheeler, both career minor league infielders have shown periods of good hitting but can the Yankees really depend on two career minor leaguers to fill the infield void? For a similar reason the Yankees cannot expect Almonte to be that power hitting third outfielder.

Many of their minor league promising players have already been dealt to other teams to bring back such aging stars as Soriano, Wells, Beltran, and Overbay. The only trading chips I see for the Yankees are their All-Star pitcher Dellin Betances and their three minor league catchers, Gary Sanchez, JR Murphy, and Austin Romine. GM Cashman has already said Betances will not be traded. Without trading chips, this leave the Yankees who need infield help, outfield help, and pitching help one option left. That option is to overpay for players. Now, the sons of George are not liberal spenders like dad was. They want to keep the Yankees under 189 million dollars. Most of your future available pitchers like Kershaw or Scherzer will demand long-term contracts for about 25 million per year. The available infielders, such as shortstops JJ Hardy and Hanley Ramirez, will also demand expensive long-term contracts. Therefore, the Steinbrenners have two choices. Either go way over budget or continue to sign old retread players for one year and hope they will not break down during the year. Unfortunately, I think if the past can predict the future expect new old retreads to become Yankees.  

Yes, the year 2014 will mark the beginning of another period of darkness for the Yankees. This period like the prior dark periods can last from five to ten years.

We now switch our attention to the Yankees cross-town rivals the New York Mets. Unlike the Yankees dark future, I see a new bright future for the Mets.

Whereas, the Yankees have been buying the old retread players who continue to break down; the Mets have been selling their older players at their peak to get young prospects. Recently, they traded R.A. Dickey to Toronto for Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard and they traded John Buck and Marlon Bird to the Pirates for VIc Black and Dilson Herrera. Look for the Mets to continue this trend by dealing Bartolo Colon and Bobby Abreu for some top prospects. Both Colon and Abreu are having very good years and can put some contending team over the top.

To be continued:


 


 
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