March 28, 2007


Who's on First? Who Cares. What's His GPA?: The future of baseball is a 16-year-old mathlete from Bloomington (G.R. Anderson Jr., 3/27/07, City Pages)

Victor Wang does the math. Seated in an overstuffed recliner in his family's living room, the Bloomington Jefferson High School junior is tossing out terms that wouldn't be out of place in his Calc II class. Coefficient. Correlation. Predictor. He shrugs: He knows he's a math geek and now you know he's a math geek, too. So what?

Besides, Wang is actually talking baseball, not calculus, on this recent Sunday afternoon. He keeps an eye on a TV in the corner broadcasting a Twins spring training game. He likes the hometown nine's chances this year, but he warns that the team can't stumble out of the gate like last season. He sums up some of the team's notable qualities.

"Justin Morneau is a good player, but he's not an elite player," Wang says flatly of the MVP first baseman. "But for a guy who comes this cheap, you gotta have him."

Wang's assessment is more than just the talk of a casual fan. It is the assessment of an obsessive fan and baseball number-cruncher. Wang recently garnered notoriety in the cloistered niche of baseball stat-heads when the New York Times publicized his article for a small baseball quarterly called By the Numbers. In the February 25 Times story, Alan Schwarz prominently discussed Wang's work to explain a statistic. [...]

For even by the malleable standards of the world of baseball stats, where numbers can be manipulated to say pretty much anything, Wang's August 2006 essay in By the Numbers dealt with a rather arcane stat called Gross Production Average. Wang examined all the runs scored by every team since 1960, then referred to a stat called OPS, or on-base-plus-slugging percentage. On-base percentage measures how often a player gets on base, while slugging percentage measures the number of bases for every at bat.

Wang set out to prove an age-old theory: that on-base percentage is a far better measure of a player's value than slugging, and a greater contributor to a team's total runs. In Wang's accounting, multiplying on-base percentage by a coefficient of 1.8 and adding it to slugging percentage, drew the strongest correlation to runs scored. And, voilĂ ! A new stat, GPA, was born. [...]

Wang possesses an even stronger hint of humility. "If I can contribute stuff to the statistics community, that's good," he concludes, sounding like a graduate of the Bull Durham school of media relations. "But I don't want to do this forever. I want to run a baseball team."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 28, 2007 6:44 AM
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