Misleading statistics – a lesson from Phillies baseball

Posted on August 27, 2010


As a marketing research professional, all too often I see people trust data as gospel based on it’s face value. This is dangerous. Yet, conventional wisdom would suggest that a statistic is a statistic. Let’s examine.

In baseball, one measurement used for gauging a hitter’s performance is batting average. In today’s game, a batting average of .300 or higher is considered among the elite. Baseball aficionados are thinking, “What about homeruns, RBI’s, and on base percentage?” All important stats in understanding a player’s contribution. That being said, we will drill down on another stat combined with batting average.  It will become apparent that stats taken at face value can be highly misleading.

At this point in time, during the 2010 season, Philadelphia Phillies Jayson Werth is hitting .300. However, with runners in scoring position (RISP), Werth is hitting a feeble .157 (17-for-108). (Thank you Todd Zolecki of MLB.com for that statistic.) Werth ranks 228th out of 228 players in the Majors in hitting with RISP. In other words, Werth is dead last when it comes to clutch hitting. On the surface, Werth’s .300 average looks good but upon examination it is an unproductive .300 average.

Since Jayson Werth is a free agent at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see whether he receives offers reflecting the performance of a “typical” .300 hitter or something different.

The bottom line is look beyond the data because it will tell a more accurate and holistic story.

Posted in: Sports