Monday, April 13, 2015

Applied statistics: Introduction to Statistics at the ballpark

This semester (SP 15), I taught an Honors section of Psychological Statistics for the first time. In this class, I decided to take my students to a minor league baseball game (The Erie Seawolves, the Detroit Tiger's AA affiliate) in order to teach my students a bit about 1) applied statistics and data collection as well as 2) selecting the proper operationalized variable when answering a research question.

Students prepared for the game day activity via a homework assignment they completed prior to the game.

For this assignment, students learned about a few basic baseball statistics (batting average (AVG), slugging (SLG), and on-base plus slugging (OPS)). They looked up these statistics for a random Seawolves' player (based on 2014 data) and learned out to interpret these data points.

They also read an opinion piece on why batting averages are not the most informative piece of data when trying to determine the merit of a given player. The opinion piece tied this exercise into that larger statistical question of how we figure out which data points best reflect on an underlying phenomena. Here, the question is, "How do we use data identify a good player?".

On the day of the game, I gave them a worksheet so that they could pick one player and collect their data (SLG, OPS, AVE). Not the most rigorous of activities, but enough to get them to follow the game and not so much as they would feel overwhelmed (most of the students knew little about baseball scoring going into the exercise).

So, there is a description of my first attempt at a statistics field trip. There is room for growth and change if I try this out in future semesters. If anyone has any additional ideas or content for a simple exercise suitable for college students who may know very little about baseball, feel free to share in the comments section or shoot me an email (


1) My university (Gannon University) is a short walk from the Erie Seawolves' park. So, transportation wasn't an issue. You could always eliminate the need for transportation by using this activity with your university's baseball/softball team (or pick another sport altogether).

2) I took my Honors section, so only 11 students. Additionally, we were able to get money from my university's Honors program to pay for the tickets. So, money wasn't an issue for me or my students.

3) Minor league = much cheaper tickets than a major league game. Our tickets included free baseball caps, ridiculous entertainment between innings, harassment at the hands of the team mascot, our class name on the Jumbotron, AND a post-game autograph session, which several of my students attended. It was a fun, goofy day and a nice way to spend time with my students outside of the classroom after a long semester and very cold winter.

4) I don't know a lot about the nitty gritty of baseball. Neither did most of my students. My wonderful husband knows A LOT about baseball (especially the Mets) and came along to help students follow their player and track their progress. He was also hand to have around for some odd situations that came up (for instance, if a player is at bat and then their teammate gets the third out for the inning while stealing a base, what do you put down for their "at bat"?). So, having a resident baseball expert along for the fun is a good idea.

5) We were in a section that was getting a lot of foul balls and I swear, I had a heart attack every time one went our way out of fear a student getting hurt on a field trip.

6) My students are mostly Sophomores, so booze wasn't anything I had to address (the food vendors always check IDs) but could be something to consider if you took Juniors or Seniors to the ballpark.

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