Gould on Baseball: The demise of the.400 hitter (Notes from Full House)
Chapter 6: Stating the Problem Nobody has hit.400 since Ted Williams in 1941 Many people have concluded that talent in baseball has declined. Gould disagrees
Chapter 7: Conventional Explanations 1.Players today are soft and spoiled, and they simply aren’t as “smart” as players in the past 2.Changes in the game have made.400 hitting much more difficult: -Better pitching (new pitches like slider and split-finger fastball; relief pitching as a specialty) -Better fielding (bigger and better gloves, general improvement of defense) -Better managing (less reliance on intuition, more on computers) -Tougher conditions: late night games, intense media pressure
Gould’s conclusion about conventional explanations (p 88): The “tougher competition” theory doesn’t, by itself, explain the demise of.400 hitting, because hitting might have improved just as much as pitching, fielding, etc. “Why should hitting be uniquely exempt from a general betterment in all other aspect of play?” “…baseball has constantly fiddled with its rules to assure that major factors remain in balance. The extinction of.400 hitting must therefore arise from other causes.”
Chapter 8: An argument for general improvement There are lots of reasons why hitting should actually be improving: -larger talent pools, better training -size: players are taller and heavier -records in other sports are improving (for example, decrease in marathon times) Note also that women’s marathon times are falling at a faster rate than men’s
Chapter 9:.400 hitting declines as the right tail shrinks Consider the following hypothesis: Hitting is improving, along with other aspects of baseball. But perhaps hitting is not improving as much as defense is improving, leading to a relative decline in hitting records. If this hypothesis were true, what sort of evidence would support it? (What pattern would we expect to see over past decades?)
Batting averages should show a decline over decades. However, the data do not support this idea (see Table 2, p 102). League averages have stayed around.260.
There has, however, been a significant decrease in the variance of batting averages (the standard deviation has decreased). In which case would a “deviant” event like hitting.400 be more likely?
Chapter 10: Why the death of.400 hitting is evidence for improvement in play Two factors have contributed to the demise of.400 hitting: 1.Greater consistency (decreased standard deviation 2. Play is improving, moving ever closer to the “right wall” of human limits
Top curve: Earlier in baseball, an average of.260 was farther from the “wall,” and there was greater variability in play. Bottom curve: Today, performance has moved closer to the “wall,” and the level of play is more homogeneous.