Math Celebrity June 2018

positivity June 2018

In 1979, Barry Codell introduced an unconventional idea to baseball. He suggested that a player’s stats should be based on their base out percentages (BOP) rather than the traditional tally of hits at base. Up until that point, people had always looked at batting average statistics to determine a player’s worth, and most often, their salary. Barry recognized that batting average missed a lot of the picture. It didn’t account for steals, walks, or sacrifices, and it measured a home run and a single to be of equal value. Recognizing these flaws, BOP revolved around one simple concept: who gets on base and who moves more bases combined with who gets fewer outs. If you move more bases, you’re a valuable player to your team based on BOP. If you’ve ever seen “Moneyball,” this is the concept that Brad Pitt’s character implements to bring about the unprecedented success of the Oakland A’s. Instead of drafting players who have the highest batting averages, they choose relatively unknown players who are consistently showing high BOPs. The strategy worked, and the A’s saw success like they’d never seen before. Like most great minds, Barry has a counterintuitive way of thinking that brings out ideas no one else has been able to make work. Since he was a kid — even then a baseball-stats fanatic — he’s asked questions that others don’t think to ask and has come up with answers that others say won’t work. When Barry gets a hold of these ideas, though, they change the system. That’s what BOP did for baseball. In 2008, as a baseball player, fan, and stats-obsessed math nerd, I met Barry through a friend. Our shared passion and interest in statistics were apparent right off the bat. We and a Revolut i onary I dea

got to the topic of Barry’s innovation and discussed how incredible it would be to bring BOP to life so people could see the concepts at work. “What’s possible?” Barry asked. He entrusted me with transferring all of his “codes” — the thousands of stats he’d collected over the years — into an online database that is known today as the Barry Code. A serendipitous encounter led to one of the projects I’m most proud to say I was a small part of. I actually used similar concepts and equations for the Barry Code as I used for Math Celebrity, and for Barry, a man with a wealth of statistical knowledge but without a computer, it was magic to see his stats brought to life in this way. When I got asked to speak at a school a few years ago, after I’d talked about how students could access free tutoring through Math Celebrity, one of the kids raised their hand. They’d heard I had a site filled with baseball statistics. “There’s a site where you can find players who have the same birthday as yours!” the student announced to their classmates. The students started buzzing in their seats. I gave them an example of what the site could do. The excitement grew. One girl asked, “Do you have astrological signs?” We didn’t at the time, but after her question, we added that function to the site. We’ve added other fun features, and it’s a hoot to see what people use the site for. Barry Codell turned his passion and skills into a national phenomenon. It’s amazing to see what happens when numbers, creativity, and unconventional ways of thinking come together.

– Don Sevcik


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