STRANGE BUT TRUE
Are baseball fans sabermetricians?
Q: Baseball fans, are you a sabermetrician? Have you got a taste for the alphabet soup of statistics being served up in baseball these days?
A: Historically, the holy trinity of baseball stats has been AVG (batting average), HR (home runs) and RBI (runs batted in), says Steve Mirsky in Scientific American magazine. Now we also have “sabermetrics,” a term from legendary stat man Bill James, combining “metrics” with an acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research. The term includes statistical measures such as OBP, OPS, UZR and WAR to help evaluate player and team performance and front-office strategy. “Sadly,” Mirsky jokes, “sabermetrics does not refer to exactly how far down onto his sword a general manager has to fall if his team underperforms.”
The movie “Moneyball” pitched to a large general audience OBP (“on-base percentage”), meaning “hits plus walks divided by plate appearances” because, as the old baseball adage goes, “A walk is as good as a hit.” But this cannot be true when the hit is a home run, even though the homer counts only like a single for batting average.
A popular way to measure hitting now is OPS (“on-base plus slugging percentage”), which gives more weight to power and hence to scoring. UZR (”ultimate zone rating”) is used to measure defense but has been criticized for its inconsistency.
WAR (“wins above replacement”) purports to figure the number of wins a player adds to his team’s total over that of his replacement. “What is it good for? Perhaps not absolutely nothing, but less than it may appear,” Mirsky quips. More broadly, as another observer put it, “I do not think these baseball stats mean what you think they mean.”
Q: Regarding load-bearing locks, who’s that surprising new Rapunzel?
A: Very well might be you, says Mental Floss magazine referencing the Library of Congress. Hair isn’t just the stuff of fairy tales. Going by testing, every strand of human hair is strong enough to hold 3.5 ounces. And since the average head has between 100,000 and 150,000 hairs, that computes to a human mane potentially supporting 150,000 times 3.5 ounces divided by 16 ounces per pound divided by 2,000 pounds per ton. Thus, your final figure is over 16 tons! But don’t start lifting anvils with your French braid just yet — it takes only an ounce of force to pluck a hair from your scalp. So while you could throw down your tresses the next time a dashing prince tries to rescue you, you’d be better off pointing him to a stepladder.
Q: Several hundred billion stars make up our galaxy, though some 70 percent of them — so-called red dwarfs — are much smaller and dimmer than our sun. Does that also dim our prospects of one day finding extraterrestrial life?
A: Not necessarily, argues Harvard astronomer John A. Johnson in Physics Today magazine. Although red dwarfs are cooler than the sun, with surface temperatures about half as much, surveys indicate that they are quite likely to be surrounded by Earth-sized planets. Furthermore, these planets tend to orbit close-in, warm enough to be inside the “habitable zone” where liquid water can exist. Indeed, calculations by graduate student Courtney Dressing suggest that one Earth-sized habitable-zone planet exists for every two red dwarfs, implying more than a hundred billion life-candidate planets in the Milky Way! And, red dwarfs live much, much longer than stars like our sun. In many respects, the study of Earth-sized planets orbiting red dwarfs is easier than for sun-like stars. It is tantalizing that the James Webb Space Telescope (launch planned for 2018) will be able to measure the chemistry of the atmospheres of nearby red-dwarf planets, providing direct evidence for or against the presence of life.
Send questions to brothers Bill and Rich Sones at email@example.com.