By: Jackson Tacka
This past year the Math Department and Interim Math Department Chair Mr. Ian Brooks created a statistics class using baseball as a teaching medium. The curriculum was inspired by renowned baseball statistician Jim Albert’s statistics class at Bowling Green University as well as several other college classes around the United States. The class is offered as an elective primarily for freshmen. In its maiden voyage, the class took a group of fourteen freshmen and used baseball to teach a wide variety of statistical analysis methods.
Utilizing the Riepe Family Sabbatical he received for the second semester of the 2015-2016 school year, Mr. Brooks went to The National Baseball Hall of Fame, the annual Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Analytics Conference in Arizona, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This opportunity, matched with Mr. Brooks’s extensive baseball knowledge, allowed him to give those fourteen students a very unique class.
As part of the curriculum, Mr. Brooks taught keystones of statistics such as normalization and linear regression and took the first unit to enrich his students on the deep history of baseball. Instead of tests or quizzes to assess the students’ knowledge, Mr. Brooks assigned projects such as the “This Decade in Baseball Project” or “Should or Should not this Player be in the Hall of Fame Project.”
Additionally, as part of the curriculum, students learned probability through baseball, distributing the probable outcome of a player's total at bats compressed into 500 numbers. This then allowed the students to make a dice game in which each student drafted a team from all of major league history, allowing for some of the greatest matchups in the history of baseball. The students were able to simulate matchups between Nolan Ryan vs. David Ortiz, Clayton Kershaw vs. Babe Ruth, and Walter Johnson vs. Barry Bonds.
However, the most recent project the students worked on was the baseball journal. In this project, students picked a topic regarding the state of baseball, ranging from “Virtual Umpires” and “Is Clutch Hitting Real?” to “Is There Such a Thing as Home Field Advantage?” This project required the students to use a wide variety of the statistics they had learned to analyze from the entire history of baseball and prove their position on the topic they were assigned. In addition, some of the topics strayed from the statistical side of baseball and ventured into the historical side. Some of these included “The Evolution of Offspeed Pitches,” “The History of Baltimore Baseball” or “Biggest Rivalries.” This gave the project some variety concerning its topics. The class also plans to send this to Brian Kenny, a renowned sabermetric enthusiast and baseball analyst.
Reflecting back on the year, Mr. Brooks explains, “I think it’s been a great year. We have had a lot of fun learning about baseball and about statistics too.” A student of the class, Aaron Lieberman ('20) notes,“ I was able to do something I’m passionate about in a class and also learn a lot.” Overall, the class has been a success in its first year and looks to continue as such for many years to come.