Watching a baseball telecast may not be the best way to learn basic probability.
Let’s say Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees and his .313 career batting average stride to the plate after 20 straight at-bats without a hit. Sports Announcer No. 1 will invariably discuss how Jeter is in a slump, suggesting that, because of some problem either physical or mental, his chance of getting a hit is somewhere less than his usual 31 percent. And then, right on cue, Announcer No. 2 will giddily agree — “Yeah, Marv, Derek’s definitely due!” — with the “due” implying that Jeter has gone hitless for so long that his chances now are somehow greater than his innate 31 percent.
Welcome to “Bert and Ernie Teach Probability,” America’s less storied national pastime.
...As society gets ever more data driven and risk aware, formal statistics are becoming increasingly relevant. Probability has revolutionized finance, polling and, yes, even the running of sports franchises; popular culture has embraced stat geeks through television shows (“NUMB3RS”) and best-selling books (“Freakonomics”). As Brad Pitt evangelizes the power of probability in this fall’s hit movie “Moneyball,” you know that numbers have earned a seat at the cool kids’ table.