Today Show

Science Today

October, 1990

Bryant Gumbal: (Intro) On Science Today, the subject of baseball. With the World Series underway, a lot of attention is being focused on the bullpens of both teams, where the relievers can boost glowing statistics. Our science correspondent Bob Bazell has found a California college student who thinks he has found a better way to figure out those stats.

Robert Bazell: As you were saying before, there are a lot of better ways. But anyone who works in baseball might think that all the statistics and numbers about the game that could possibly be computed are already being churned out. But in fact, some clubs, especially the Oakland As, rely heavily on computers for a lot of the decisions. So it's not surprising that a bright computer student might be looking for a better means of analysis.

(Visual of Ari Kaplan walking through Caltech campus with books)

Robert Bazell: This is Ari Kaplan, a junior majoring in engineering and applied science at Caltech in Pasadena. And this is the RE - the Reliever's Effectiveness - a new baseball statistic that Ari Kaplan has invented and named after himself.

(Visual of Ari Kaplan typing at computer in dorm room)

Robert Bazell: 1986. Sixth Game of the World Series (Chyron: Courtesy NBC Sports). Tenth inning. Boston leads the Mets by one with runners at first and third and two outs. The Red Soxs send in a relief pitcher, Bob Stanley. His World Series Earned Runned Average is 0. You can't get any better than that. Or can you?

(Announcer Vince Sculley's narrates game in progress, "And the Mets win It!")

Robert Bazell:`The Mets won the sixth game and went on to win the Series in the seventh. For one hundred years. Major League Baseball has relied on the ERA - the Earned Run Average - to rate the pitchers on their ability to prevent their opponents from scoring. But that was before Ari Kaplan wrote the RE program on his old Radio Shack computer.

(Visual: Close up of Ari Kaplan talking)

Ari Kaplan: Right. Well what I've done is shown that the Earned Run Average is not the most accurate statistic. In fact, for relief pitchers, it's a terrible statistic.

Robert Bazell: Here's how the Earned Run Average can cause problems. When the pitcher gets in trouble, that is when the coach no longer believes he can pitch effectively, a relief pitcher is called in to replace him. But sometimes the batter prevails and makes the relief pitcher wish he'd thrown a different pitch. Often when a relief pitcher comes in, there are already runners on base. If the reliever's bad pitch lets those runners go to home base, it might decide the game, but it does not affect the reliever's Earned Run Average.

Ari Kaplan: (Chyron: Ari Kaplan, CalTech student) If a relief pitcher comes in with runners on base and he allows them to score, they're charged to the pitcher who allowed them on even though he could be taking a shower or in the stands eating a hotdog, His Earned Run Average would shoot right up.

Robert Bazell: Ari Kaplan didn't think that sounded fair, so he invented the RE to make the relievers partly responsible for the runs that score while they're pitching.

Ari Kaplan: It tells how well a relief pitcher who comes into a game with runners who are already on base, how well he stops them from scoring. One of the main jobs of the relief pitcher, if not his most important job, is to get those runners out.

Robert Bazell: His independent research project tracked the pitching effectiveness of the 1989 Los Angeles Dodgers. And he discovered that the relief pitcher that the Dodgers used more than anyone other had a good Earned Run Average, but the worse RE in the National League. Tim Cruise.

Ari Kaplan: Cruise was by far the worst pitcher at holding inherited runners from scoring. His Reliever's Effectiveness was 1.5, which means that for every run that was expected of him to score, he allowed 1.5 to score.

Robert Bazell: Another Dodger relief pitcher, Rick Horton, who had a bad Earned Run Average, actually had the best RE on the Dodgers.

Ari Kaplan: It was a .63, which means that for every run that was expected to score, he allowed .6 of them to score.

Robert Bazell: The Dodgers dropped Horton and kept Cruise. And even though Cruise pitched better this year, the Dodgers still lost the pennant. Ari's baseball calculations caught the attention of the Baltimore Orioles. They called to hire him this summer as an intern.

Ari Kaplan: So I'm pretty sure they're going to be using some of my statistics for salary arbitration to tell how much money they're going to be paid to come back.

(Visual of Ari Kaplan walking through Caltech campus with books)

Robert Bazell: The season's over for Baltimore, and Ari's back to class at Caltech where he says it's time to start analyzing batting order. Ari's not so sure the weakest batters should be the ones to bat last.

Robert Bazell: (to Bryant Gumbel) And of course as you were saying, there's no way statistics are going to win a ballgame for you. It's got to be seat of the pants management

Bryant Gumbel: What did Disraeli say? There are lies, lies and then there are statistics. 7:40, we're back in just a moment.

(Black to commercial)

Back to Ari Kaplan's Home Page

are lies, lies and then there are statistics. 7:40, we're back in just a moment.

(Black to commercial)

Back to Ari Kaplan's Home Page