News Stories

How to Hit in Baseball

Mathematician Bruce Bukiet, of the New Jersey Institute ofTechnology, has figured out something many coaches haven't:how to have the perfect batting line-up. Baseball teamswould play better if coaches did away with the traditionalbatting line-up, he says. Putting the best batter second,rather than the fourth as is usually done, could improve ateam's score. And the weakest hitter should not bat last.

If there are already players on base, a strong hitter has abetter chance of getting them back to home base. For thatreason, managers put the strongest players together in theline-up.

But it's hard to decide whether the two best hitters shouldbat second and third, or third and fourth. There are morethan 360,000 possible ways to line up the nine players, in all.To find the best line-up, Bukiet looked at data from the1989 season and used it to calculate the number of runs thateach potential line-up could earn.

He found out that the difference between a team's best andworst batting order can change the outcome of as many as 10games in a season. For most of the National League teamsthat season, the best line-up would have been to use thebest batter in the second spot."Managers traditionally put the team slugger in the fourthspot, on the rationale that several players might get onbase before he comes to bat, and he can clean up," Bukiet says.

But by studying the data, Bukiet found that it?s moreimportant to get the top hitter batting earlier, so he getsmore chances to bat over the course of a game. He also foundthat the worst batter, who is usually the pitcher, shouldbat seventh or eighth, not last, where he?s almost alwaysplaced. "The pitcher should be far away from the slugger inthe line-up," says Bukiet, because that lessens the chancethat he will end up being the clean-up hitter responsiblefor getting the strongest batter back to home base.

Sometimes it takes a crystal ball to figure out what the topteams will be each season. To learn how to do it, read?Exploring Scrying? by Ambrose Hawk,click here.

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