01 September 2007

The "Burger King Hot Zone" is silly

On the Fox Saturday baseball telecasts (about which I have ranted before), every so often a display of the "Burger King Hot Zone" comes up. This is a grid which divides the strike zone into a three-by-three grid, and gives a "batting average" for each of these nine parts of the strike zone.

I assume -- although I'm not sure -- that these are calculated by considering the number of balls which the player put in play from that position, and dividing the number of those which were hits by that number. For what it's worth, nobody seems to know.

The thing is, this is one of those statistics where the sample size is ridiculously small. If you figure the average player puts, say, 450 balls into play a season, then on average fifty of these will be in each of the nine grid pieces. A player who hits .300 on average will get fifteen hits from each of these nine sectors, with a standard deviation of 3.24; that's a .300 mean batting average (of course) with a standard deviation of .065. So my conclusion is that although players probably do have tendencies to hit certain pitches better than certain others, this almost certainly gets lost in the noise.

Ted Williams once did something similar, in his book Science of Hitting where he divided the the strike zone into a seven-by-eleven grid (thus each grid site is roughly the size of a baseball) and assigned a number to each grid site; from what I can gather, the number corresponds to what he thought his batting average would be if he always got a pitch there. At the Hall of Fame (where I was last weekend) they have a rendition of this with actual baseballs painted various colors, which you can see at the link. (I would have taken a picture when I was there, but I didn't bring my camera! I never take my camera anywhere, because I'd rather experience life than take pictures of it. Fortunately the other people who had their cameras with them have remedied this problem.) I wonder how accurately his perception corresponds to reality; I suspect Williams has the order right (the right-down-the-middle area where he said he could hit .400 probably was his best) but the numbers might be wrong. The point still stands, though; don't swing at pitches you can't hit, and know which pitches those are.

While I'm on the subject, I googled for my post and found Mark Dominus' post on baseball team names and followup thereto, which are irrelevant but interesting anyway.

1 comment:

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