Batter Up! A Baseball Lesson in Value-Added
This guest post was sent to us by Lois Angel Tims, a casual baseball fan and observer of education. Ms. Tims wishes to enlighten teachers about the importance of producing results for our students.
So, I’ve been following some of the recent debates in education circles, and hearing all about value-added measurement. It is an idea that makes perfect sense – teachers teach, kids learn. Better teachers make kids learn more. Kids take tests that show everything they learned, so we know who the best teachers are. I know teaching is complicated, but it’s time for my friends in the classroom to take notes from the wonderful world of baseball. Read to the end and I guarantee you’ll undertand why you need to embrace data and accountability.
Now, I’m no baseball expert. I haven’t played on a team or coached a team or managed team, but I’ve watched a lot of baseball over the years, and read the sports page of the newspaper religiously. In baseball, there’s only one outcome that matters: win the game. Players who help their team win are valuable players, and players who don’t help their team win are less valuable, maybe not valuable at all. Yes, it’s true that there many different statistics kept in baseball, and there’s lots of interest in batting titles and Cy Young awards, but the bottom line is you want to win the most games, make it to the playoffs, and win a championship.
Here’s a simple example to help my poor teacher friends with the concept of value. The man to the left is a very famous baseball player named Alex Rodriguez. He has a contract like you wouldn’t believe – maybe I shouldn’t get into the details considering the sorry state of teacher salaries in most places. Anyways, he plays for the Yankees, who are in first place right now. He leads the team in runs-batted-in, and is second in the American League in that category. He’s also the third-best third-baseman in the American League by fielding percentage. Many people think “A-Rod” is a wonderful player. This season, he hit his 600th career home run; he’s the seventh player to reach that milestone, and he did it at a younger age than the other six guys.
Their overall record right now is 76-47 (updated 8/22/10), but let’s break that down. In games where A-Rod played, the Yankees are 64-47, which is a winning percentage of 0.577 – while their winning percentage without A-Rod is 1.000. Therefore, it is clear that Rodriguez adds no value to the team. In fact, his effect could be described mathematically as -0.423. Clearly, Rodriguez should be put on the disabled list for the rest of the year, and then released.
Now, there are some A-Rod apologists out there who will try to make excuses; those are people who think that results don’t matter. They’ll try to distract you with other supposedly relevant information like where the games were played, who pitched, which teams the Yankees were playing, etc. They will even say that eleven twelve games is not a large enough sample to draw any conclusions. To them, I say, hello?! The Yankees are 12-0 without A-Rod. The results speak for themselves! Any idiot who understands the concept of winning and losing can see how Rodriguez hurts the Yankees. In the playoffs, they decide the best team in a mere best-of-seven games, and I don’t hear anyone clamoring for longer series. And in fact, you can be declared the superior team by winning four in a row. By that measure, the Rodriguez-less Yankees would sweep the A-Rod Yankees in two three consecutive playoff series and they’d be a win away from taking their third in a row. How much more evidence do you need?
Sadly, there are people wandering around with their heads in the clouds, unaware of this all-important statistic about Rodriguez hurting the Yankees. Even one of his teammates is, to put it bluntly, clueless. Let’s hear what Curtis Granderson says:
“[Rodriguez] is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. His drive and passion to win are above any individual accomplishments he could achieve.” – I almost feel sorry for Granderson, because he doesn’t understand that wins are what matters. Hard work without results doesn’t cut it at this level, Mr. Granderson. It’s nice that Rodriguez isn’t caught up in individual achievements, but if he is really that selfless, the logical next step would be for him to quit, for the good of the team.
More from Granderson: “I think it’s easier for people to get caught up and judge people based on what they see on ‘SportsCenter,’ or read …, but just remember that you don’t always get the whole story that way. I’ve had a lot of teammates in my career when you consider my time in the minor leagues, in Detroit and here in New York. But there is no doubt that Alex Rodriguez is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.” Granderson’s feelings are really sweet, quite touching, but have nothing to do with winning baseball games or championships. I have to wonder what his definition of “best” is, because I’m looking at 11-0, looking at 1.000 > 0.577, and the numbers don’t lie. Anyone who understands baseball and who wants the right outcome can see that, for the good of the Yankees, A-Rod must go!
Teachers, you’re not used to having your stats appear in the paper, but when they do, if they look this bad, I hope you’ll recognize the obvious, maintain some dignity, and slip quietly out of the way to let more effective teachers raise those test scores. That’s life in the big leagues. If you’re looking for an easier career, one with less accountability and lower standards for accuracy, these guys might have an opening. Good luck!