Have You Accidentally Done Statistics?

Joseph Hartsock 02 August, 2016

Have you ever accidentally done statistics? Not all of us can (or would want to) be “stat nerds,” but the word “statistics” shouldn’t be scary. In fact, we all analyze things that happen to us every day. Sometimes we don’t realize that we are compiling data and analyzing it, but that’s exactly what we are doing. Yes, there are advanced statistical concepts that can be difficult to understand—but there are many concepts that we use every day that we don’t realize are statistics.

I consider myself a student of baseball, so my example of unknowingly performing statistical procedures concerns my own experiences playing that game.

My baseball career ended as a 5’7” college freshman walk-on. When I realized that my ceiling as a catcher was a lot lower than my 6’0”-6’5” teammates I hung up my spikes. As an adult, while finishing my degree in Business Statistics, I had the opportunity to shadow a couple of scouts from the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau. Yes, I’ve seen Moneyball and I know that traditional scouting methods are reputed to conflict with the methods of stat nerds like myself, but as a former player I wanted to see what these scouts were looking at. 

baseball statisticsMy first day with the scouts I found out they were traditional baseball guys. They didn’t believe data could tell how good a player is better than observation could, and ultimately they didn't think statistics were important to what they do.  

I found their thinking to be a little off, and a little funny. Although they didn’t believe in statistics, the tools they use for their jobs actually quantify a player's attributes. I watched as they used a radar gun to measure pitch speed, a stopwatch to measure running speed, and a notepad to record their measurements (they didn’t realize they were compiling data). As one of the scouts was conversing with me, asking how statistics are going to be brought into baseball, he was making a dot plot by hand of the pitcher's pitches by speed to find the velocity distribution of the pitcher.

After I explained to him that was unknowing creating a dot plot (like the one I created for Rasiel Iglesias using Minitab, and which has a bimodal distribution) we started talking about grading players’ skills. The scouts would grade how players hit, their power, how they run, arm strength, and fielding ability. They used a numeric grading system from 20-80 for each of the characteristics, with 20 being the lowest, 50 being average, and 80 being elite. After they compiled this data they would give the players grades through analysis, and they would create a report with these grades to convey to others what they saw in the player.

I was amazed at how these scouts—true, old-school baseball guys who said stats weren’t important for their jobs—were compiling data and analyzing it for their reports. 

A few of the other statistical ideas the scouts were (accidentally) concerned about included the sample size of observations of a player, comparison analysis, and predicting a where a player falls within their physical development (regression).

Like the baseball scouts, many of us are unwittingly doing statistics. Just like these scouts, we run into data all day long without recognizing that we can compile and analyze it. In work we worry about customer satisfaction, wait time, average transaction value, cost ratios, efficiency, etc. And while many people get intimidated when we use the word "statistics," we don’t need advanced degrees to embrace observing, compiling data, and making solid decisions based on our analysis.

So, are you accidentally doing statistics? If you are wanting to get beyond accidentally doing statistics and analyze a little more deliberately, Minitab has many tools like the Assistant menu, and Stat Guide to help you on your stats journey.