There is a fun mathematical discussion in the NYT Sports section today worth looking at.

It turns out that major league hitters on the verge of a 3 handle batting average — .300 — hit an astounding .463 on their last at bat of the season:

“Two economists at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, while investigating how round numbers influence goals, examined the behavior of major league hitters from 1975 to 2008 who entered what became their final plate appearance of the season with a batting average of .299 or .300 (in at least 200 at-bats).

They found that the 127 hitters at .299 or .300 batted a whopping .463 in that final at-bat, demonstrating a motivation to succeed well beyond normal (and in what was usually an otherwise meaningless game).

Most deliciously, not one of the 61 hitters who entered at .299 drew a walk — which would have fired those ugly 9s into permanence because batting average considers bases on balls neither hit nor at-bat.”

Its fascinating, but certainly not surprising. The psychological motivations of the pitcher-batter confrontation are the major factor. The batter is extremely motivated, for reasons that are both professional (compensation) and personal (i.e, pride). The pitcher, on the other hand, just wants to get thought the end of season games (especially the ones that don’t matter) without incident, injury etc.

Hence the term, “Asymmetrical Motivation.”

Fun with Statistical Analysis: The .299 versus .300 Hitter:

Chart courtesy of NYT


Fun stuff . . .


See also:
Grunting and Tennis: It’s All Good
Paul Kedrosky
Infectious Greed, October 1, 2010

Sniffing .300, Hitters Hunker Down on Last Chances
NYT, October 2, 2010

Category: Mathematics, Sports

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

19 Responses to “Asymmetrical Motivation & The .299 Hitter”

  1. louiswi says:

    You missed the obvious correct conclusion on this one. MLB is a show. Part of the entertainment business. As such, these guys are not opposed to helping each other out when there is not a consequence other than just helping each other out. To put it another way, obviously 463 out of every 1000 batters has a relationship with the pitcher that is not a competivitve one.

  2. rktbrkr says:

    1) Garbage time, players batting in the vicinity of .300 are going to be facing pitchers called up from the minors and other bench warmers at season end especially in meaningless games – if they batted near 300 during the season facing better pitching then they’ll likely bat for a higher average towards season’s end esp their last at bat.

    2) In meaningless games managers can sit players who just got a hit to reach 300. A manager can sit a player immediately after he gets the magical hit that puts him above 300 in any of the last couple games of the season, that really drives the 463 number.

    3) Official scorer. In a meaningless game a guy batting 299 hits a ball that can be ruled either a hit or an error…what miserable prick is going to rule it an error?

    n 1941, (Ted Williams) entered the last day of the season with a batting average of .39955. This would have been rounded up to .400, making him the first man to hit .400 since Bill Terry in 1930. Manager Joe Cronin left the decision whether to play up to him. Williams opted to play in both games of the day’s doubleheader and risk falling short, explaining that “if I can’t hit .400 all the way, I don’t deserve it.” He singled in his first at-bat, raising his average to .401, and followed it with a home run and two more hits in the first game. Williams went 2 for 3 in the second game, for a total of 6 hits in his last 8 at-bats, for a final average of .406.

  3. I suspect that the pitchers played a key role here. If it’s the last game of the season it’s probably meaningless, so why not give the .299 guy an easy hit or two? How many guys can there be in the league at .299 on the last day of the season? I read somewhere that when Mickey Mantle was playing in his last few games pitchers went out of their way to give him easy pitches in the hopes that they would go down in the record books as having pitched Mickey’s last home run. It may sound stupid, but somehow I understand it. Who today would know Ralph Branca except for Bobby Thompson?

  4. 3) Official scorer. In a meaningless game a guy batting 299 hits a ball that can be ruled either a hit or an error…what miserable prick is going to rule it an error?


    that might suffice, for an Answer..

  5. slow learner says:

    But if you are a minor league pitcher, you do not have assymetrical motivation – quite the opposite. You most likely are competing ferociously to establish your bona fides as a major league pitcher, trying to convince the manager that you belong on the squad next season. The regular player with an assured position on the squad will not care as much, unless the playoffs are on the line. That might explain some of the small-sample-size distortions that occur late in the season.

  6. VennData says:

    Day-traders er… a… investors want to the excitement of buying and selling stocks, the thrill of the conquest, bragging rights and something to do all day …don’t want to invest in computer horsepower, sign agreements with exchanges to co-locate and get advanced degrees in mathematics, so, they say that computers are ruining the stock market.

  7. Centauri says:

    I don’t believe the opposing pitcher has any idea the batter is at .299 and make his normal effort.

    If true, this puts a whole in Freaknomics author Levitt’s argument that sumo wrestling is fixed because sumo wrestlers who need to win one more match to advance have a very high winning percentage. Their motivation is surely oodles more than the batter’s, and there is more skill/less randomness in sumo wrestling.

  8. If the pitchers knew that the batter was at .299, they could make the batter swing, and miss, at garbage. Asymetrical knowledge I would guess.

  9. DiggidyDan says:

    Ted Williams is a hardass! I am an avid Rays fan and wish we could have a couple of .299 hitters in the lineup for the playoffs. I’ll take 96 wins and AL East champs again with great pitching and defense though!

  10. mote says:

    @Bruce Bartlett

    September 19, 1968 – Denny Mclain’s gift home run.

    That was at Detroit, and Mclain got his 31st win of the season. It was Mickey Mantle’s 535th career home run, passing Jimmy Foxx for third place on the all time list. He hit his last homer the next day, against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Jim Lonborg was the pitcher.

    Mantle tells the story here:

  11. [...] Marginal Revolution, through The Big Picture, to the New York Times, hitters do better when one hit means batting .300 for the year: They found [...]

  12. louiswi says:

    Remember, not a single walk in the stats. That smacks of duplicity on the part of the pitcher. I’m sticking by my original thought.

  13. tt says:

    dollars to donuts, the pitchers and the fielders let their buddies get a hit. i would.

    see “freakonomics” for sumo wrestling rigged matches.

  14. apollo_creed says:

    I’m going to go with small sample size + decent hitters facing scrubs and minor-league call-ups.

    127 at bats is really nothing in baseball terms; it’s roughly a fifth of a season. Plenty of guys can hit .400+ for a month. And these are already pretty good batters, hitting close to .300 for 80% of the year. Good pitchers can get shut down at the end of the season for health reasons and to rest for the playoffs. So you mix in scrubs and minor leaguers who are throwing their 2nd game in the bigs.

    It’s a recipe for statistical anomalies.

  15. [...] Amazing stats compiled for .299 or .300 hitters who are facing their last at-bat of the season… [...]

  16. [...] That is from Barry Ritholtz, here is more. [...]

  17. CDizzle says:

    I had a different take on the article and was unable to log in to make a comment.

    I see this article as another exhibit of the Great Decline of Human Nature. Fact is, people would rather look good than be good. I bet that if you look at MLB’ers from, say, 1945-1960 who were in the same situation (.299 BA entering last Plate Appearance of the season), you would see very different data than a 0% walk rate. People are more self-centered now than ever. Kim Kardashian…Vic Martinez…the guy who thinks he needs both lanes of the highway…they all suffer from extreme egoism. Asymmetric motivation is a dressed-up term for simple egoism.

  18. ksturgeon says:

    The Marginal Revolution commenters (and Phil Birnbaum, at his site) have it. The reason is because if you’re hitting .299 and get a hit, you get pulled for a pinch hitter, whereas if you make an out, you stay in the game and get another AB (while no longer hitting .299). See e.g. Casey McGehee last year – entered the game at .299, got a hit in his first AB, and was replaced by a PH:

  19. AHodge says:

    not swingin for the bleachers?
    DK if the pitchers help.
    more data needed