Life By the Numbers

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”–Yogi Berra

Everyone that knows me well knows me as the stats guy. This began honestly enough. When I was a kid I collected baseball cards. I memorized the numbers on the back for my favorite players. That graduated to learning about more complex numbers when in college. Admittedly, I’ve never been at the tip of the curve, but I try to keep up as much as I can.

Even though analytics have made their way into football and basketball, there is a special love between the analytically minded and baseball. It’s a more one on one sport, so it lends itself to that sort of thing. Like anything else, there has been a backlash to analytics from people we might classify as “get off my lawn” guy. These people are unavoidable in all of society.

I’m not going to bore you with statistics like weighted on base average or hard contact rates or anything like that. This really isn’t a baseball column anymore. Yet, there is a divide like that in society. At this point, many of the anti-vaxxers are jumping on the statistic that those that get COVID have at least a 97 percent survival rate. So, why sweat it?

Not coincidentally, these are the same folks that feel they need to carry a gun everywhere to keep themselves safe. This comes despite all of the available evidence to the contrary. If you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole, the evidence is overwhelming. Guns are more often used or misused in the home for assaults, murders, and suicides than they are to thwart would be assailants. Yet, when you live outside the numbers you are free to believe anything I suppose.

The best analogy I have heard as it pertains to COVID is to imagine a bowl of M&Ms. We can even split the difference to make things easier. There are 100 of them in a bowl. Two of them will kill you. Sure, the odds are forever in your favor if you decide to eat one. Those of you adept at the math could calculate the odds if you choose to eat a handful. Everyone can calculate the odds if you choose to eat zero.

That’s really the whole point here. Dying at the hands of a rogue M&M is an unforced outcome. If you get vaccinated, wear a mask, and practice social distancing your death rate drops to nearly zero. It is almost like declining to eat any of the M&Ms. You know the outcome.

Yet, millions have chosen to eat the M&Ms anyway. Unwittingly, they’ve chosen to eat multiple M&Ms without even knowing it. They obviously don’t know about how numbers work. If the death rate is one to three percent for everyone then that number includes vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans. The death rate for vaccinated Americans is practically zero even if they contract COVID. Therefore, logic would clearly dictate that the odds jump for unvaccinated Americans.

I’m not an expert on health related statistics and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I can harbor a guess that if roughly half of the population is vaccinated then unvaccinated people might see their odds roughly double. So, one to three percent becomes two to six percent (or some similar number).

Given what we know about people, overlooking some of these obvious facts is par for the course. They do the same thing with their guns and likely do the same thing with their health in other areas. We even see combinations that would be comical if they weren’t so tragic. Let’s combine alcohol and guns just to see the multiplication effect. The actuary tables on these Americans has to be entertaining for people who find numbers fascinating.

As much as I enjoy baseball statistics, I don’t make it a habit to delve into these. No one is hurt when a hitter strikes out or a pitcher is pulled from the game. All these numbers do is describe pain and suffering. Every note on a page describes someone’s tragedy and it is impossible to derive any enjoyment from that. However, a basic understanding is helpful. As the computer in War Games said when we were kids: “the only winning move is not to play.”

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for thefantatasyfix.com. You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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