March 23, 2013
Playing With Numbers
Baseball is a sport that is built on numbers. How many home runs a player has, how many strikeouts a pitcher has, his ERA or a hitter's batting average. Most fans understand these numbers, how to figure them out and generally what they mean. A hitter who gets a hit three times out of ten bats .300 (3/10).
Generally, the only way for a hitter to end up with a better batting average is to get more hits when he's up at bat. But what if there was another way. What if instead of having to get hits each time up, he could simply start subtracting some at bats. He decides to not count one at bat, and now he's batting .333 (3/9). What an improvement! He's a better hitter now!
Oh, that's not fair, you say? That's cheating? Ok, fine, let's go back to the 3 out of 10 thing. We're back to that .300. But now, when he goes to bat and doesn't get a hit, we just don't count those. He goes up to bat and makes an out for the next five times. Instead, we're going to just tell people that he held steady and is still batting .300. Isn't that great? In watching him, he sure hasn't looked very good, but the numbers show that he's still the same hitter. The numbers haven't gotten any worse, even though it sure feels like he's playing worse.
Does any of this seem to make any sense? If this is how baseball statistics worked, would the statistics really mean anything if we could play with the numbers this way? Of course not. Yet we still try to put some meaning on unemployment stats. Month after month, Rhode Island's unemployment numbers either hold steady or improve a little bit at a time, but it sure doesn't feel like it. It doesn't seem like there are more jobs available. But if you look just barely past the headlines, you start to see that there are fewer people even looking for jobs, fewer people on unemployment. They've either simply given up or they left the Rhode Island market and found a job elsewhere. Is that our economic strategy? Is that how we'll get the state out of last place in employment numbers? We'll just keep erasing our "outs" until eventually we're batting 1.000? At what point does this get turned around?
I guess in the meantime, our General Assembly can have twelve-hour debates on issues where everyone's mind is already made up and still not call a vote. We can submit bills on what should be the official mollusk of the state and play games with votes already cast and try some Jedi mind tricks in telling people that the vote that just happened didn't really happen. But maybe someday, we can reverse the trend and create an environment where all Rhode Islanders can find a job, instead of pushing them away to make our numbers look better. Batter up!