Tuesday, June 16, 2009


They say that math is simply logic with numbers. Grammar, as I hope I often illustrate, is based on logic. Communication encompasses making one's ideas understood and as clear as possible. A topic that falls somewhat into various of these categories is percentages. In particular, let's suppose the Tigers have won 15 and lost 10, and the Orioles are 16-11. Which is better? No pencil or calculator, please! The Orioles have played two more games and won half of them. That's not good. They had won 15 of the other 25. Logic and math say they've fallen below the Tigers. Now baseball will report that the two teams are in a virtual tie; that is, neither is behind the other because the win-loss differential is +5 in each case. Percentage-wise, though, we know that the Tigers are ahead of the Orioles. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a team like the Orioles here listed ahead of one like the Tigers. Such a mistake happens especially when the percentages are identical to the standard three decimal places. You and I, however, can easily see--without a calculator--which record is better. When both teams have won more than they've lost, the one that's played fewer games will have the better percentage if the win-loss differential is the same. On the other hand, if the win-loss differential is the same but negative, the one that's played more will have the better percentage. Example: Pirates 10-15, Astros 11-16. The Astros have won half their two extra games and that's better than they had been doing; so the Astros have the better percentage.

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