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Batters whose names begin with K are more likely to strike out

From the Nelson and Simmons paper:

Across more than 90 years of professional baseball, batters whose names began with K struck out at a higher rate (in 18.8% of their plate appearances) than the remaining batters (17.2%), . . . players with the initial K struck out more often than other players even when we controlled for the average year in which each athlete played (p < .015). In fact, when we controlled for average year of play (and excluded initials associated with fewer than 5 Major League players—e.g., U as a first initial), K was both the first initial and the last initial associated with the highest strikeout rate. Furthermore, ethnic confounds are unlikely to account for the effect, as an analysis controlling for whether players were American or foreign born also showed that batters with the initial K were reliably more likely to strike out than other players were.

Their explanation is psychological:

Despite a universal desire to avoid striking out, players whose first or last names began with the letter K struck out more often than other players. For players with this initial, the explicitly negative performance outcome may feel implicitly less aversive. Even Karl ‘‘Koley’’ Kolseth would find a strikeout aversive, but he might find it a little less aversive than players who do not share his initials, and therefore he might be less motivated to avoid striking out.

This probably explains Dave Kingman pretty well. Not to mention Vince Koleman. I don’t know if I believe this, or, maybe more to the point, what it would take for me to believe this. Somehow it’s easier for me to accept the positive aspects of liking one’s own name (dentists named Dennis, lawyers named Laura, etc.) than these sorts of negative aspects. Logically, they do go together, I guess. There’s lots more of this in the Nelson and Simmons paper.

10 Comments

  1. edk says:

    Phil Birnbaum looked at this, but couldn't reproduce those results:

    http://sabermetricresearch.blogspot.com/2007/11/k

  2. Eric Lawrence says:

    So Roger Clemens wants his children to fail?

  3. dr. zeuss says:

    This is pretty cool, but this type of article has an intrinsic problem: it's too easy to look at (for instance) strikeout data and declare victory for letter determinism under many different outcomes. K vaguely seems appropriate (although it's a little odd that they claim to get the same effect even on foreign-born players with a game-scoring notation that doesn't include K for strikeout.) But S or O would have seemed just as plausible.

  4. mikezhang says:

    A NYU professor of economics has the last name "Economides". It took me no time to remember him after the first time reading his paper.

  5. John S. says:

    The Hardball Times has an interesting take on this issue here:

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/blog_article/ri

    Analyzing data from 1954-2006, they found that players with a K in their initials struck out 15.5% of the time versus a 15% average for all players. But there were other letters that were even worse! For example, players with an N in their initials struck out 16.3% of the time.

  6. Doug says:

    The logic of this research confuses me: WHY would students or batters make this connection? For batters, if there's a popular belief in their sports culture that the letter K starting your name "makes" you strike out more then I can see the potential logic for it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For students, however, I've never heard of such a belief and there seems to be no reason as to why such a belief would intrisinctly occur to some people. This reminds me of a research design seminar as an undergrad at Grinnell where the professor delighted in having us read of experimental studies where odd results couldn't possibly mean what the authors believed them mean. (Often replication of the studies was also a problem…)

  7. JS says:

    Fwiw, I have a discussion of this paper, along with some follow-up analyses, here at my blog.

  8. Andrew says:

    JS,

    Thanks for the link; it's pretty funny. But what about players whose names begin with "Bb"–they must really walk a lot!

  9. JS says:

    Well, Barry Bonds is the walks record holder! But no difference in the means between the BB'ers and the non-BB'ers.

  10. S. Heaton says:

    This paper seems like nonsense. In fact, I've heard that the effect disappears when you control for the number of people with last names K before and after the height of the pitcher's mound was adjusted.