Lab 09 – Moneyball


Obtain the GitHub repository you will use to complete the lab, which contains a starter file named lab09.Rmd. This lab shows you how to build predictive models using linear regression and data collected on the 2011 Major League Baseball season. Carefully read the lab instructions and complete the exercises using the provided spaces within your starter file lab09.Rmd. Then, when you’re ready to submit, follow the directions in the How to submit section below.

Data science in sports and at the movies

The movie Moneyball focuses on the “quest for the secret of success in baseball”. It follows a low-budget team, the Oakland Athletics, who believed that underused statistics, such as a player’s ability to get on base, better predict the ability to score runs than typical statistics like home runs, RBIs (runs batted in), and batting average. Obtaining players who excelled in these underused statistics turned out to be much more affordable for the team.

About the dataset

This dataset is the data from the 2011 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, containing several different kinds of summary statistics for the different teams.

The table below provides descriptions of the dataset’s 12 variables,

Variable Description
team Name of baseball team
runs Number of runs scored
at_bats Number of players at bat
hits Number of hits
homeruns Number of homeruns
bat_avg Team batting average
strikeouts Number of strikeouts
stolen_bases Number of bases stolen
wins Number of games won
new_onbase On-base percentage
new_slug Slugging percentage (total bases divided by at_bats)
new_obs On-base plus slugging percentages

Variables for baseball statistics

The first seven variables, at_bats, hits, homeruns, bat_avg, strikeouts, stolen_bases, and wins, are the traditionally used variables for baseball statistics. The last three variables, new_onbase, new_slug, and new_obs, are the suggested variables that the author of Moneyball claims were better predictors of the runs variable.

  1. What type of plot would you use to display the relationship between runs and one of the other numerical variables? Plot this relationship using the variable at_bats as the explanatory variable (horizontal axis). Does the relationship look linear? Explain what you’ve noticed in the plot that makes you think the relationship is linear (or not linear).

Building a linear model

R provides a straightforward way to build a least-squares linear regression model with the lm() function. The term “least-squares” refers to the method used to find the linear model, which is to minimize the sum of the squared residuals, and the residual is the leftover variation in the data after accounting for the model fit. As an example, to build a least-squares model of runs using at_bats as the explanatory variable, we write,

runs_at_bats_model <- lm(runs ~ at_bats, data = mlb11)

The first argument in the function lm is a formula that takes the form response ~ explanatory. Here it can be read that we want to make a linear model of runs as a function of at_bats. The second argument specifies that R should look in the mlb11 data frame to find the runs and at_bats variables.

Having assigned the model to runs_at_bats_model, we can use a couple of convenience functions from the handy broom package to get a basic overview of the model. To get a data frame summarizing the model parameters, we use the tidy() function,

runs_at_bats_model %>%

This table contains the model coefficients, with the first column pertaining to the linear model’s y-intercept and the coefficient (slope) of at_bats. With this table, we can write down the formal expression for the least squares regression line for our linear model: \[\text{runs}(\text{at\_bats})=-2789.2429+0.6305\times\text{at\_bats}\]

Additional information about the model, such as the model’s \(R^2\) paramter, can be obtained using the glance() function:

runs_at_bats_model %>%

The \(R^2\) value represents the proportion of variability in the response variable that is explained by the explanatory variable. For this model, 37.3% of the variability in runs is explained by at_bats.

  1. Fit a new model that uses homeruns to predict runs and obtain the coefficients and other details about the model using tidy() and glance(). What do the intercept and the slope tell us about the relationship between the success of a team and the number of home runs its players hit during the season?

Prediction and prediction errors

After building a model, we would like to know what it predicts and what the residuals look like. The modelr package, which is part of the tidyverse, provides us with a function for adding the predictions to our data frame. To get the predictions for the model runs ~ at_bats, run:

runs_at_bats_df <- mlb11 %>%

First, let’s directly compare the model with the underlying data. We use ggplot2 to create a scatter plot and overlay the model line on top,

ggplot(data = runs_at_bats_df) +
  geom_point(mapping = aes(x = at_bats, y = runs)) +
    mapping = aes(x = at_bats, y = pred),
    color = "indianred3",  # color and size are used here to help the
    size = 1               # the model line stand out.

Although the pred column in runs_at_bats_df only corresponds to predictions for the input values of the at_bats column, in general the model allows us to predict the value of runs at any value of at_bats, including values that are outside the range \([5417, 5710]\). Predictions beyond the range of the observed data is referred to as extrapolation, and making strong predictions based on extrapolation is not recommended. Predictions made within the range of the data are considered more reliable.

You have a couple of options available if you want to make predictions at values of at_bats not found in the mlb11 data frame. If you are interested in a few specific points, then you can build a data frame by hand and pipe it into add_predictions(),

runs_at_bats_more_pred <- tibble(      # Creates a data frame with a column
  at_bats = combine(5400, 5650)        # named at_bats with two values, 5400
) %>%                                  # and 5650

If you instead want to check predictions for a collection of points at regularly-spaced intervals, you can use the seq_range() function as follows:

runs_at_bats_seq_pred <- tibble(      # Creates a data frame with a column
  at_bats = seq_range(                # named at_bats that has values
    x = combine(5400, 5700),          # incrementing by 20 over the range
    by = 20                           # [5400, 5700]
) %>%
  1. If a team manager saw the least squares regression line and not the actual data, how many runs would he or she predict for a team with 5,578 at_bats? Is this an overestimate or an underestimate, and by how much? In other words, what is the residual for this prediction?


As discussed earlier, the prediction error is defined as the difference between the predicted value and the observed value is called the residual. Visually, the residual is the vertical distance from the model line to each data point.

  1. Use the following code to visualize the residuals connected to each data point,

    ggplot(runs_at_bats_df) +
      geom_point(mapping = aes(x = at_bats, y = runs)) +
        mapping = aes(x = at_bats, y = pred),
        color = "indianred3",
        size = 1
      ) +
        mapping = aes(x = at_bats, ymin = pred, ymax = runs),
        linetype = "dashed"

    Which data point appears to have the smallest residual? Which data point appears to have the largest residual?

It is typical to visualize how a model’s residuals are distributed using a histogram to get a sense of their center, shape, and overall spread. Before we can plot the histogram, we need to collect the residuals into a new column in our dataset. Just like for the predictions, modelr provides the function add_residuals() for this purpose,

runs_at_bats_df2 <- runs_at_bats_df %>%

The residuals are added as a new column named resid.

  1. Create a histogram of the residuals stored in runs_at_bats_df2. Make sure you choose an appropriate bin width for the distribution. What is the shape and center of the residuals?

Conditions for using a linear model

Three conditions must be met in order for a linear model built using lm() to be reliable:

  • Linearity: The relationship between the explanatory variable and the response variable must be linear

  • Nearly normal residuals: The residuals should be nearly normal (i.e. follow a bell curve shape)

  • Constant variability: The variability of the points around the model line should be roughly constant

Let’s walk through each of the three conditions and discuss what we can plot to help us assess whether the linear model is reliable.


The plot we created at the beginning of the prediction and prediction errors section already provides us with an approximate idea of whether the relationship between the explanatory and response variable is linear. However, there are two other types of plots that we can create that will help in our assessment, an observed versus predicted plot and a residual versus predicted plot. The code to make an observed versus predicted plot is,

ggplot(data = runs_at_bats_df2) +
  geom_point(mapping = aes(x = pred, y = runs)) +
  geom_abline(slope = 1, intercept = 0, color = "red")

and the code to make a residual versus predicted plot is,

ggplot(data = runs_at_bats_df2) +
  geom_point(mapping = aes(x = pred, y = resid)) +
  geom_ref_line(h = 0)

If the points in either plot appear to follow a non-linear (curved) trend, then that’s a tell-tale sign that the condition for linearity has been violated.

  1. Create the observed versus predicted and residual versus predicted plots for the runs ~ at_bats model. Interpret the plots and conclude whether the relationship between runs and at_bats is linear or non-linear.

Nearly normal residuals

The histogram we created in the residuals section gives us a rough idea of whether the residuals are nearly normal, but we should have a more precise method for figuring this out. One such method is to build a Q-Q plot using geom_qq(), which is designed to show us precisely where the distribution of residuals deviates from normality. A reference line should also be included in the Q-Q plot, which we can do by using geom_qq_line(). Any points found on this line are following a normal distribution and any points away from the line are deviating from the normal distribution.

  1. Create a Q-Q plot of the model’s residuals using the following code:

    ggplot(data = runs_at_bats_df2) +
      geom_qq(mapping = aes(sample = resid)) +
      geom_qq_line(mapping = aes(sample = resid))

    Based on the resulting plot, does it appear that the condition that residuals must be nearly normal is met?

Constant variability

The residual versus predicted plot you created in Exercise 6 can be used to determine whether the variability of the points around the model line remain approximately constant. If the residual spread seems to increase or decrease as the predicted value changes, then this condition is violated.

  1. Interpret the residual versus predicted plot from Exercise 6 and conclude whether the constant variability condition is met.

Additional exercises

  1. Choose another traditional variable from mlb11 that you think might be a good predictor of runs. Fit a linear model and create observed versus predicted and residual versus predicted plots (you do not need to check the conditions for using the linear model). Does your variable seem to predict runs better than at_bats? Determine this by comparing the \(R^2\) values (obtained using glance()) for the two models.

  2. Now use one of the three newer variables, new_onbase, new_slug, and new_obs, to build a linear model using the same method as before. These are the statistics used by the author of Moneyball to predict a teams success. After fitting the model you should create observed versus predicted and residual versus predicted plots (you do not need to check the conditions for using the linear model) and also compare the new model’s \(R^2\) values (obtained using glance()) with the others. Based on what you find, conclude whether the new variable is more or less effective at predicting runs than the two older variables you investigated.

How to submit

To submit your lab, follow the two steps below. Your lab will be graded for credit after you’ve completed both steps!

  1. Save, commit, and push your completed R Markdown file so that everything is synchronized to GitHub. If you do this right, then you will be able to view your completed file on the GitHub website.

  2. Knit your R Markdown document to the PDF format, export (download) the PDF file from RStudio Server, and then upload it to Lab 9 posting on Blackboard.


You are encouraged to review and keep the following cheatsheets handy while working on this lab:


This lab is a derivative of OpenIntro Lab 9 – Introduction to linear regression by Andrew Bray and Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel, which was adapted from a lab written by the faculty and TAs of UCLA Statistics, used under CC BY-SA 3.0. This lab is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Adapted by James Glasbrenner for CDS 102.