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Erica Wenzel ’14 Takes New Look at Baseball History

In the course of her athletic career at Muhlenberg, Erica Wenzel ’14 rewrote College softball history. A three-year All-Centennial Conference selection at second base and a two-year captain, she finished her career with a .305 batting average, a school-record 126 runs scored and three home runs.

But her recent research focused on a different history and other records. With research partner Abigail Stryker ’14, Erica spent the semester conducting research to determine the greatest postseason home run leader in Major League Bseball history.

Official records list Manny Ramirez as the leader with 29 postseason home runs. But the current MLB postseason format includes League Division Series, the League Championship Series and the World Series. Players who concluded their careers before 1969, however, had only the World Series to prove their postseason mettle.

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Erica and Abigail, both of whom completed double majors in mathematics and environmental science, spoke with Dr. Michael Huber, dean of academic life and associate professor of mathematics. Huber, who has co-authored three books on sabermetrics and developed statistics to model rare baseball events, suggested the research project after overhearing Abigail’s conversation about course selection in the provost’s office.

The researchers employed computational algorithms to obtain numerical results. They ran 5,000 trials of three different simulations: the numbers (home-run rates, postseason at-bats) as they existed; a simulation where all hitters would play the current postseason format for every year in which they had played in the postseason; and team postseason winning percentages to account for the high probability that some teams that played before the expanded playoffs would have been eliminated before they made it to the World Series.

The new postseason home run king? Babe Ruth, who hit 15 home runs, would have hit 42 in the expanded playoff format.

“Dr. Huber said that if Babe Ruth wasn’t No. 1, we probably did something wrong,” joked Erica.

Erica graduated magna cum laude with honors this May after earning Dean’s List every semester at Muhlenberg. She will teach high-school math in Newark, N.J., as part of the Teach for America program next year. In addition to playing softball for four years and volleyball for two, she studied abroad in Kenya and Tanzania, attended conferences in South Carolina, Nebraska and Pennsylvania and served as a conservation education intern at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, among many other activities.

“Looking back as a freshman, I never expected all of that,” said Erica. “I’m very grateful for everything I’ve been able to do and all the relationships I’ve formed, even with the faculty and people outside of sports. I’m very happy I came to Muhlenberg!”

This excerpt was previously published by Mike Falk, sports information director, as a feature article on Muhlenberg College’s Athletics website.

 

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