I've started to become a big fan of Deadspin lately. For those of you not in the know, it's a snarky sports blog, but unlike, say, the sports bogs on espn or other official type sites, it has a lot more interesting things to say than updates on contract negotiations and comments that are generally more clever than the "Aron Rogers is a fag n u r stupid asshole" type variety found on most sports blogs. It's worth a bookmark if you like sports but generally hate everything about sports media (as I assume you do if you like sports).
Anyway, they recently posted a great article on why so many baseball players end the season with a precise .300 batting average. The article really is worth your time to read, but the short version is that it happens much for the same reason we think a $4.99 happy meal is a way better deal than a $5.00 one.
Essentially, the human mind very quickly categorizes things like price and percentages. Retailers have long exploited this, like in the aforementioned happy meal price -- even though you know $4.99 is only a penny less than $5.00, when you glace at it, your mind place the former in a the $4-5 category and the latter in the $5-6 category, thus making it feel like the former is cheaper.
The same thing happens with batting averages -- .300 seems to be a lot higher than .299, even though we know that means one at bat out of a thousand had a different outcome. But it clearly holds sway, on everything from Hall of Fame voting to several percentages higher salary.
As such, batters who are hitting .299 going in to their last at bat will do anything to get a hit. So much so that since the advent of free agency in baseball (when the difference between .299 and .300 in a contract year could mean beaucoup bucks), not a single person batting .299 going into their last at bat of the season has ever walked. None. Out of thousands of hitters who have been in that situation, none of them has ever taken a walk (a positive outcome to an at bat) because it would not nudge that .299 average up. It actually turns out these .299-ers have a .420 batting average in that situation they're so attuned to the importance of getting a hit.
Baseball. Math. Craziness. And somewhere right now, Malcom Gladwell is suddenly getting a smile on his face...