As the scientific community works to understand global climate mechanisms, new data sets are occasionally discovered that enhance our ability to understand and predict climate patterns. Few scientists understood the inherent link between earth science and baseball better than the late, but eminent, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. In this study, I build upon Gould’s shared passion for these subjects by investigating how the 2016 Kansas City Royals baseball season sheds new light on the global warming debate.
As a geoscientist and editor, I am familiar with global climate data, including temperature trends over time. These data are compiled from direct observations and indirect interpretation of ice cores, tree rings, and other sources of preserved information. With this background, while studying trends inherent in the 2016 Kansas City Royals baseball season I was able to recognize a significant pattern similarity, relying on methods laid out by Munroe, 552.
I conducted a correlation exercise between the two data sets with the understanding that “synchronous correlation and disrelation analysis seem to form a more natural pair as complementary techniques, because they share very similar sets of vector manipulations” (Noda, 2004). Data used in this study included baseline climate data for the past 2,000 years (Spencer, 2007) and Royals 2016 season data (Baseball Reference, 2016); for ease of display, the latter were recalculated to reflect the team’s daily record as a function of +/- relative to .500. I then used Adobe software to overlay the season data and climate data, using various sophisticated tools to establish best-approximation fit between the two data sets (Figure 1). For more examples of this technique, see Vigen.
Results & Discussion
Figure 1 shows a significant correlation between Royals team performance and climate data since the estimated birth of Jesus Christ. Correlation is least significant at the beginning of both data sets, where global tree-ring data may be compromised by the relative lack of Third-Baseman trees (Yost, 2013). Note the strong correlation between team record and global temperature during the transition between the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age (approximately mid-June through early August on the team scale). A cross-disciplinary collaboration between climatologists and historians may be necessary to determine whether the Viking colonization and subsequent abandonment of Greenland was the cause, or the effect, of the Royals’ prolonged slump during this period (as the team never played the Twins during the period, the potential Minnesota factor must be dismissed).
The most interesting and potentially controversial result of this study comes at the end of both data sets. While the Royals’ record and global temperatures both record an unprecedented rise during this period, their subsequent diversion is cause for pause. Traditional climate models assume that global warming will continue unabated, leading to record-high global temperatures. However, the Royals season record clearly levels off at this point before declining to remain within historical norms.
The mechanism driving this correlation is not, as yet, clear and requires further study. However, it may be worth considering that the geographic center of the contiguous United States (a central contributor to climate-altering global emissions) is located in north-central Kansas, well within Royals territory (NY Times, 2014).
The unavoidable conclusion from this analysis is that global warming may, in fact, be nearing its peak as part of a natural cyclic variation and will soon self-correct. Clearly, then, past projections and models for global climate are no more reliable than those for Royals team performance, such as PECOTA (Posnanski, 2016). However, if current climate models are correct and global temperatures do continue their current ascent, Royals fans may take comfort in the knowledge that the team’s record should also improve next year. In 2017, therefore, a situation commonly described as “win-win” in the literature will exist. Between a warming planet and a winning team, which would Royals fans choose?