Grant Finn was a math major with minors in economics and statistics, but he was also captain of the baseball team, a four-year varsity pitcher, and an Ambler Scholar-Athlete. So when it came time to choose a thesis topic, he took the advice of his advisor, Math Professor Lynne Butler, and picked a subject that would hold his interest for a whole year. To that end, he combined his two passions—baseball and statistics—in a project that used a statistical procedure (known as principle component analysis) to address how advantageous certain situations in a game are for pitchers: “Principal Component Analysis with Application in Baseball.”
“Some of the intuition is rather simple, but principal component analysis goes a long way to not only validate basic intuition but also further knowledge on strength of pitcher advantage in specific situations,” he says. “Part of the beauty of my application is that it can be readily adapted and furthered by someone who reads my thesis with some different baseball statistics in mind.”
Post-graduation Finn is working as an actuary, using statistics to analyze a different sort of numbers—those related to financial risk. And he is grateful to his Haverford math professors for not only preparing him for his thesis, but for preparing for his career going forward.
“While my thesis represents a huge accomplishment between my advisor and me, I was influenced by a large portion of the math professors I took while at Haverford,” he says. “I originally thought, going into my senior year, that once I picked a topic and an advisor that a large majority of my academic background in mathematics would be unimportant. However, I found that was not the case at all. As I read through the literature on my topic, I found countless examples, theorems, and definitions that I have seen throughout my academic history at Haverford. The interconnected nature of the topics within mathematics was eye-opening.”
How did your advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, or interpret your results?
Honestly, without Lynne I would not have been able to put forth the thesis that I ultimately completed. Not only did Lynne suggest the topic of principal component analysis, she was also critical to my understanding of the background algebraic topics behind my thesis. I was able to run ideas by her on a weekly basis, if not more. Our partnership was particularly neat in that I was able to teach Lynne a few things about baseball while she taught me a whole bunch about algebra and statistics.
What did you learn from working on your thesis?
My biggest takeaway from my thesis was more so the process than the result. I was able to see a project through from the beginning to the end. I began by fully understanding the mathematics behind the statistical process of principal component analysis and ended by correctly applying the method to a real world application that was interesting to me. People often ask how practical a pure mathematics major is. I think I demonstrated in my thesis that is highly practical as it provides the foundation needed to solve a variety of real world applications.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.