local newspapers local statistics and sabermetrics

SABERMETRICIANS have seen their re­search, con­clu­sions, ob­ser­va­tions, and even sug­ges­tions worm their way into both Major League Base­ball and the columns of many sports­writers, the people who as­semble sta­tis­tics for local teams in local news­pa­pers have all but ig­nored the ‘new sta­tis­tics.’ So here are a few notes on local news­pa­pers local sta­tis­tics and sabermetrics.

Saber­met­rics is the spe­cial­ized analysis of base­ball through ob­jec­tive ev­i­dence, es­pe­cially base­ball sta­tis­tics that mea­sure in-game ac­tivity. The term is de­rived from the acronym SABR, which stands for the So­ciety for Amer­ican Base­ball Research.

It was coined by Bill James, who is one of its pi­o­neers and is often con­sid­ered its most promi­nent ad­vo­cate and public face.” (Cour­tesy of Wikipedia.)

For in­stance, The Seattle Times has seven columns of data in their Mariners Sta­tis­tics box, which is pub­lished each day throughout the base­ball season. These seven are:

AB: at-bats, which are plate ap­pear­ances minus walks, sac­ri­fice flies, and hit-by-pitch

AVG: bat­ting av­erage, which is the total number of hits di­vided by the total number of at-bats (not plate appearances)

BB: base-on-balls, also called a walk, oc­curs when the pitchers throws four balls (not strikes) to the batter, who then free to take first base at a walk

R: runs scored, which is how many times the batter crosses home plate

H: hits, which con­siders sin­gles, dou­bles, triples, and home runs as equal units

2B: dou­bles, which are fair hits in which the batter makes it to second base due solely to the hit ball

3B: triples, which are fair hits in which the batter makes it to third base due solely to the hit ball

HR: home runs—does anyone NOT know what a home run is?

RBI: runs batted in, which is run­ners on base who score be­cause the batter knocked them in with a batted ball, a walk, a hit-by-pitch, or even a balk by the pitcher

These are ‘tra­di­tional’ base­ball stats. They show no aware­ness of the sta­tis­tical revolution/evolution brought about by James and saber­met­rics. They do tell us a little about the pro­duc­tion of the player. For ex­ample, any player that scores 100 runs and drives in 100 runs is al­most cer­tainly a good hitter with good power bat­ting in the middle of the line-up of a good team.

 

1HiddenGame

John Thorn and Pete Palmer’s The Hidden Game Of Base­ball (1984) was the fourth most im­por­tant base­ball book that I ever read—trailing right be­hind Bill James’s first three Base­ball Abstracts.

Fewer columns of statistics

But a lot more in­for­ma­tion about each bat­ter’s value as an in­di­vidual batter—both runs scored and runs batted in are based on the per­for­mance of the rest of the in­di­vidual bat­ter’s team­mates’ performances—could be given with fewer columns of statistics!

The Seattle Times could con­sider a mere four columns that would tell us fans a hel­luva lot more than the above seven columns. These four would be:

PA: plates ap­pear­ances, which are the total number of times the payer has stepped and put the ball in play or walked or hit-by-pitch—it is al­ways im­por­tant to know how many times a player has faced a pitcher

AVG: bat­ting av­erage (see above)

SLG: slug­ging per­centage, which is the total bases of the total hits per at-bat

OBP: on-base per­centage, which is hits plus walks plus hit-by-pitches per at-bat

There are other stats used in pop­ular sports venues, in­cluding pa­pers, talk-shows, and in­ternet sports sites. Prob­ably the most common today is OPS (on-base per­centage plus slug­ging per­centage), a fairly ac­cu­rate as­sess­ment of the two most im­por­tant as­pects of hit­ting: get­ting on base and hit­ting for power!

A fave of mine that is sabermetrically-based but not in wide use on the afore­men­tioned areas is ISO (iso­lated power, which is slug­ging per­centage minus bat­ting av­erage). This very specif­i­cally iso­lates the extra-base hits from the sin­gles in a bat­ting av­erage and in­di­cates whether a batter is hit­ting LOTS of homers and dou­bles or not.

 

BabeRuth

The player with the greatest Iso­lated Power Av­erage (ISO) of all time is Babe Ruth at .348, fol­lowed by Mark McG­wire (.325) and Barry Bonds (.309). No other hitter in the his­tory of the game is above .300.

Holding my breath

Now, if The Seattle Times does not want to con­fuse the av­erage sports page reader with so many percentages—and wants to stick with seven columns, then re­place 2B with BB. As the HR stat gives us a rea­son­able idea of the bat­ter’s power (and 2B does not), knowing how many times a batter walks would give knowl­edge­able readers an idea of the play­er’s OBP.

Fi­nally, a few words from Bill James:

“I al­ways ad­mire people who have the courage to con­front the con­ven­tional wisdom. I mean, people within the system. Those of us on the out­side, it’s easy for us to say what­ever we think be­cause there are no con­se­quences to it.

It’s much harder to say, ‘I think the con­ven­tional wisdom is full of beans, and I’m not going to go along with it,’ when you’re in­side the system and ex­posed to the pos­si­bility of ac­tual failure.

I think the people who do this drive the world to get better, whereas the people who snipe at any­body who dares sug­gest that the con­ven­tional wisdom is malarkey are, in my view, gut­less con­spir­a­tors in the medi­oc­rity of the universe.”

 

Baseballs SteshkaWillems 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: The pho­to­graph at the top of this page cour­tesy of Steshka Willems for Pexels.

 

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