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