Thursday, March 18, 2010
It happened again this morning, and I don’t really understand it. The host on the radio made a reference to nerdy baseball fans with their UZR and VORP like it was somehow an inferior segment of the fan base. People are always talking down about the new breed with their calculators and fancy numbers. After all, the newfangled numbers are so mysterious. They’re not nearly as good as years of watching baseball. Who needs a WHIP to know if a pitcher is any good? I really don’t understand the problem with sabermetrics.
Nobody makes decisions just on how a player looks. Well, nobody except Derek Jeter fans. Everyone else uses some sort of number. Nobody says that Dustin Pedroia is a better second baseman than Mike Lansing because he looks better at the plate. Everyone uses some sort of number to back it up. The old dogs like the triple-crown categories of batting average, home runs, and RBI. Apparently, those numbers are OK? Ever figure out a batting average without a calculator? It’s really a fairly complicated formula. You need to take the number of plate appearances and subtract out the walks, sacrifices, and hit-by-pitches. You need to then divide that number into the number of hits a player gets. Not exactly just counting something up. Slugging percentage is another old-time stat. That one’s even worse. You need to multiply the different hits a player gets by different values, and divide that number by trips to the plate. Yikes. But, it’s not geeky to figure out those statistics? Just because people have been doing it for a while?
I think the thing that most people have trouble with when it comes to sabermetrics is that it is doesn’t deal with potential as much as the game always has. The thing I always think of are the fact that sabermetrics reduces the role of the sacrifice bunt and stolen base. People who run the numbers tell you that sacrificing a guy over doesn’t improve your chances of scoring. That just flies in the face of what is obviously true. If there’s a guy on second with one out, of course bunting him over increases your chance of scoring. If memory serves, there are eight ways to score from third with two outs that you can’t score from second. So, clearly having eight more options is better. Nobody can say otherwise. What sabermetrics does, though, is see if any of it ever happens. What are those eight ways? One of them is a balk. When was the last time a guy scored on a balk? One is a stolen base. Unless it’s Ellsbury, that doesn’t help. There’s a wild pitch and a passed ball. Those aren’t exactly happening all the time. There’s an error. Do teams make an error a game? Hard to depend on that. I think one is catcher’s interference. No help. There’s an infield single. Unless Ellsbury’s up I’m not holding my breath. I can’t remember an eighth way. Anyone? It doesn’t matter. Even if it’s a common event, we’re now down to one way you can realistically expect bunting the guy over to help you. So, yes. Bunting does increase the chances of scoring. But, the numbers will tell you that it never really works out that way. The one and only thing sabermetrics won’t tell you is the mental state of the pitcher. Does he choke with a guy on third more than on second? The numbers will tell you that, over all, probably not. But it’s possible. So, when sabermetricians discount the bunt and stolen base, this is what they’re talking about. Over the course of a season, it works out better if you don’t. If you bunt a guy over, the next guy makes an out most of the time anyway. Having one out to get a single isn’t much better than having two outs to get a double.
The sabermetricians are taking a hit with the Sox batting order this season. There’s no power! And, there isn’t. But, it’s not always needed. If every member of the line-up had a 1.000 on-base percentage, but didn’t hit a single home run it would be just fine. The Sox would score infinite runs. How about a .500 OBP? What if every other guy, on average, got a single? Let’s see how the inning would work. Out-single-out-single-out. Whoops, no runs. How about next inning? Single-out-single-out-single to score a run-out. Got a run that inning. So, even with nothing but singles, they’re scoring 4 runs a game. Mix in a double here and there and things look better. And, sure, they won’t go exactly in that pattern. They’ll go 1-2-3 for an inning or two, then score a few runs in a couple innings. It’ll just depend on when the other teams score their runs.
Can we just agree that baseball has always been a numbers game? Some numbers are just newer than other numbers. And, the new numbers are just better.
If they weren’t, they’d still use the old numbers.
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