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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Monday, October 6, 2008

Numbers ARE Our Friends

Math and I are not on good terms. I have done my best to ignore it throughout the duration of my life. And math has been good enough to respect that decision be mine. I spend most of my time with English. We have a good time together. It allows me to write long-winded, flowery and pretentious sentences and pretend that people want to hear what I have to write. It may be an exercise in futility but hey, it is fun!

Then ol' College comes along and tries to ruin everything. My fine public institution of higher learning has this bizarre notion that I should receive an all-inclusive, balanced education to make me a functioning and competent citizen. What the hell, College? Get off my balls! Of course, not wanting to be a functioning, competent citizen I have found the best loophole ever: stats.

Stats. is. GREAT! Math does its best to be boring and inconsequential but its sentry, Stats, has clearly gone rogue. Stats takes numbers and applies them to actual sociological and political situations in the real world. Physicists and Chemists are probably slapping their hands to their foreheads now, wondering how public education could have failed so miserably. Well, I don't care because stats express the only real-life situations that matter: baseball performance.

Mwa ha ha! Yes, I have just dragged you into ANOTHER baseball post! I will give those individuals whom are upset some time to stop rolling their eyes and put their middle fingers down and then I will proceed to speak to the baseball fans of the internet.

Alright, we good? Everyone here (all eight of you)? Good.

No sport, no real-life institution for that matter relies more on statistics than America's past-time. And perversely, that is one of the most appealingly aspect of baseball. When you are arguing with your friends about who is better than who, you can come with all kinds of ammunition. Of course, my five weeks of intense Statistics training has taught me that some stats are better than others. So as the playoffs inch forward (Seriously, Cubs?), I have compiled a list (my favorite thing to do) of the most useful and accurate baseball stats for Pitchers, Hitters. Almost everything that happens on a baseball field can be measured by some mathematical algorithm. But I am only concerned by the pitcher and the hitter; their psychological and physical warfare is the backbone of the entire sport of baseball.

5. Batting Average (AVG)- Pretty basic stuff, but also endlessly useful. As a hitter your job is to hit (duh), so what could be more useful when comparing two players than asking if Player A and Player B both come up to bat 1,000 times how many hits will each get? The only problem is that players rarely come up to bat 1,000 times in a season so hot and cold streaks can skew numbers as can the quality of competition each player faces.
4. Runs Created (RC)- One of mad scientist Bill James's inventions. The idea behind this is very simple: good hitters put runs on the board. Now we just need an equation to express it. It takes the On base factor (hits and walks) times the advancement factor (total bases) and then divides it by total opportunities (at bats). The problem is, it cannot objectively compare eras of baseball.
3. Total Bases (TB)- Gotta love this stat. Baseball is all about advancement and scoring. The problem is, weeding out the individual's successes over the team's skill in advancing him. Still, Total Bases is an effective and simple accumulative statistic that shows how often a hitter is where he is supposed to be: the base-paths.
2. On Base Percentage (OBP)- And this bad boy is a percentile stat that does it even better than TB.  This is simply Batting average...only way better. Per 1000 at bats, how often does a player reach base through either a hit, walk or a hit by pitch? OBP can tell you that, no problem. It still features the same shortcomings of AVG, but it measures so much more.
1. Adjusted On Base+Slugging Percentage (OPS+)- The Mack Daddy of all hitting statistics. This stat accurately measures everything you could ever want from a hitter (contact, power, selectiveness, speed, good decision-making) and adjusts it to put everyone on an even playing field AND expresses it all in terms of how much better than the average hitter they are. Theoretically, under this stat the average OPS+ is 100 and every other hitter's OPS+ is expressed in terms of how much better or worse they are than that 100. Don't believe it is the best stat ever? Check out the OPS+ career leaders:
  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Ted Williams
  3. Barry Bonds
  4. Lou Gehrig 
  5. Rogers Hornsby
  6. Mickey Mantle
  7. Dan Brouthers
  8. Joe Jackson
  9. Albert Pujols
  10. Ty Cobb

5. Ground Out to Fly Out Rattio (GO/AO)- Ground-balls are crucial to a pitcher's success in the modern era of baseball. Ground-balls put the ball in the hands of a team's best defenders, they keep the ball out of the air and subsequently out of the stands and they allow a pitcher to throw fewer pitches. It only stands to reason that in the era of pitch counts and star relief pitchers, the pitcher with an excellent GO/AO is king. Only problem is, the stat doesn't necessarily measure skill, just efficiency.
4. Opposition's Batting Average (Opp AVG)- The mirror image of AVG, only we want this one low (obviously). Usually, this stat is one of the tell-tale signs that a pitcher is either very lucky or very unlucky. If your ERA is high and your OppAVG is low, you are due for some good luck to come your way as is the same for the inverse. This is a powerful predictive stat.
3. Adjusted Earned Run Average (ERA+)- Measuring a ptitcher's effectiveness is much more difficult than measuring a hitter's because his success depends on more than simply his own skill. The pitcher relies on everything from his defense to the weather. So the good folks at Baseball Prospectus have developed a way to strengthen the brilliant Earned Run Average Statistic. If everything were equal among pitchers, who would give up the fewest runs per game? ERA+ is an excellent adjusted statistics, it just can't take EVERYTHING into account.
2. Strikeout to Walk Ratio (K/BB)- Now here is a stat that can measure skill as opposed to efficiency. Your best skill as a pitcher is to make a hitter miss or hit your spots often enough that they strikeout, you have mastered your craft. Also, avoiding the dreaded base on balls is the perhaps the best thing you can do as a pitcher. This is an absolute gem of a stat and yet it is so simple! The only problem is that too many Ks can limit the number of pitches or innings a pitcher can throw, thus limiting his efficiency. A high K/BB ratio with relatively low Ks and a high GO/AO ratio is ideal.
1. Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP)- Pitching isn't so much about what you should do but rather what you shouldn't do. It is the ultimate defensive position after all. Now Runs are what we want to avoid. So how do you avoid runs? Answer: Avoid Walks and Hits, those evils that put the dreaded hitters on base and gives them the potential to become runs. This is a simple ratio stat that expresses those quantities per innings pitched. It is simple and it is genius. Have a good ERA? I am not impressed. Have the best WHIP in baseball? You, sir, are the best pitcher in baseball.

Thank you for indulging my random baseball outburst of the day. I swear, it is like crack to me. And I would like to extend an olive branch to Math, as well. 

Math, if you are going to help Cliff Lee win a Cy Young, you can't be all bad.


Woozie said...

Ohioans and baseball, I'll never understand it.

Melis said...

The beginning of your post made me dread stats less, but then you had to buzzkill everything with baseball. Thanks.

A.G.B said...

That's what I am all about: killin' buzz.

Woozie said...

With the finesse of a hatchet to the balls.