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Matthew Coller Articles Archive
Written by Matthew Coller   
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 23:53

Stats

If you are on Twitter, you probably know by now that the battle between “new stats” people and the “old school” thinkers – managers, writers, executives etc. - has carried over from Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young award to Opening Day. Like, the battle is over, but a few soldiers are still firing shots at the fortress. A  book was published claiming to be the anti-Moneyball called The Beauty of a Short Hop and the New York Times allowed this bizarre article to be published. Joe Posnanski shot back from the pro-stats side with this column where he mocks Nationals manager Jim Riggleman about the skipper's love for laying one down. Then there's this guy who...just seems angry at UZR.

The funny thing about nay stats people is that they don't appear to realize they often believe the same thing as new agers. That statisticians like Bill James have done as much to prove old school thinking to be correct as they have to disprove it. The problem, as Posnanski points out, is that the old schoolers don't understand new statistics enough to know it.

OK, so there's a few points they disagree on: bunting, the use of closers and heart/hustle to name a few. Yes, former players believe that RBI's and runs scored are important stats. Writers often grade current players with batting average and fielding percentage. Managers want to offer reward for “wins” and just can't seem to get enough of guys who are willing to “sacrifice themselves.” Like I said, there are some differences. But, take a minute to think about some age-old baseball sayings and ideas.....

“A walk's as good as a hit”

This one's easy: On-Base Percentage. If you've ever played Little League, you've heard this one. In fact, my coach (dad) batted the shortest guy leadoff because he figured get on base the most which would lead to more runs. Somehow I get the feeling he didn't invent the moniker. Bobby Shantz once said of Ted Williams, “(he) won't swing at a bad ball, has the best eyes in the business.”

Why would he be talking about the best eye in the business from a guy way back when if it wasn't valuable to get walks? Now, don't think I'm slighting the guys who decided to use walks to evaluate talent and project future statistics. Rather those who came up with the OBP idea reinforced thinking that had been around for a long time: walks are valuable. Whether managers used that thinking to make out their lineup cards or writers used walks when voting for MVP is a total different matter. Either way, the old schoolers shouldn't be displeased when new age thinkers scoff at batting average, they should nod with approval.

“You can't guide the ball” – “Hit 'em where they ain't”

Babip! Babip! Babip! No, I haven't lost my mind. Batting Average of Balls Hit in Play is used to explain what kind of luck a pitcher or hitter had when the ball was hit in play. Like, during a particular year a player didn't 'hit 'em where they ain't' because he, say, 'can't guide the ball.' Or a pitcher made a good pitch, but the batter 'him 'em where they weren't' ...you get the picture. Numbers go up and down with that line-drive luck. It's a brilliant stat to gauge whether a hitter's average will likely go up or down in the future and all the credit in the World goes to Voros McCraken for discovering such. Why it irritates the traditionalists who used the saying for years? I will never know. Neither will they because they don't take the time to understand it.

“Willie Mays and his glove: Where triples go to die”

Sandy Koufax said Willie Mays was better than Babe Ruth. Why? His fielding. Do you think Koufax looked at how many errors Mays made? Or was he talking about the fact that Willie could run down any ball hit in his direction? Well, there you have Range Factor. While I've heard players and managers dispute Range Factor because “if you have a pitching staff who gets ground balls, your outfielders' numbers won't be as good.”

Not over 15 years they won't. Not when you have 10 starters and 20 relievers used by the end of a season. Mays' outfield talent was based on running down fly balls. Range Factor is based on running down fly balls. What's the problem? That scouts think they can tell whether a second baseman will grab three more balls per year than the next guy by watching five games? Oh yeah, that's the problem.

“I believe in getting the ball over the plate and not walking a lot of men” – “There's no defense for a walk”

You might think I'm stretching here, but bare with me: The first is a Bob Gibson quote and the other  and old cliché. Both should draw you to FIP. This stat, invented by Tom Tango, is designed to measure things that a pitcher is specifically responsible for. Those being home runs, strikeouts and walks. Gibson seems to understand that one of the things he can control in the game is the free pass. The cliché implies the same sentiment.

Now, if you ask an old school pitcher, they'll tell you that their job was to “get outs” or that they don't try for strikeouts. Keep in mind, that's teammate speak. Trust me, they notice when a fielder lets a ball fall in front of them or a diving attempt goes awry. Pitchers should actually be quite pleased to be graded on events they control rather than balls that rolled slowly into the gaps.

"You've got to remember - I'm seventy-three."

I personally love this Ty Cobb gem. See, he was asked how he'd hit against the day's pitching. I apologize for mutilating its beauty,  but this one screams Adjusted ERA and OPS. Writers, managers and former players alike love comparing players from “their day” to the guys of today. Well, friends, that's exactly what this stat does! It's fun as heck to say, “Willie Mays played in bigger ballparks than Ken Griffey Jr., so he's better.” Well, the Adjusted OPS takes ballparks into account as well as the competition. Those guys who say, “the pitching was better then...” can actually look to see if that's true. Though I suppose they wouldn't want to let facts get in the way of a good story.


 

Matthew CollerMatthew Coller is a senior staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter

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