When most people think of advanced statistics in baseball they probably think of hard math equations and people like this guy above (if you Google search baseball advanced stats he’s the second result). But advanced stats are here to stay and are only going to become more prevalent as time goes on. So in this article I will show you the light on the advanced stats that are useful in baseball and explain their meaning and applications. They really aren’t hard to understand, if you have some basic comprehension of simple algebra, statistics, calculus and reason you will be able to grasp the concepts.
The thing is baseball has always been a numbers sport and there has always been a stat created to count some sort of thing a player could or couldn’t do on the field that would determine if he was a good player or not. Numbers in baseball are nothing new what is new, however, is the transformation of organizations in baseball moving from traditional counting stats (RBI, BA, ERA, etc.) to using advanced stats (or saber metrics) to evaluate players and make organizational decisions. Advanced stats have been around since the 1970’s and Bill James is credited with being the inventor of advanced stats in baseball. He created his annual baseball abstract and many advance statistic formulas in his mom’s basement (seriously) and once it took off it led to his creation of Stats Inc. and his consulting job which he currently holds with the Boston Red Sox. In part because of James you are now just as likely to find Harvard and MIT grads running baseball teams, as you are former players who think VORP is some sort of new chewing tobacco.
I imagine by now I have excited you with all this foreplay about statistics, algebra, calculus, and images of 40 year old obese men crunching numbers in their parents basement, now let’s roll up the sleeves and get down to business on what these advanced stats are and what they mean. Come join me on this journey as I have a nerdgasm with my fellow nerds in the nerdery. I hope it’s as good for you as it is for me.
ISOLATED POWER (ISO)
This statistic is simple and a good one to start with. Isolated Power simply allows you to calculate a player’s true power. To calculate Isolated Power you simply subtract a player’s batting average from his slugging percentage. This removes all the singles that would contribute to a player’s slugging percentage and allows you to find how many extra base hits a player hits per at bat. This stat is important because the traditional slugging percentage stat takes singles into account when calculating it. A player can still have a high slugging percentage if he hits an above average amount a singles despite hitting a below average amount of extra base hits (doubles, triples, homeruns). So using ISO you can eliminate the outlier players that use an inordinate amount of singles to carry a high SLG% and find players that truly hit for power.
ON BASE PLUS SLUGGING PERCENTAGE (OPS)
OPS is calculated by simply adding a players on base percentage plus his slugging percentage together. A .700-.750 OPS is considered average, anything below that is considered bad, .750-825 is considered above average, .825-.900 is considered good, and .900+ is considered really good to great. OPS is an all encompassing stat that takes into account all facets of a players offensive game, a players ability to hit for average, get on base, and hit for power all contribute to getting to the final number.
WEIGHTED ON-BASE AVERAGE (wOBA)
Weighted on-base average was created to determine a players overall offensive value per plate appearance. wOBA puts a value on all types of hitting events and weighs them according to their importance and how they help a team win (hitting a HR will obviously help a team win more than hitting a single, thus they are weighed accordingly) The formula is as follows:
NIBB= Non-Intentional base on balls
HBP= Hit by pitch
RBOE= Reach base on error
HR= Home run
PA= Plate appearances
BATTING AVERAGE ON BALLS IN PLAY (BABIP)
Batting average on balls in play is simply what it states. It’s a player’s batting average on balls that are put in play and can be used to evaluate hitters and/or pitchers. This is a good stat when trying to predict if a player is having a good year due to actual skill or if he is getting lucky. Across MLB the average BABIP is typically around .300. So if a offensive player is having either a really good year or bad year you can look to his BABIP as a metric to see if what he is doing is sustainable or simply luck. If a player has a .400 BABIP he’s probably getting lucky and is due for regression as a .400 BABIP is nearly impossible to sustain over a long period of time. This means he is getting lucky on ground balls finding ways through the infield or fly balls are being hit to spots that defenders can’t get to them even if they aren’t hit hard. Conversely if a player is having a particularly bad year check his BABIP if it’s low, say around .200, he’s probably due to put up better numbers eventually as a BABIP that low is typically unsustainable, unless that player is just really bad. Having that low of a BABIP likely means a player is just hitting the ball right at defenders or isn’t making hard contact. You can also use BABIP for pitchers, if a pitcher is having a good year he might have an unsustainably low BABIP against him, which means he might be getting lucky and that opposing batters are hitting balls at guys or a pitcher has a very good defense behind him. If a pitcher is having a bad year his BABIP could be high as guys are just hitting balls against him to the rights spots or it might indicate he has a bad defense or a few bad defenders behind him and eventually he should show improvements. BABIP is calculated by subtracting home runs from hits and dividing it by the sum of at bats – strikeouts – home runs + sacrifice flies.
WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT (WAR)
Wins above replacement calculates how many wins a player will either give you or cost you. WAR aggregates many baseball stats including wOBA, FIP, and fielding statistics amongst others. To get a players WAR a replacement level of production is calculated and is used as a baseline to compare players against. This replacement level is calculated as basically the level of production you would get from either a league average pitcher or fielder. How actual players perform against that number determines if they are a positive WAR or negative WAR player. There are a few different ways to calculate WAR, but they all attempt to do the same thing. Create a unified stat and find players true value to either producing or inhibiting wins. Here is a link to 2011 WAR leaders for batting, Jacoby Ellsbury led the league with a 9.4 WAR and Roy Halladay led the league in pitching WAR, with a WAR of 8.2, link.
FIELDING INDEPENDENT PITCHING (FIP)
Fielding independent pitching measures what a pitchers ERA should have looked like over time given that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. Research by sabermaticians has indicated that balls that fall for hits from season to season against pitchers don’t correlate well meaning that pitchers have virtually no control over balls that go in play after leaving their hand. FIP measures more clearly what a pitcher actually controls; strikeouts, walks, and home runs given up. FIP is a stat that is better used to predict pitchers future production rather than current production since sample size can be to small to accurately calculate FIP during the season. ERA can swing quite a bit for a pitcher from season-to-season often due to things a pitcher doesn’t have in his control so FIP gives us a stat that is ERA like in nature, but should stay more constant for a pitcher over time and is a better indicator on a pitchers true talent. FIP calculation is: ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP-IBB))-(2*K))/IP + constant. The constant is re-calculated every year, but its main purpose is to bring FIP to an ERA like scale (3.00, 3.20, 4.30, etc.) instead of it looking like a completely different number.
THE ABSOLUTE WORST STATS IN BASEBALL (Starting Pitchers W-L and Hitters RBI)
Advanced stats try to supplement traditional stats and paint a clearer picture on how good a player actually is and why things happen. So with the good we also must take a look at the bad, W-L records for pitchers and RBI’s for hitters. These are two of the more mainstream stats used by the media and public to evaluate baseball players and quite simply put they are f****** worthless stats that self-serving, egomaniac, functioning retards like Joe Morgan believe in. If you get anything out of this article I want it to be three things 1) W-L records for pitchers are an awful metric to judge a pitcher’s value on 2) RBI’s are an awful metric to judge a hitter’s value on and 3) most importantly Joe Morgan is a schmuck and anything he ever says or believes in regarding baseball you should immediately do and believe the opposite of (just trust me on this).
It takes so many random events to win or lose a baseball game that no individual player should ever get the sole credit for winning or losing a game, except on the rarest of occasions. Once a ball leaves a pitchers hand there are so many things that he is no longer in control of (good or bad) that affect the outcome of a game, that it simply makes no sense to give him credit for winning or losing a game. Luck and other aspects of the game in which pitchers have no control of are such huge factors in determining if they get a W or L.
Let’s go back to BABIP, a pitcher might have a lucky season where guys simply just hit a lot of balls in play right at defenders or a pitcher might have very good defense behind him, a pitcher has no control over this but likely will record more wins that season. On the other hand a pitcher might have a bad season luck wise and a lot of balls in play might just find the right holes or the defenders behind a pitcher just aren’t good and they don’t get to a lot of balls (I am looking at you Yuni B) that other defenders could get to. During that season a pitcher will probably get credited with more losses, or less wins than he was ever responsible for.
The next thing a pitcher has no control over is his bullpen, if a pitcher has a really good bullpen behind him he will likely record more wins simply because he has more talent backing him up when he leaves a games with a lead. If he has a piece of shit bullpen behind him he likely won’t record as many wins because he has inferior pitchers coming in that aren’t capable of holding leads. A pitcher has no control over his bullpen performing well in a given season, month, or game, but yet, with how the game is structured these days, a bullpen often controls if a starting pitcher gets a win or loss.
Finally there is that whole offense thing where a pitcher needs his offense to score more runs than the other teams offense to win. If two pitcher of roughly equal talent are on two different teams with one teams offense averaging 6 runs a game and the other averaging 3 runs a game who do you think will win or lose more games? Again it gets back to so many things factoring into a baseball team winning or losing a game. A pitcher has literally zero effect on his offense, yet how a individual pitcher’s offense performs can have a huge effect on if that pitcher gets a win or a loss. That makes a lot of fucking sense. Case closed. Wins and Losses don’t matter.
Finally why RBI’s are an awful metric to judge hitters on. Just like W-L for starting pitchers, hitters don’t typically control how many RBI’s they get or how many opportunities they have to get RBI’s. A player needs players to be on base in front of him to even have the ability to record RBI’s (outside of hitting home runs). Let’s give another hypothetical situation here. Player A is the #3 hitter on a team in which the #1 hitter on his team has a on base percentage (OBP) of .400 and #2 hitter has a OBP of .375 while player B is a #3 hitter on a team in which the #1 hitter has a OBP of .330 and #2 hitter has a OBP of .300. Player A will likely record more RBI’s over the course of a season than player B, even if player B is better, simply because the guys in front of player A are getting on base at a higher percentage than the guys in front of player B and player A will have far more opportunities to record RBI’s than player B. AGAIN THESE ARE THINGS THAT AN INDIVIDUAL PLAYER DOESN’T CONTROL BUT YET IS JUDGED OFF OF!!!! Evaluating how a player based on how well he hits with runners in scoring position or in other events in which he gets a rate stat with runners on base is a much better way to go about judging a hitter with runners on base rather than RBI’s.
This was just a brief overview of some of the advanced stats in baseball and how things are changing. If you are interested in more information regarding advanced stats I highly recommend reading the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis and for more information on sabermetrics and baseball statistics online visit sites like www.fangraphs.com, www.baseball-reference.com, and www.baseballprospectus.com or download Bill James’ Baseball IQ iPhone App.