Let’s Talk About Stats, Baby

Let’s talk about stats, baby,

Let’s talk about you and me.

Let’s talk about all the good things,

And the bad things that may be.

Let’s talk about…stats.

Yeah that’s right, I threw a little Salt-N-Pepa (with a twist) into this post you’re about to digest.  Baseball is a game of flavorful and perhaps less tasteful numbers. One ridiculous statistic I recently read across my laptop screen was this:

“He’s the first National League player to account for as many as 30 steals and 25 double plays in one season.”

NPR’s Frank Deford wisely responded to this saying, “steals and double plays together? This is like saying, “He’s the first archaeologist to find 23 dinosaur bones and 12 Spanish doubloons on the same hunt.”

I don’t know what led me to Google “ridiculous baseball stats” and “stupid baseball stats” but it proved to be educational, entertaining and enlightening. I think perhaps as fans we just might be more obsessed with the numbers game in baseball than most Major League Baseball managers and players. The reasons behind a team’s skipper making a tough decision in a game often does come down to the probability that his player will produce. Sometimes it’s merely gut instinct or luck. Or both.

'He hits better against right handed pitching, so pitch left-handed, to him.'

Let’s check out a few of the common baseball statistics: BA (batting average), BB (walks), HBP (hit by pitch), OBP (on base percentage) & ROE (reached on error).

BATTING AVERAGE:

Baseball is a game in which as a batter you are considered successful when you fail seven out of ten times.  How? Well, it’s simple math, sort of. My Google search I mentioned earlier was quite enlightening for me personally. I didn’t realize how much of a numbers nerd I truly was but I’m happy to announce that I only wear my taped spectacles when I’m studying baseball statistics. Dropping mathematics as soon as I could credit-wise in high school was a wise choice for me (this is not on my resume).

Anyways, for simplicity’s sake let’s take a batter having ten AB (at bats) and he gets three hits in those ten at bats. In America’s favorite pastime, this is quite successful and his average is .300 (3 divided by 10). ‘Mighty Miggy’, Detroit Tiger’s Miguel Cabrera had 205 H (hits) out of 622 AB which gives him a .330 BA for the 2013 season. Amazing.

Statistically, the beginning month or two of the MLB season are fairly unreliable in determining a hitter’s performance but they of course average out considerably in the end. Maintaining a .400 batting average is virtually unattainable nowadays and hasn’t been accomplished during a single season since Ted Williams did so in 1941. Notable others in that .400 club are Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby &  Shoeless Joe Jackson. Ed Delahanty, Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby all hit .400 or better three times in their careers.

BB, HBP AND ROE:

What isn’t included in a BA that not necessarily should be but that just doesn’t totally reflect a batter’s total potential or odds of getting on base are: BB (walks), HBP (hit by pitch) & ROE (reached on error).

It takes a good eye and a patient at bat and/or a pitcher not having too good of an outing on the mound for a batter to receive a walk to first base. You’d think a hitter would get some credit for that awarded base, right? And let’s take a similar situation of being hit by a pitch (ouch).  Doesn’t the struck batter get any compensation for the bruise he’ll be sporting awhile? Well, yes, on both accounts, the player does receive credit…kind of like, well, a store credit, if you will. They will have something to show for it but it’s tucked away in the aforementioned statistics like OBP and ROE.

I’m about to talk nerdy to you so put these glasses on because they’ll help you follow these next equations:

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Got your glasses on? Alright, here we go. OBP does NOT include errors such as fielding errors, fielder’s choice, dropped/caught third strike, fielder or catcher’s obstruction. In the last five years there has been arguments, whether weak or strong, that the on base percentage should include errors in it’s calculations. Here is the OBP formula:

OBP= H + BB + HBP divided by AB + BB + HBP + SF (For those of you unfamiliar: H=hit; SF=sacrifice fly).

So this begs the question: who decides an error or a base hit? Answer: The official MLB scorekeeper on duty during each game. From what I understand to be true, Major League Baseball official scorekeepers have the power to decide for example if a player has a hit or if a fielder has an error. Judgment calls are made all the time. Major League Baseball actually recruits their own official scorers.

“It’s always safer to call it a hit (than an error). The batting team is happy and the fielding team can be ambivalent…but you have to make the proper call.” -Stew Thornley, official scorer

Here’s another head-scratcher for you:

BABIP= H-HR divided by AB-K-HR-SF (For those of you unfamiliar, HR=home runs; K=strike outs)

Now, what the heck is this? Good question. The not-so-simple answer is batting average on balls in play. To explain further, it is how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits or how many balls in play against a pitcher go for hits, excluding home runs. And just FYI, a normal BABIP is around .300.

Do MLB coaches and staff actually implement these formulas through their 162 game seasons? Some will admit to “playing the odds” or “consulting the numbers” and others won’t say.

Will a manager late in a game, if his team is behind by a run, put in a hitter with the best batting average (BA) or does he opt to put in another guy on the bench with a higher on base percentage (OBP) for their best chance at a victory?

Well, whether you believe statistics in baseball to be out of control or not, maybe you’ll find this to be true:

“Baseball isn’t statistics – baseball is (Joe) DiMaggio rounding second.” – Jimmy Breslin

Sports statistics are not in and of themselves misleading but they just might be an acquired taste. The inferences one may choose to draw from them, or be quietly led to draw from them, can be dangerously out of touch with reality. Factual as they may be, the only way to really digest a stat is with a grain of salt.

And remember baseball is a team sport so each individual player’s statistics are not going to be solely based upon his performance no matter how you add, subtract, multiply and divide. 

Alright, I’m checkin out for the night, time to take off my nerdy glasses.

Love and Laces,

Belle of Baseball