Latest News

HR and AVG are so last week

"Well, his OBP is decent, but his BABIP shows he won't maintain it. Also, his LD% is way down, so I think we need to get him out of the leadoff spot in the batting order."

This is the new baseball fan talking, and for many, his jargon is just about incomprehensible.

For more than a century, the key statistics that measure baseball performance didn't change. You had batting average, runs batted in, home run totals and, for pitchers, won-lost records and earned run average.

Since the late 1970s, though, the sabermaticians -- analysts who use mathematical formulas to determine the value and production of players -- have taken virtually everything done on a baseball field and assigned a property to it.

We should explain that opening quote. OBP stands for on-base percentage, which is a batters' percentage of hits plus walks. BABIP is the batting average a player has on the balls he puts in play -- strikeouts, for instance, don't count against him. And LD% is line drive percentage, or how many of his batted balls are line drives. The more the better, of course.

There are so many more. We used to browse through the Baseball Encyclopedia looking at the basics. There was Babe Ruth's 60-homer season, and Mickey Mantle's 1956 Triple Crown, and Bob Gibson's stunning 1.12 ERA back in '68.

Now there's a different encyclopedia of the game called Total Baseball, and if you look up an individual hitter, you not only get homers and RBIs, but a half-dozen categories that you may have to look up definitions for (OPB, PRO+, BR/A, SBA, FA, FR) topped off by TPR, something that stands for Total Player Rating.

The long explanation for that is: The sum of a player's Adjusted Batting Runs (more formulas there), Fielding Runs (ditto) and Base Stealing. Runs, minus his positional adjustment, all divided by the Runs Per Win factor (yet another) for that year

The higher the better, of course.

We won't get into how all that is determined here; it would take the whole sports section.

But Oakland general manager Billy Beane was probably the first GM to take all the numbers seriously. That eventually led to numerous economical division titles for the A's and a wonderful book on the subject called "Moneyball."

While most baseball officials still largely determined a hitter's value by batting average, Beane was quick to grasp the sabermaticians' belief that on-base percentage was more important. The more times a runner is on base, the more times he will score.

Supposed a guy bats .250 (125 for 500), but with 100 walks. That's an OBP of .375. Compare that with a supposedly better hitter who hits .300 (150 for 500) but draws just 25 walks. His OPB would be .333. The first guy is more valuable to your team.

But even OBS has evolved, into OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average). The second figure adds power to the equation, giving an even better picture of a hitter's value.

Now, since Beane's success, the numbers boys are finally being taken seriously.

Bill James, the Lord of the sabermaticians, even is currently employed by the Boston Red Sox.

In baseball, the game is over, and the geeks have won. And the guys who managed by hunches and the seat of their pants can RIP.

  Comments