It’s important to at least be acquainted with these terms and concepts as we might reference or use them as reasoning in the future (and the past). So, according to our trusty Wikipedia guide, Sabermetrics is defined as:
the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” Thus, sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as “which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team’s offense?” or “How many home runs will Ken Griffey, Jr. hit next year?” It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as “Who is your favorite player?
W-L record, ERA, and WHIP are flawed statistics because they take into account things that are not within the pitcher’s control, such as defense, and in the case of W-L, offense. A pitcher can’t help it if his defense is terrible or amazing.
Better statistics to use: FIP (available at fangraphs.com) or tRA (available at statcorner.com)
These stats take out things that are outside the pitcher’s control and properly weigh stats like line drive percentage, strikeout percentage, ground ball percentage, home run percentage, and other batted ball or “raw” statistics in order to provide a clear picture of how that pitcher has done regardless of the defense behind him.
Before we move onto good methods, we should discuss OBP, SLG, OPS, and VORP. OBP was brought into the baseball forefront by the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis, a fantastic book whose point was badly misunderstood. OBP is the percentage of how often the hitter gets on base. SLG is the average amount of bases the batter accumulates per plate appearance.
VORP is a stat made by Baseball Prospectus a couple of years ago. At the time it was revolutionary. It introduced the important concept of replacement level, which in theory is the performance one would receive from a theoretical AAA guy (more info here). It has been made fun of by stupid people because of its name. It is now outdated. It’s not terrible, but there are better stats to use.
Good stats to use: wOBA, wRAA
These are essentially the same stat in different forms. wOBA properly weighs possible outcomes by a hitter to evaluate hitting (more info here).wOBA is modeled to look a little like OBP. .300 is bad, .340 is average, .400 is really good. wRAA is the same thing but in the form of runs above an average player.
Defense is the one facet of the game that has been truly underrated for a long time. Very few realize its importance outside of Major League front offices, and they just started realizing it a few years ago (and some still don’t get it).
There are three “true outcomes” of a plate appearance which are not affected by the defense. These are the K, the BB, and the HR. Any other outcome is affected by the defense. Defense makes up a very large part of what is commonly recognized as pitching.
They are totally worthless, built on reputation and lies. Need proof? Rafael Palmeiro won a gold glove in 1999 despite playing 135 games at DH.
The problem is that these stats don’t always agree with each other, and they can vary based on the batted ball statistics they take their info from. The results can often be inconsistent (mainly because players are inconsistent). They also do not take into account positioning and the angle of the ball.
However, that doesn’t mean that they are worthless, and it doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t use them in evaluating talent. How to do it is to look at different years to find a good range for how good a player is.
Instead of saying a player is ten runs above average at defense, we will often say that a player is between 5 and 15 runs above average and split the difference. This provides a more accurate depiction of the player.
When determining total value compared to players at other positions, the UZR must be modified to include an adjustment for that position. Naturally some positions are harder to play than others and the run value must reflect that.
To get WAR for a position player (pitchers are a little different), simply combine the hitter’s WRAA, defensive value in runs (any advanced metric works but UZR is great because it’s already in runs format), add a positional adjustment, and then add 20 (This makes it so that the player is being compared to replacement level. If you want to compare a player to the average player, then do not add 20). Divide that number by 10 (10 runs = 1 win), and that’s WAR.
WAR is the number of wins that player is worth compared to a replacement level player. A player with a WAR of 3 is worth two more wins to a team over a player with a WAR of 1 with the same amount of playing time. Here is a sample calculation:
It’s vital to understand that learning more about the game of baseball results in a greater understanding and appreciation of the game. Not that these stats are everything there is to know. Here, we had to rush through everything to introduce key concepts, but there is still so much else to see.
Baseball’s little intricacies are part of what make it different from any other popular sport in America, and are what make the game so appealing. Sabermetrics don’t take away from enjoyment of the game as some have argued, they enhance it.