Monday, November 9, 2009

Why I like Advanced Statistics

When I was a kid, my best times were spent at County Stadium and Miller Park. My dad would take would take my brother and I to watch the Brewers throughout the 90's and into the early 2000's. Although the Brewers were generally over matched in talent, the games were always a blast.

I remember looking at the scoreboard at County and seeing three main stats: batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. These were the tools to identifying a good player. If he hit .300, he was an excellent contact hitter. If he drove in runs, he was clutch. Sure I was just a kid, but I understood these stats were the ways to tell if a player was any good.

It was under this line of thinking were Alex Sanchez became one of my favorite players. Sure he wasn't a power hitter, but leadoff hitters weren't supposed to be. Heck, in 2002 he batted .289, while stealing 37 bases. I was disappointed when the Brewers cut ties with Sanchez because of an attitude problem. Sanchez went onto bat well over .300 for the Tigers over the next two seasons, thus further angering me.

The fact of the matter is Alex Sanchez is, and was never really a good baseball player. So why did I think this all along?

Well, the basic statistics of baseball let me down.

If I just looked at Sanchez using the three basic offensive stats, he was a good player. Problem is, those stats are so misleading. The year the Brewers got rid of Sanchez, he walked just seven times in nearly 200 at bats, posting just a .316 OBP in the process. I really can't blame myself, because OBP wasn't shown on the scoreboard in Miller Park until 2004. Also, when I saw Sanchez had 51 stolen bases in his time in Milwaukee, it never dawned on me to realize he was caught 22 times. That 69% success rate only hurt, not helped, his below average offensive production.

Recently, a good defender has been defined by how many times he appears on "web gems." Well, I swear Sanchez appeared on a couple of highlight shows for his speed running down balls in the gaps, so he must have had some value in the field. Wrong again. In his time in Milwaukee, Sanchez was an absolute terrible defender. His UZR/150 was a -12, thus costing the Brewers another 12 runs per season in the field to go along with poor offensive production.

Even though the scoreboard now shows "better" stats like OBP and OPS, the basic fan is still not understanding the game. I bet if I went around asking fans at Miller Park if Ryan Braun's UZR/150 was above, or below average I would get 40,000 confused looks and be labeled a baseball geek.

The problem with all of this is so many fans just don't get the game. I don't care if someone has no interest in the game and is just going to have a good time. These are not the fans that bother me. What bothers me are the fans who insist players like Mike Cameron and Rickie Weeks are bad players because they strike out too much, or how good Jason Kendall is because he is a veteran who has experience and knows how to put the ball in play.

This is not to say baseball has not improved somewhat. I think it's cool I can now see what a pitcher's WHIP, or batter's OPS is. Sure these are not the best ways to identify is a player is good, but it is a start.

Who knows in 20 years, WAR (wins above replacement) and wOBA (weighted on base average) might find their way onto the scoreboard. I can't say this is entirely the fans faults. I also watch the Brewers every night and I am subjected to the baseball knowledge of Bill Schroeder. Of coarse statements like "you can't measure what Jason Kendall brings to this team, nobody calls a better game" are sure to influence the common fan. However, the stats are out there. It is very frustrating to have conversations with people who not only don't understand what you are saying, but have no interest trying understand it. Sometimes it's just better to take a step back and realize it's really just not worth it.

6 comments:

Dustin said...

Great article. I am a Yankees fan and I know exactly what you are talking about. One of the main arguments for Tex foe MVP is his "clutch RBI's" and great defense. Advanced stats say Tex is not that great of a defender. One look at the stats will tell you the MVP is clearly Joe Mauer. RBI's are such a team generate stats and let's face it, the Twins two hitter all year long sucked. If Joe Mauer played in a bigger market, he would hands down have this thing locked up. Sure, I am a NYY fan, but I am not stupid. Joe Mauer deserves the MVP and we don't deserve to hear this nonsense anymore. I mean hes a catcher for christs sake.

Jon Ferber said...

Where's my credit in this post? I tried (without success) to make you a believer in sabermetrics for years.

Jonathan Ede said...

The above post is from one of my good friends. Like many, I was stuck into the old norms of basic statistics. Jon was the first person who I knew who tried to explain advanced stats to me. Like many I was stubborn at first, but eventually loved what these statistics offered to the fans. So yes, Jon you do deserve some credit.

Lance said...

My favorite sabermetric stat is Batting Average On Balls In Play... I don't understand it, but I know it explains how Joe Mays can be lights out one season and completely lick taint the next...

Lance said...

http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs.aspx?playerid=740&position=P&page=7&type=full

I rest my case...

Jon Ferber said...

Justice in the comments. I can now sleep well tonight.