Statistical analysis is the present and the future of baseball. Every team is now employing the methods famously used in the book and the popular film “Moneyball”.
Services like Bloomberg Sports supply most of the major league teams with charts showing both batting and pitching tendencies over the last few years. For example, infield shifts have dramatically increased in that period of time as result of such services and analyses.
The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) is at the forefront of this change. While batting averages, RBIs and ERA are still important measurements, stats like WAR, FIP, OPS, ISO, are used more frequently to judge the success of today’s players. I hope to explain what these terms mean and their importance in evaluating a player’s performance. I believe that these stats can and should be used in tandem with some of the older statistics like batting average and earned run average to evaluate players’ value and performance. Z
In August 1971, Bob Davids of the Chicago Sun Times founded SABR at the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, NY with 35 other baseball writers who shared an interest in the history, research, records and statistics of baseball. Bill James is one of the more famous members along with Keith Olberman and Bob Costas. SABR is currently based in Phoenix, Arizona.
WAR is perhaps the most well known of these “new” stats. WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement, and it essentially is a calculated value of what each player means to a team. There are two primary websites that measure and assign a WAR value for baseball players. Fangraphs is the most common site used, Baseball Reference is the other. WAR tries to estimate the number of games a player’s team wins with the him on the team, or how many it would lose if a replacement was playing for him. The calculation is different and less often used as a measure for pitchers than the everyday player. The calculation adds value for offensive run production, defensive performance, base running and stolen bases. WAR also adds value to players who excel playing more difficult positions.
There are seven WAR levels, according to Fangraphs. A WAR value of 0 through 1 signifies a replacement level player, a bench player who will not see regular action. A WAR value of 1-2 signifies a role player, for example, a fourth outfielder or pinch-hitter. A WAR value of 2-3 is defined as a solid starter. A WAR of 3-4 identifies a good player, just below All-Star level. An All-Star is 4-5. 5-6 is considered to be a superstar level, while 6+ is MVP type performance.
WAR was at the center of the sportswriters’ debate when voting for the last two American League MVP races between Angels outfielder Mike Trout, and Tigers then third baseman Miguel Cabrera, especially the 2012 race. Miguel Cabrera won the American League Triple Crown in 2012 by leading the league in home runs, RBI’s, and batting average with 44 HR’s, 139 RBI’s, and a .339 batting average and posting a 7.6 WAR. Meanwhile, the LA Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout went on a tear from his call-up in late April until the end of the 2012 season. Trout had a .326 batting average, 30 home runs, 80 RBI’s out of the leadoff spot for the Angels. But thanks to Trout’s stellar defense and his speed on the base paths Trout posted a 10.9 WAR, the highest ever mark by a rookie. Cabrera took the MVP both years.
FIP is another stat coming into prominence. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures a pitcher’s true earned run average by taking defense out of the equation. A FIP at 2.90 or below is phenomenal. A FIP above 5.00 is considered terrible. FIP is calculated by adding up each pitcher’s walks, home runs, and batters hit, subtracting strikeouts and dividing that number by innings pitched. It can show how much a pitcher’s ERA is either enhanced by a good defense, or inflated by a bad defense.
In 2010 Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez was controversially awarded the American League Cy Young Award over David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays and CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees. Hernandez posted a 13-12 record but a 2.27 ERA in 250 innings on a terrible Mariners team. Many thought because he only had 13 wins, he should not be considered. Sabathia led the American league with 21 wins going 21-7 but posted a 3.18 ERA in 238 innings for the AL East champion Yankees. Price went 19-6 for the wild card winning Rays posting a 2.72 ERA in 209 innings. Hernandez’s FIP was equally impressive, a 3.04 mark while Sabathia’s and Prices were 3.54 and 3.42 respectively. FIP shows that it was a closer race between second and third place than it was for first.
OPS is a statistic that measures both a hitter’s ability to get on base and his ability to hit for power. The acronym OPS stands for On base Plus Slugging. It is calculated by combining a player’s on base percentage and their slugging percentage. Hall of Fame Yankees slugger Babe Ruth has the highest career OPS of 1.164 (.474 On Base Percentage and .690 Slugging Percentage) while San Francisco Giants great Barry Bonds has the highest single season mark of 1.421 in 2004 (.609 OBP and .812 slugging). Any OPS above .900 is considered to be outstanding while anything lower than .555 is believed to be atrocious.
ISO measures the pure power of a hitter by simply subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. ISO is short for Isolated Power. Any number above a .250 is considered to be amazing. When Barry Bonds broke the single season home run record in 2001 Bonds’ ISO was .536, way higher than Babe Ruth’s .473 in 1920 (his first year as a Yankee) Mark McGwire’s .454 in 1998, Roger Maris’ .351 in 1961. Each of these is an incredible power measurement.
I am a big believer in statistical analysis and think sabermetric stats can and should be used in combination with the more common stats like ERA, and batting average. These new age stats pick up on trends otherwise unnoticed by the common eye.
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