SaberMETrics

An article by posted on April 29, 2010

Before you jump to post a comment about how you hate Sabermetrics, or how you find them useless. Please at least read this?

For starters, I’m terrible at Math. It was my worst subject in school, and I literally had zero interest in it unless it revolved around baseball stats. I don’t read about Sabermetrics, I don’t go to church on Sunday and pray to the God that is Bill James, and I don’t think Moneyball is a flawless detail of how to run a franchise.

I believe that the mind grows stronger by expanding on ideas we already know to be true, to see if there are further truths out there. I believe that just because we know an apple falls straight down from a tree, doesn’t mean there isn’t some mathematical formula to explore to find it.

When it comes to Sabermetrics, nobody has ever claimed it to be a perfect detail of how to run a franchise. It’s a tool that several MLB franchises (Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Tampa Bay included) have hired specific people to focus solely on analyzing these numbers. The misconception about SABR is that people seem to think that GM’s punch numbers into a computer without watching games, and that’s how they make their roster decisions.

SABR was intended to give statistical analyze based on data to give an objective review of a player’s performance. Formula’s are ever changing, and in fact just because you know what a player’s UZR is lets say, doesn’t mean that is the UZR the Tampa Bay Rays use. The beauty of the mathematical formulas is that there is no 1 set formula that each team uses. In fact, most teams have their own formulas for certain things, and they are kept secret from other clubs.

By the way, can I just tell you how funny I think it is that baseball fans who are in every way numbers nerds whether they admit it or not hate sabermetrics because of its use of math? So if you hate SABR, you need to come up with a reason why. You can’t just say for example that Moneyball is garbage because there’s no possible way you likely read it cover to cover then. Moneyball is an easy target because people think they don’t have to read it to understand what it’s about. My suggestion, read it. How can you hate something you know nothing about? That’s ignorance. 

What SABR did is it created stats like (just to name a few):

VORP: Value over replacement player which is created in order to figure out how much a hitter has contributed to the team versus how much an average (or replacement) player would have. This is also used for pitchers. In the NL, the top 10 players according to VORP were Pujols, Hanley, Prince, Braun, Sandoval, Utley, Tulowitzki, A. Gonzalez, Zimmerman and Votto. Tough to argue with that list. The bottom 10 were Brian Giles, Willy Tavares, Aaron Miles, Alex Gonzalez, E. Bonifacio, Diory Hernandez, E. Alfonzo, Brandon Moss, Rich Aurillia and Eric Bruntlett. Tough to argue with that list also. 

Runs Created: This is a great stat, this is the measure of how many runs resulted because of what the player did during his at bat, and what he does on the base paths. This stat basically says your job as a hitter is not to just get on base; it’s to put Runs up on the board. A baseball game isn’t won by the team with the most hits. This stat like many others has evolved over time.

Win Shares: Win Shares is kind of like Runs Created except it calculates a player’s overall contribution to the team’s overall performance. Last year, the top 10 were, Pujols, Prince, Braun, Hanley, Adrian Gonzalez, Utley, Sandoval, Howard, Kemp and Werth.

OPS: OPS is On-Base percentage plus slugging. What’s funny about this stat to me is that even people who claim they hate SABR, use it. I don’t get that? OPS measures the overall value of a hitter’s bat, and ignores batting average because there is more than 1 job for a hitter then getting a single. Sure, a .300 average is great, but if anybody knows that isn’t the only thing you need to do at the plate it’s a Mets fan who watched David Wright in 2009. Your job as a hitter is to get on base. The only way your team can score more runs than the other team is if runners are on base safely. So while OBP was a known stat prior to the SABR era, it wasn’t a stat many truly paid attention to.

In fact if you read Joe Torre’s book, he gives credit to the Boston Red Sox for acquiring guys like Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and Mark Bellhorn who on first glance weren’t great players, but what they did was they got on base for their run producers like Ramirez and Ortiz to drive in more runs. It was after 2004 when owners and GM’s started to truly pay attention to a player’s OBP in terms of his overall value.

Those are just a few aspects of SABR, and maybe you think SABR is still useless and stupid as some said last night on this site’s chat. I don’t really how we (a fan) can tell guys like Theo Epstein for example that his ideas are useless when he has won 2 World Series rings?

The evolution of SABR has made it so that not only old-school baseball people can earn jobs in a front office. Major League teams are looking for professionals who not only can understand sabermetrics, but expand on them. Sabermetrics is used so that you don’t fall in love with a player in your own uniform. It’s also used to give you as much information about a player who you and your scouts haven’t seen every day. You & I know how the Mets perform, but what information are you going to use to evaluate whether or not let’s say David DeJesus in Kansas City is a good fit here? The only way you can know is by word of mouth, and statiscal analysis.

A Mets fan will use Jason Bay’s UZR to discredit SABR all day. I read an article recently that an updated UZR formula has Bay in the + rather than -13 runs. What was funny about the article is, it discredited the use of SABR because it got Bay’s defense wrong, but it used a newer UZR to prove it. So the author was literally using sabermetrics to discredit the use of sabermetrics.

Defensive stats past errors and assists are always going to be tough to figure out. It’s always going to be up to the scorekeeper on whether or not the outfielder for example could have or should have made that play based on the size of the outfield etc.

I’ll guarantee you one thing. If they ever update UZR to the point of accuracy that some feel OPS has in evaluating hitters, every major league team will be using it. That’s a guarantee. But for me, I’d rather get as much information as I can and make up my mind from there, rather than rely on old data that may not give me enough information. 

There’s always going to be haters out there, and I’m a believer that people hate what they cannot understand or refuse to learn. If you want to disagree with the use of any SABR stats, that’s fine. You can be like the Twins who have been made famous for it lately (oh by the way, they hired a SABR guy recently) or you can be like a handful of other ball clubs who don’t live and breath by it, but they pay attention to it.

So if you want to hate it, or call it useless. That’s fine by me. Just don’t let me hear you talk about any stats to determine a player’s value on the field, because if you discredit SABR for using numbers to determine a player’s value, then there’s no reason you should be using any other formula’s to do the same. 

Like religion, capital punishment, and abortion, this debate always seems to bring out the worst in people! I look forward to the comments, arguments and debates, but let’s try to keep an open mind on it, and not get into personal judgments.

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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