How Statistics Reshaped The Way We View Pitchers and Their Game

An article by posted on February 13, 2013

baseball abstractIn 2003, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, a book written by Michael Lewis, sparked the interest of not only baseball fans, but also management and statistical scholars across the country. [1] Recently in 2011, this book was introduced as a sports drama movie starring Brad Pitt.

Basically the storyline of the book encompasses how the main character Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, implemented a measurement and feedback system based on a player’s ability to get on base. This system was based on the sabermetric principles and theories first introduced by Bill James in his comprehensive Historical Baseball Abstract, a rigorous statistical analysis used to track the traits most connected to a player’s value to a team. [2]

What is Sabermetrics?

The Moneyball book implies that when sabermetrics is used to identify players with superior abilities (who aren’t noticed by competitor scouts), it allows new players to be added to a team; thus, increasing the winning percentage for the team without paying premium salaries to those players. This results in a competitive advantage for the team’s league standing. For further understanding of sabermetrics and its theory in relation to baseball, please check the paper written by Jim Albert.

DiamondView and PlayersPlan

Several detailed programs have been implemented by teams like the Cleveland Indians MLB team. The Indians have implemented two programs: DiamondView and PlayersPlan with the hopes of increasing appraisal of a player’s performance and value. These types of plans are often used by MLB team managers to facilitate selection and recruitment possibilities and help determine the optimum team salary distributions. [3]

Systems like DiamondView and PlayersPlan keep track of each player in a database that is used for recruiting and selection, training and development, appraising player’s skills, and helping evaluate compensation for the players. For example, information on a baseball pitcher would include such pitching statistics as the number of times the pitcher allows a walk, how many members of the opposite team were pitched to at the plate, the number of times the pitcher entered the game with intent to save the game but failed, number of hits allowed in a game, home runs allowed, earned run average and many more. Statistics, along with some physics theory, has also suggested that left-handed pitchers get better results against left-handed hitters. Knowing which pitchers have the best odds against hitters based on this theory, managers can stratgically use relief hitters to counter pinch hitters substituted into a game at the last minute.

Others Question Usefulness of Sabermetrics

Many consider sabermetrics a valuable and objective means to gain an effective measure of a player’s value to the team. Others question the usefulness of such statistics in the prediction of future behavior of players.

DIPS

Another measurement tool known as Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS), introduced by Voros McCracken as early as 1999, measures a pitcher’s stats. These stats do not include plays that involve infielders or outfielders, but are based on stats that result strictly from the control of the pitcher alone, like walks and strikeouts. [4]

DICE and FIP

Others, like Tom Tippett [5], felt this DIPS evaluation tool was not entirely viable; while others have introduced new math formulae and statistics that keep track of innings pitched(IP), which measures how many outs were made while a pitcher was pitching. For instance, formulae such as Defense-Independent Component ERA (DICE) and FIP do consider factors that make them highly dependent on the defensive play of the fielders.

It appears that the focus on talent and statistics, along with the recent implementation of information technology, will continue to be implemented and will infuse team selection — including MLB pitchers — and salaries for awhile.

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Patricia Deming, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, with a BA in Mathematics. She enjoys writing articles and contributing to sports and education blogs, such as DegreeJungle.com. She has been a baseball fan for many years and regularly attends Seattle Seahawks games.

[1] Lewis, M. (2004). Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game. New York: Norton.

[2] James, B. (2001). The new Bill James historical baseball abstract. New York: Free Press.

[3] http://www.cleveland.com/gameplan/index.ssf?/gameplan/more/part2.html

[4] Voros McCracken, “Pitching and Defense: How Much Control Do Hurlers Have? January 23, 2001.

[5] http://www.sloansportsconference.com/?tag=tom-tippet

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