Simple vs. Saber: Trying To Peacefully Co-Exist
There seem to be two different camps among baseball fans- the standard fan and the sabermetric fan. Standard fans think sabermetric fans take all the fun out of baseball. Sabermetric fans think standard fans don’t know anything about the game.
OK, those statements are pretty generalistic. Not all standard fans belittle sabermetric fans and vice versa. I consider myself to be a standard fan, but it doesn’t mean I don’t try to understand what the sabermetric crowd is talking about.
I have spent time trying to understand some of the new-fangled statistics of the saber crowd. Mind you, I don’t necessarily try to understand the formulas they use to arrive at their stats, but I do try to understand why they feel these particular categories have relevance to any baseball fan.
As an example, a popular stat is WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which takes a player’s offensive and defensive stats to come up with a rating comparing him at his position to the average run of the mill player that would replace him. I have no idea how the formula is derived, but I appreciate the stat as it relates to what a team might be willing to pay a free agent, putting it in terms of how many million dollars a Win Above Replacement is worth.
For pitchers, I’ve started to try understanding the FIP stat (Fielding Independent Pitching), which rates pitchers strictly on their walks, strikeouts, hit batsmen and home runs allowed, taking any other balls hit into play out of account. The feeling here is FIP only rates things the pitcher is totally responsible for. I’m not sure I agree with this, because a pitcher giving up solid line drives and lots of doubles is pretty much responsible for those, too, but don’t have it count against them. Also, FIP is a stat that rewards high strikeout pitchers even though some finesse pitchers can be just as effective year in and year out.
All this brings me to some everyday stats that I think are just as effective as some of the new sabermetric stats in trying to determine a player’s worth to a team.
Batting Average With Runners In Scoring Position: One of the big stats these days is OPS (On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage). OPS judges both a batter’s ability to get on base and his ability to hit for power. OPS can be deceiving, though, if the batter doesn’t get on base at the right time. Using Mike Napoli vs. Michael Young as an example, many in the saber community feel Napoli is a better option than Young because of his high OPS numbers and a better average against lefties than Young. Things change, though, when you look at situational hitting. Last season when runners were on base, Young advanced the runners 37% of the time compared to 34% for Napoli. In addition, 17% of runners on base when Young batted ended up scoring, compared to only 13% for Napoli. In this case, Napoli’s OPS might look good, but Young comes up as more of the clutch player.
Home Run/RBI Ratio: What I just finished writing about in the previous paragraph is looked at even more simply here. Over the years I’ve noticed players who hit over 20 home runs in a season generally seem to have at least three times as many runs batted in as they do home runs. I view a power hitter as being effective if they straddle along this line or exceed it. Again, using Young and Napoli as an example: In 2010, Young had 21 Home Runs and 91 RBI, a ratio of over 4-1 of RBI’s over Home Runs. Napoli had 26 homers and only 68 RBI’s in 2010, a ratio of only 2.6 RBI to HR. So even though Napoli had more home runs (in 200 less at bats, no less), he was less productive driving in runs.
None of this is meant to disparage Mike Napoli. I think he’s going to be a great addition to the Rangers. What I am saying is those who think acquiring Napoli makes Michael Young expendable might want to reconsider that stance. Napoli is largely going to be getting his at bats against left-handed pitchers, where he excels, but he will not be a fulltime player for the Rangers unless it’s due to someone else being injured.