Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Statistics of Baseball

Rob Neyer's blog drew my attention to a blog that is quickly becoming a favorite--Joe Posnanski, author of The Soul of Baseball.

Posnanski recently wrote about why so many baseball writers, fans, and announcers are so critical of new statistics to value players.

The article is brilliant and demonstrates how quirky and imperfect the generally accepted statistics are.

Here is a great portion of the article:
Blogger: I have come up with a new statistic. It involves balls put in play. I call it batting average.
Establishment: Great! How’s it work?
B: See, what we’ll do is, we’ll take the number of hits that the batter has and divide it by the number of at-bats that he has in order to determine how often he gets a hit.
E: That sounds like on-base percentage. What’s the difference?
B: Well, it’s all in what you call “at-bats” For one thing, we don’t count walks.
E: What do you mean you don’t count walks?
B: They don’t count. We take plate appearances and subtract walks. They never happened.
E: How can a walk never happen?
B: It just doesn’t.
E: Aren’t walks good things? Like in Little League, we always say “Walk’s as good as a hit.”
B: I hate walks. They’re gone. So let’s say a guy comes to the plate 12 times, and he gets four hits and walks twice …
E: Right … that’s a .500 on-base percentage.
B: Exactly, but if you just subtract the walks, you will see that he has a .400 batting average.
E: Um, OK.
B: But there are other things. If you hit a fly ball, and someone tags up and scores a run, that does not count as an at-bat.
E: Why not?
B: Because you are sacrificing yourself for the betterment of the team? I call it a sacrifice fly. Get it?
E: Well, what are you sacrificing if it doesn’t even count against your stats?
B: You just are, OK?
E: What if you hit a ground ball and the runner scores.
B: How’s that?
E: Let’s say the infield’s back and a guy hits a ground ball to get the run in. How do you score that?
B: No, that’s not a sacrifice fly.
E Why not? Doesn’t that accomplish the same thing?
B: It just isn’t. Come on, pay attention. What’s it called. Sacrifice FLY? Hello! He didn’t hit a fly ball.
E: It just seems to me …
B: Sacrifice bunts also do not count as at-bats. And when you get hit by a pitch … doesn’t count.
E You don’t get any statistical notice for getting hit by a pitch?
B: Like it never happened.
E: I’m afraid to ask this: What happens if you reach on an error.
B: That’s the beauty of this system. According to my new batting average, you’re out.
E: But you’re not really out.
B: I know. Isn’t it great?
E: Why does this have to be so complicated?
B: It’s batting average! It will take over the world!