Statistics Have Huge Effect On A Game’s Outcome, Studies Show

September 3, 2009

During today’s Mets-Rockies game, Mets play-by-play man Gary Cohen said something that I found both confusing and – because I’m thin-skinned about this stuff – obnoxious. To very closely paraphrase:

“Nowadays, there’s so much more of an emphasis being placed on statistics and statistical analysis when putting together a team. You see more and more front offices embracing that way of doing things. Which is fine; there’s a certain place in the game for that. But the more you actually watch the game, the more you realize that statistics don’t win games.”

(color commentators agree, discussion on the importance of intangibles ensues)

I’ll tackle the confusing part first. Namely, I’m not sure I understand what point Cohen is trying to make. I would guess that he’s trying to say that you cannot rely solely on statistical analysis when evaluating individual or team performance, that there’s more to constructing a winner than high batting averages and low ERAs. This is, of course, true. Exclusively statistical analysis would suggest that the New York Yankees have a real prospect on their hands in Shelley Duncan, but anyone who has seen Duncan play in the majors knows that he is – at best – a bench player on a second-tier team. It took me forever to be able to admit this, but it really and truly takes the careful combination of objective (statistical) and subjective (scouting) evaluation to identify major league talent and assemble it effectively.

I’m almost positive Cohen was trying to endorse this balance. The problem, however, is that he actually said nothing like that. He said that “statistics don’t win games,” which is about as wrong as you can get. Baseball teams win and lose games based on the number of runs they score and allow. Runs themselves are a statistic, which should automatically disprove Cohen’s theory, but I’ll continue. Teams like Cohen’s Mets score runs (well, not these Mets) by hitting singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. They prevent runs by accumulating strikeouts, avoiding walks, and inducing put-outs. These, too, are statistics. Statistics represent events that determine the outcome of a game. Sure, whether or not David Wright thinks Angel Pagan (great name or greatest name?) is a raging jerk might affect Wright’s performance, but it remains inevitable that his play – as documented by statistics – will affect the level of his team’s success. As I hope you can see, Cohen’s thesis statement is totally incorrect.

In addition to the content, I also found Cohen’s tone more than a little obnoxious. More specifically, his condescending “the more you actually watch the game” rubbed me the wrong way. As many of you may know, a common stereotype amongst the old-school baseball contingent is that those advocating statistical analysis don’t actually watch the games themselves. Instead, it is usually implied and often said that we watch games through the box score, or perhaps in some Matrix-like alternate reality. I’m very (overly?) sensitive to this implication, but I can’t help how I feel. So, to Mr. Cohen and anyone else who thumbs their nose at advocates of objective analysis, I say this: For every stat geek that evaluates players based on nothing but VORP and SNLVAR, there’s a baseball romantic that judges exclusively on a player’s hustle and the look he’s got in his eye. The ultimate goal is to meet in the middle. Until we get there, however, I’d appreciate it if the subtle derision of the statistically-inclined community for its entirely valid (and often accurate) approach to evaluating baseball came to an end.


Why I Do This

August 19, 2009

Two days ago, I read a Baseball Prospectus interview with Fox Sports’ Pete Macheska. Macheska, who is the Emmy-winning lead producer for the network’s Major League Baseball coverage, oversees what I have long-considered to be the least progressive baseball broadcast on television. Before reading the interview, I consciously hoped to myself that the interviewer would focus on the network’s continual resistance to embracing even the most basic of the “new age” baseball statistics. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened, even if Macheska’s response truly and viscerally bummed me out for about an hour. Here are the most important – and most disconcerting – quotes:

“My feeling nowadays is there’s so many stats, and the people that are most important—the announcers and the producer and the director—are not in control of those stats.”

So I asked Macheska about OBP, a fairly straightforward stat that’s starting to show up on the broadcast templates of other networks, but not on Fox. His response points to another factor that has an impact on the stats viewers get to see.

“Yeah, we’ve talked about stuff like that. But I think if you listen to Tim McCarver’s philosophy, on-base percentage is different for Albert Pujols compared to a guy who can run. I think what’s pertinent is that a .429 on-base percentage for Albert Pujols, someone who’s not as speedy as, say, Jose Reyes – it matters differently. That’s Tim’s philosophy, and we just sort of follow that.”

Things we have learned so far:

  1. Key members of a baseball broadcast aren’t familiar with many of today’s statistics.
  2. Pete Macheska listens to Tim McCarver. Peruse this, and you’ll know why that’s bad.
  3. Tim McCarver thinks that Albert Pujols making an out hurts the team less than a fast guy making an out.

It continues:

Eric Karros may have a different opinion than Tim McCarver or Mark Grace, so you may see [differences]. But basically we go by Tim more or less when we set the template, and on something like on-base percentage we just decided not to. I’m not saying we shouldn’t revisit that, but I think Tim is the one that’s not… he wouldn’t be against it, but I don’t think he’s as thrilled with that as others are. If you put on-base percentage on there, you’re making the graphic longer, and sometimes less is more. Each spring you go through these types of decisions and you ask, what’s the risk/reward? If you feel it’s not adding a lot, then you leave it off. And the other thing is, sometimes you can put up a statistic and the announcer doesn’t believe in it, or if it needs explaining they don’t explain it properly. Then what have we really accomplished except confusing people?”

Tim McCarver doesn’t believe in on-base percentage or, if he does, he doesn’t know how to explain it properly. I would just like to take this moment to point out that on-base percentage is defined as how often a player gets on base. It’s likely to confuse people, I know.

Even with my intense displeasure with what I was reading, I decided not to blog about it because there’s not much to talk about. It’s just another example of a prominent media member not putting in the time and effort to understand the changing landscape of baseball coverage. It was disheartening, but not worthy of a post.

Then, I stumbled upon Dave Cameron’s piece at FanGraphs. He simply asks why mainstream media folk and sabermetricians spend so much time trying to convince one another that their opinion is unquestionably right. He argues that we don’t need to all be of the same mind – particularly with respect to award winners – because the easy access to baseball statistics allows for objective retrospection, no matter what you believe. He says that regardless of who wins what awards, we can look back on this season, remember who was good, and pass on that personal truth to whomever we see fit. The money quotes:

With the invention of the internet (thanks Al!), we don’t need to look back through a list of MVP awards to remember who was good way back when. We have baseball-reference for that. History isn’t recorded in trophies, but in data and stories, and we now have the capability to store a massive amount of both. No matter who wins the AL MVP award this season, we’re going to have a ridiculous amount of information about what happened on the field in 2009, and we’ll be able to show our kids and their kids just how much fun it was to watch Joe Mauer play baseball. The history of the game, as told by us, won’t be changed one iota by how the BBWAA votes in six weeks.

If they want to think that Teixeira was the most important player to his team in the league this year, that’s fine. Most of us probably disagree, and we’re under no obligation to report that as any kind of factual statement. I’ll be telling people that Mauer was the most valuable player in the American League for 2009, and I’ve got a mountain of information to back it up. How other people view the definition of the word value has no real world impact on me.

. . .

Let them vote for whoever they want. I don’t care.

I do care, and the Baseball Prospectus interview with Pete Macheska shows exactly why. I want people to understand how baseball works because the qualities necessary to do so – objectivity, creativity, flexibility, and plain old persistence – are some of the most admirable characteristics around. I care that the right person wins each award because, like many people, I want the world around me to make sense. I care because I want people to make smart and reasoned choices. I care because I believe in open-mindedness and a receptiveness to new ideas. I care because the failure to even to attempt to understand something – total, out-of-hand rejection – falls somewhere in between crippling and repulsive. I care because the moment you’ve simply decided to stop listening, learning, and entertaining new ideas, you’ve pretty much packed it in as a person. I care because my greatest fear is that I’ll one day end up like the very people I’ve criticized in this space – obstinate, defensive, lazy, and resistant to change.

Call me melodramatic, but that’s why I do this. It’s not to make people feel dumb or make me feel smart. It’s to reveal the sheer intractability of much of the sports media with the simple hope that one person will read this, say “hey, that makes sense,” and start looking at things a little bit differently.


Mike Mussina Belongs In The Hall Of Fame

December 1, 2008

The baseball offseason is a sad time for me. Not only is there no baseball being played, but also the normally steady stream of bad baseball analysis slows to a trickle. With fewer articles and broadcasters to criticize, I have to resort to settling good, old-fashioned baseball debates. Fortunately, there is currently one debate about which I feel quite strongly, and which I will settle for you thusly. 

Obviously, the pertinent debate is whether or not former Yankees’ and Orioles’ starting pitcher Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame. This discussion interests me for both intellectual and emotional reasons. In the case of the former, I look at Mussina’s potential induction as a referendum on the baseball media’s intellectual growth. As most intelligent baseball fans know, Hall of Fame and awards voters far too often use antiquated, ineffective, or tragically flawed statistics in determining their selections. Statistics like wins, batting average, and RBI historically have been used as barometers of a player’s performance, when a lucid and honest look at those measurements reveal overwhelming shortcomings. Wins are hugely dependent on a pitcher’s run support and the bullpen’s effectiveness. Batting average is an incomplete measure of a player’s ability to not make an out, which is the most important thing a baseball player can do. RBI are dependent on runners being in scoring position, a variable over which the batter has zero control. You know all this, because you are reading our blog, and our blog attracts only intelligent and savvy readers. Right? Right. Mussina’s candidacy will lean more on less-traditional statistics than past inductees’. As such, I’m curious to see how far the baseball media and voters have come in their understanding and utilization of more complete and descriptive statistics. It’ll be like this past election, except not nearly as important and without the global implications. 

My emotional interest in this debate is two-fold. Firstly, I am a Yankees fan, so I am rooting hard for him. Secondly, and more antagonistically, I am extraordinarily tired of and perturbed by the prevailing counter-argument against Mussina’s induction. The knock on Mussina used to be his lack of a 20-win season. With that having been fulfilled, the new knock is invariably some permutation of “he just doesn’t look like a Hall of Famer” or “I just don’t see it.” Take a few moments to reel from the depth of that analysis. If Hall of Famers look like gigantic magenta cephalopods with a slight limp in their fifth tentacle, then no, Mike Mussina does not look like a Hall of Famer. If Hall of Famers are baseball players who have, relative to their peers, distinguished themselves as well above-average over a substantial period of time, then yes, Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer. Read the rest of this entry »


Mel Kiper, Jr. Still Thinks Everyone Is Just Okay

April 28, 2008

As I wrote almost exactly one year ago today, NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. has high standards. After last year’s draft, Kiper (henceforth I omit the “junior”) gave each team’s draft a grade. Of particular note was the fact that every team received a grade between a C- and a B+. One year later, I still find this funny.

Kiper just barely avoided a repeat performance in 2008. His lowest grade given was again a C-, and his typical high was again a B+. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Chiefs ruined all the fun by earning a presumably impossible A. Boo Kansas City.

Just for fun, let’s compare Kiper’s grade distribution in 2006, 2007 and 2008:

2006:

  • C- : 0
  • C : 11
  • C+ : 7
  • B- : 2
  • B : 9
  • B+ : 3

2007:

  • C- : 4
  • C : 7
  • C+ : 4
  • B- : 4
  • B : 9
  • B+ : 3

2008:

  • C- : 1
  • C : 3
  • C+ : 11
  • B- : 5
  • B : 9
  • B+ : 3
  • A : 1

For the fellow nerds interested, 2006 yielded an average grade right between a C+ and a B-. 2007 was about the same, although slightly closer to a B-. 2008 was almost exactly a B-. Removing the A – a clear outlier – has negligible effect in 2008; the average grade remains a B-.

2008’s grades are a bit funny because they indicate a shift even further to general mediocrity. While the average grade gets marginally higher as the years go on, the distribution changes a little. At least in 2007, Kiper handed out a bunch of C-‘s and C’s, which are essentially the worst grades possible under his ridiculous system. But in 2008, the range narrowed almost exclusively to C+ to B. In 2006, 56.2% of grades fell within that range; in 2007, 46.8%; 2008, 78.1%. In other words, Kiper’s already less-than-revealing grading system has become even more ambiguous with 78% of teams doing essentially “pretty well.”

It is also interesting to note that in each year, he gave out exactly 9 B’s and 3 B+’s. This probably means nothing.

I will now write a math-free paragraph. The point of all this is that, well, Kiper should maybe take a stand on something for once. I understand that it’s hard for a team to be an abject failure, which would necessitate an F. I also understand that it’s hard for a team to be perfect, necessitating an A. And forgive my informality for a moment, but dude, lighten up. You spend all year dissecting players and forming strong opinions about each one. Shouldn’t the aggregate of 252 strong opinions at least yield some D’s and A’s? It’s okay to grade teams relative to their competition instead of on some perfect, absolute scale. I do not like being yelled and screamed every year for two days in April about these players, and then checking your grades later and seeing nothing but C’s and B’s. Show me that all your sound and fury signifies something.

Your system is already as unscientific as all hell, so take a stand. The world will not end. You can do this. Until next year.


Matsuzaka’s Fat Will Lower His ERA, And Other Assorted Double-Standards

March 11, 2008

I don’t understand this:

2. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox. Matsuzaka surprised the Red Sox by reporting to camp heavier than last year. He explained he enjoyed his best seasons in Japan when he carried more weight. Perhaps Matsuzaka also is better prepared for the grind of the longer major league season, which took its toll on the right-hander over the final two months of last season.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe Matsuzaka’s success really is directly proportional to his weight. I don’t know, although I’d love to see some numbers on this. It just irks me that the Red Sox seemingly get a pass for things like this. Call me a paranoid and delusional Yankees fan; that’s fine and probably true. But I implore you to hear me out on this. If any other high-profile pitcher in baseball did this, there would be questions about his dedication and work ethic. If not, it certainly wouldn’t be passed off as a good thing. It just always seems to be something with the Red Sox. Does anyone remember Josh Beckett (and subsequently, Peter Gammons) blaming a blister flare-up on a defective baseball? Does anyone remember the Red Sox saying Matsuzaka struggled because he couldn’t adapt to his new American mattress? It’s unbelievable.

Anyway, I would like to close with the following reminder. Red Sox don’t under-perform, they have defective baseballs and insurmountable mattress problems. Red Sox don’t get old and decline (despite having the oldest roster in baseball last season), they gain experience. Red Sox aren’t injury risks, they just get nicked up from playing so hard. Yankees, on the other hand, are overpaid mercenaries (despite having more home-grown players than the Red Sox), who are getting old and brittle. If they show up fat, they are spoiled slackers.

That’s it for now. Soon I will post the Second Annual Yankees-Red Sox Comparison, during which I will predict that the Yankees will win the division.

EDIT: In light of today’s Yankees-Rays brawl, I have a new double-standard to add to the preceding list. Rays players Jonny Gomes, Troy Percival, and manager Joe Maddon have all been quoted as saying (paraphrasing) “that’s not the Yankee way. Usually they’re professional and play the game the right way, but that’s not what happened today.”

Under Joe Torre, the Yankees would never, ever throw at an opposing player or seek revenge for prior incidents. Never. Torre was too “classy” for that stuff. It reached the point where – specifically in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry – Red Sox pitchers hit Yankee hitters twice as often as Yankees did Red Sox. I have the specific statistics on this somewhere; if you think I’m full of it, I’ll dig them out. Anyway, for years now the Yankees have maintained a general policy of non-retaliation, even following blatant acts of aggression.

This brings us to our newest double-standard. When other teams retaliate for previous incidents, it is known as “being old-school,” “defending your teammates,” or “showing heart and fire.” When the Yankees do it, it is called “borderline criminal” (Maddon) or “not the Yankee way” (Gomes).

I, for one, am thrilled with this development. I have no idea whether Girardi ordered this, or whether Shelley Duncan did this on his own. Regardless of its origins, I am completely and unabashedly optimistic that the Yankees are done being unwaveringly “classy.”

Is it March 31st yet?


Red Sox = Good, Yankees = Evil

September 12, 2007

FOXSports.com’s Dayn Perry has instantly become my new favorite target. I’m not going to tear into his column about why the Red Sox are the best organization in baseball. That would take a really long time. What I am going to do is provide a short (or maybe long, not sure yet) list of things to think about when reading the column:

  • Whenever you see the following words: Boston Red Sox, John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Theo Epstein, Bill James, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buccholz, Kason Gabbard, or Jonathan Papelbon, replace them with the following: New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner, Randy Levine, Brian Cashman, Damon Oppenheimer, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain. Did you do it? The column makes the same amount of sense, right? My point is, the Yankees are doing (and have been for a while) the exact same thing as the Red Sox. In fact, you could easily argue that the Red Sox’ recent success can be tied to their imitation of the Yankees. For now, I would just like to point out that when the Yankees do all the things Perry talks about, they’re ruining baseball. When the Red Sox do it, they’re a smart organization.
  • I have no idea why the Red Sox’ inability to sign or retain Matt Murton, Cla Meredith, and Brian Bannister is a point in their favor, but apparently it is.
  • The Red Sox are the most expensive team to have missed the playoffs (last year, you know that, right Dayn Perry?), and the most expensive team to have won a World Series. Just saying.
  • Matsuzaka has been league-average this year, J.D. Drew sucks, and Julio Lugo sucks too. Crisp is no prize either. Total cost? $224 million. But the Yankees get reamed for signing Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, and Roger Clemens, whose total cost is $104 million. Again, just saying.
  • Perry praises the Red Sox for “rebuilding while contending.” Fair enough. They’re going to make the playoffs this year, after not making it last year (we still remember that, right?) But they rebuilt by spending oodles of cash. Of course, some homegrown players have played important roles for them this year. Pedroia, Papelbon and Kevin Youkilis have been quite valuable, while Buchholz and Manny Delcarmen have contributed as well. Again, this is no different than the Yankees. The homegrown, active Yankees are: Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Melky Cabrera, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, and Shelley Duncan. To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “buying championships.” If you’ve got the money, then by all means, spend it. It’s the inconsistent analysis that bothers me. The Red Sox didn’t win anything until they starting spending boatloads of money, they passed on Bobby Abreu because they’re “in a position with less resources” (but spent $103 million on Matsuzaka that winter), and have had more “mercenaries” on their team in their recent, successful years than the Yankees ever had. But they are awesome and the Yankees are evil. Right
  • Once and for all (not really), the Red Sox are not a small-market team. Boston is not a small market. You are a retard if you think they are a small-market team. Boston is a big city. The Red Sox have more bandwagon fans than any baseball team in the country right now. The Red Sox are rich. Boston is not a small market. The Red Sox are not underdogs. Boston is not a small market.
  • John Henry and Tom Werner are awesome owners because they spend lots of money and are dedicated to building a competitive team. George Steinbrenner dines with Osama bin Laden and drinks the blood of Christian babies because he spends lots of money and is dedicated to building a competitive team. Got it.
  • Have I mentioned that the Red Sox finished in 3rd place in the AL East last year? With a gigantic payroll? And then they spent tons of money to get competitive again? And this is exactly why the Yankees are evil? And the Red Sox did that very evil thing to go from bad to good?

Look, I want to be clear about one thing: I am not criticizing the Red Sox’ methods. Their organization is doing whatever they think gives them the best chance to win, and generally, they are quite good at it. They have lots of money, they usually spend it well, and they’ve got some great young players. That’s all fine.

I am using Perry’s column to point out the gigantic double-standard that the media (and fans, to a lesser extent) enact when comparing the Yankees and Red Sox. Or even when just evaluating the Red Sox by themselves. You just can’t have it both ways. The Yankees cannot be evil for buying players, having tons of money and a rich owner, and tapping foreign markets while the Red Sox are efficient, visionary, and well-run for doing the exact same thing.

Conveniently, it is now 5:57 here in Nashville, and the Yankees are about to start playing. Until next time.


Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Batting Average Or RBI

August 1, 2007

Those who know me personally are aware that I am inclined to rant from time to time. Often, the subject is baseball. I am also capable of getting started on the south, suburbia, and the Knicks. As my good friend Alex recently told me, “I never know precisely what will irritate you, but it’s a given that something will happen over the course of nine innings that will completely set you off.”

With that in mind, I’m hoping that this post comes across as less of a rant and more of a plea. Over the course of the last several weeks, I have participated in a particularly sizable amount of group baseball-watching. At school, I usually watch the Yankees by myself on MLBtv. Keesup will occasionally and graciously watch them with me, as will my girlfriend if Neptune is in line with Sirius. I’ve gone to tons of games with friends and family recently, and watched a bunch on my friend’s gigantic flatscreen HDTV (thanks Albie!).  And during each and every viewing, I’ve had someone turn to me and off-handedly say one of the following:

  1. “Look, he’s got his average all the way up to ____.”
  2. “___ RBI in July – that’s amazing.”
  3. “He’s on pace for ____ RBI.”
  4. “I’d rather ____ play over ____ because he hits for a higher average.”

As you have noticed, each statement involves batting average or RBI. Do you know what I do each and every time I hear an evaluation, observation, or remark using those stats as measurements? I stop listening to you. It’s not because I don’t like you – we are, after all, watching the game together. But I stop listening to you because what you’re saying is not useful information, because the tools you’re using aren’t useful tools. Those stats are not good criteria by which to judge a player.

I have more sympathy for the use of RBI because, despite my best efforts, I still find myself drawn to them. I (like pretty much everyone) grew up with RBI. They’re flashy and pretty to look at. Their allure rests in their ostensible certainty – “this is exactly how many runs this player is responsible for plating.” My heart sees RBI totals in the 120-140 range and instinctively goes “ooooooooh.” They are big numbers, and I understand their appeal. But it has been well-documented, in this space and in far more reputable ones, that RBI are a dependent (as opposed to independent) measurement of ability. RBI don’t happen unless someone is on base. RBI are products of circumstance. Sure, it might be marginally harder to get a hit with a runner on 3rd because of the pressure. But this theoretical increase in difficulty is not drastic enough to distinctly separate the good players from the bad players. In other words, players who feel that pressure are nevertheless perfectly capable of driving a run in. Weak ground balls score runs. A 36 hopper up the middle scores a run. A high, lazy fly ball scores a run. Two players – one good and one bad – can have the same number of RBI. Therefore, RBI totals should not be used as measurements of ability.

I have less sympathy for batting average because it is so obviously a poor and incomplete way of evaluating a player. I realize that this is a somewhat irrational justification, because RBI are just as poor or incomplete. But I struggle to understand why on-base percentage (OBP) has not fully replaced batting average (BA) has the primary means of quickly evaluating a player. Certainly, stats like VORP or EqA do a better job than OBP, but I understand why those have not entrenched themselves quite yet. The resistance to OBP, however, continues to elude me. Here’s why:

Let’s say an alien descended from Mercury (I don’t know what it is with me and planets today). Let’s also say that this alien wanted to learn about baseball. After teaching this alien the rules, goals, and history of the game, the alien asks how Earthlings decide who is good at baseball and who is bad at baseball. Presumably at this point, the alien knows that the goal of the game is to get on base, which, if done enough times, scores runs. So, the best players are the ones who get on base. Players who get on base = good, players who do not get on base = bad. The alien knows this.

In response to his question, the Earthling mulls his options. He runs through all the statistics he knows and decides BA is how most people decide who is good and who is bad. Because of its simplicity and widespread comprehension, it seems like a good answer. The Earthling explains to the alien that BA is the percentage of the time that a player’s at-bat results in a hit.

The alien’s eyes narrow with suspicion. He knows the rules of the game, and he remembers that there is more than one way to get on base, which is the thing that good baseball players do. The alien knows that hits aren’t the only way to get on base, and therefore be good at baseball. He remembers the “walk”, and asks why this is not included in BA. After all, walks get players on base just like hits do. Furthermore, the alien concludes that this is a separate skill from being able to hit. He humbly posits that Earthlings’ primary and shorthand evaluative statistic (currently BA) should account for another skill that is important for a baseball player to have (which OBP does).

The bottom line is this: BA is an incomplete, misleading, inconclusive, and unforgiving measurement. You know this intuitively, which is my reason for using the alien example. If re-taught from scratch, each and every one of us would decide that BA is an inferior statistic to OBP. Why on earth would you profess loyalty to a faulty means of evaluation? In what other aspect of your life would this be acceptable? This is like Vanderbilt University only counting my math and science grades (subjects at which I am horrendous) and ignoring my English and history results (subjects at which I am skilled). If Vanderbilt arbitrarily decided that math and science are what count and denied linguistic proficiency as a viable skill, my GPA would be 1.8 and everyone would think I were a dumbass. 1.8 is my “batting average.”  If English and history are factored in (i.e. other skills), my GPA would jump to a 3.0 and suddenly I am a solid student. 3.0 is my “on-base percentage.” It is a quick way to measure everything, not just one thing.

Same with baseball. We – the fans, the media, the players – have decided that the only thing that matters is the raw percentage of the time that a player gets a hit. We have decided that getting on base via the “hit” is the only means of success worth tracking. There are two main skills that batters should have: the ability to hit and the ability to tell balls from strikes. BA counts the former, and not the latter. Yet both lead to getting on base. Like I said, this should intuitively seem wrong to you.

I understand why BA and RBI are appealing, and sports networks are largely to blame. Before each at-bat during every game, the player’s current BA, HR, and RBI are emblazoned across the screen (some stations, thankfully, tack on OBP at the end). I understand that they are easy to read and memorize for future citation during conversation or debate. Nevertheless, BA and RBI are dumb. After paragraphs of diplomacy, I am allowing myself one moment to say outright that they are dumb.

So this is my plea: please stop using them to measure a player. This post will probably explain why my eyes glaze over after you say one of the aforementioned four comments to me during a game. If you BA or RBI to evaluate a player, I stop listening and think slightly less of your intellect. It’s nothing personal; I still like you. But more importantly, you shortchange yourself by resorting to these (non) tools. They insult your intelligence. They are either incomplete measurements or products of circumstance.

That’s it. That’s my plea.