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Sabermetrics Explained

Sabermetrics Explained
By Adam of

Sabermetrics. Sabermetrics. Sabermetrics. I say it three times because the word inspires a myriad of preconceived notions. Sabermetrics are developed by advanced minds. They are controversial in nature, pinning statistic lovers against purist scouts. Most fantasy baseball enthusiasts shy away from sabermetrics for these two reasons. Luckily, many sabermetric myths will be debunked by the time you read this article. Simply put, you do not need an advanced math degree to understand or calculate the most popular sabermetrics. In addition, no matter how purist you deem yourself to be, even the most old school scouts (fans and pros alike) can easily find a few sabermetrics to broaden their scope and get a better understanding of players' performances. Yes, sabermetrics are good. I argue it is impossible to deny this. I hope to introduce you to the fascinating world of baseball sabermetrics with an introductory primer on their definitions, utilities, and a few simple sabermetric calculations that seem to be cropping up in most fantasy baseball analysis.

Sabermetrics Defined

Sabermetrics are simply advanced statistics, a form of analysis that focuses solely on in-game activity as opposed to off the field scouting. Invented by Bill James, sabermetrics has no room for scouting cliches like "the ball explodes off his bat", "raw skills", "the pitcher hides the ball well", "potential for power due to a fast bat and quick hands", etc. However, despite relying on statistics, sabermetricians actually denounce some of the more popular stats such as batting average and RBI. This is because sabermetrics focuses mainly on team wins, and as a result relies heavily on measures that produce runs, which is obviously the most important factor in determing whether a team wins.

Regarding batting average, sabermetricians argue it relies only on hits and at bats and therefore excludes other run-producing events such as extra base hits and walks. The earliest stat to replace average and RBI, developed by James, is therefore entitled "Runs Created", and is an easy calculation (Hits + Walks) x total bases DIVIDED BY At Bats + Walks. Breaking it down, this calculates an on base factor multiplied by advancement beyond first place with extra base hits as a proportion of total opportunities (AB and BB), which is simply your total plate appearances minus sacrifices.

Some Sabermetric Stats You Must Know

WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched)

As you may have come across, WHIP is one of the most widely used stats that falls into the territory of sabermetrics. Rather than ERA which measures earned runs over the course of every 9 Inning Pitched, WHIP focuses on walks and hits alone. 1.30 is a good WHIP. Below 1.00 is fantastic.

To understand its value, take into account earned runs that are not the fault of a pitcher who is credited with them. Many times, a relief pitcher is the one to blame when allowing an inherited runner to score. Yet, the "starting pitcher", or previous pitcher is credited with the earned run and thus his ERA is affected.

Another instance is when a pitcher is victim to an error on the third out. All runs thereafter are unearned. Yet, errors are a part of the game and pitchers should be able to overcome them. Now let's say after what should have been the third out, a pitcher implodes and allows 10 hits, 5 walks, and 6 runs before getting out of the inning. None of those runs are earned, so ERA does not tell the story of the poor performance. Yet, WHIP takes those 10 hits and 5 walks into account. For the inning, his ERA is 0.00. His WHIP is an atrocious 15.00. Which is more indicative of the pitcher's performance? I agree. You need WHIP to know the true performance.

OPS (on base percentage plus slugging)

The last simple sabermetric you should be familiar with is OPS, equal to on base percentage plus slugging percentage. OBP is hits + walks + hit by pitch divided by plate appearances. Slugging percentage is total bases (single=1, double=2, triple=3, homerun=4) divided by at bats.

The genius of this sabermetric is it takes into account the ability to get on base as well as a player's power. It is surprisingly probably the only all-encompassing stat to do that. Anything over .900 is fantastic, while .750 is average. For a perspective, Babe Ruth is the all-time leader with a career OPS of 1.163 and the active leader is Albert Pujols with a career 1.026.

To Sabermetric or Not to Sabermetric

Still, baseball enthusiasts argue as to the importance of sabermetrics. It is a fascinating argument with no concrete answer. There are thousands of complex sabermetrics that are too difficult to describe in this article, and many organizations, scouts, etc. use them. Is it overkill? Can we really discount the things we "see" on a ball field in replace of the numbers in a spreadsheet? It is an argument that will live on and grow stronger. I leave it up to you to decide for yourself. Can you use stats and stats alone to value any player or do you need to see the player to know his true worth? Bill James would agree with the former. Old school scouts (like the scouts against Billy Beane in Moneyball) would agree with the latter. But regardless of what you believe, professional organizations pay very smart sabermetricians to help with scouting and the field is only going to grow more prevalent. For this reason alone, it is imperative to become acquainted with sabermetrics.

Like sabermetrics, "daily" fantasy baseball is new to the sport. It used to be that you had to draft a team and be stuck with the core of that team for a full year until you redraft for the next season. Now you can draft a team at lunch time, play a one day league vs. one to a thousand people and then get paid after the games are over. This new concept is called "daily fantasy baseball" and the best site in which to play this exciting game is Fanduel. Draft your team via snake draft or partake in a $100,000 virtual salary cap. Play in as many leagues as you want! It's exciting!

Good luck and as always, thanks for reading!

Related: BABIP Explained
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