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The Importance of Advanced Statistics in Baseball Today

An explanation and interpretation of analytical baseball

Baseball has been witnessing a boom in popularity and use of advanced metrics in recent history. Starting with the “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics and still being largely present today, advanced stats have become almost integral to gaining a better understanding of talent evaluation. Baseball is really growing beyond those one-size-fits-all metrics that have been in the league for years. That is not to say that those stats are not useful, because they still very much can be. The issue arises, though, when you cannot totally judge a hitter, pitcher or fielder based off their given archetypes when those basic stats are not very niche in any regard. Advanced stats go further than that to hone in on every strength and weakness a baseball player might have, while offering a more precise indication on how good they might be. Though analytics have been taking the main stage, many do not like the direction baseball is going, thinking it is becoming too far gone from the game it used to be. Now, to make things clear: I have no say on what they can or cannot enjoy about the game. If they want to use the more basic side of baseball statistics, then to each their own. But, for those wanting to gain a more vast understanding of stats, or for those who want to give the analytical side of baseball a chance, I am here to express this importance and explain how to use the advanced statistics of baseball.

First of all, let’s run through an overview of some of the advanced statistics on all sides of the field. Some are easy to understand, but others are a bit complex. Starting off with hitting, the most commonly-used advanced metrics are on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging (OPS), which is a sum of the two. OBP is pretty straightforward, it just measures the amount of times you have been on base and compares it to your total plate appearances, while putting it on a percentage-based scale. SLG is more difficult to understand. It measures power, rather than the ability to get on base. It recognizes the quality of hits, and takes batting average into account here. However, if you want to subtract AVG from SLG, you can get a more accurate analysis of power output with the isolated power (ISO) stat. If you want a general but highly accurate analysis of just how good of a hitter you are, weighted runs created plus (wRC+), although really complex, is the best tool to use. It has a very extensive formula that even confused me for a while, but it measures the runs you have created and introduces a fair scale based off of that, while comparing yours to the rest of the league. It is scaled in a specific way to where 100 is the benchmark, the league average. If you have a 135 wRC+, you are most likely 35% better than an average hitter. If you have a 90 wRC+, you are 10% worse than the league average. It is all very hard to understand, but all you need to know is that it just takes everything into account.

Going to the other side of the field, pitching and fielding do not have too much to offer in terms of advanced stats. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some weight to them, however. There are pitcher stats such as fielding-independent pitching (FIP) or skill-interactive ERA (SIERA), but that is almost as far as it goes. FIP and SIERA are very alike in concept. They both measure the efficiency of pitchers, but are very niche. These are mainly used as metrics for the strikeout-heavy pitchers. They basically account for factors only the pitcher can control (strikeouts, walks, homers, etc.). If a pitcher walks fewer players, has a high strikeout rate, or does not give up hard contact (as well as other factors) then he will likely have low marks in both FIP and SIERA. The lower you get, the more efficient you are as a pitcher. These stats, however, will not look so good on the more contact-oriented pitchers, who sacrifice high strikeout rates for inducing weak contact, which creates more situations in which they cannot control. For fielding, two of the main advanced statistics are outs above average (OAA) and defensive runs saved (DRS). OAA practically measures how often a fielder is able to make plays in comparison to the average MLB fielder at that position. DRS, on the other hand, encapsulates a fielder’s overall value by taking the runs a defender saved or did not save in comparison, again, to the average fielder at that position.

The basic metrics of baseball have been growing increasingly less useful ever since analytics made their way into the sport. Most of these stats give a very narrow view of player efficacy. Stats such as batting average are very general, and they only measure how often you get hits, rather than the quality of hits. Most of the time, it comes down to the details regarding how efficient or inefficient your team is. In our case, it is the Guardians. The Guardians this year had a cumulative .250 batting average, which is ranked 13th in the league. You would guess that, based off that stat alone, we would have at least an average offense, right? Wrong. The Guards this year ended up having one of the worst offenses in the entire league, according to advanced statistics. They were bottom 10 in the league in both OBP and wRC+. They were also in the bottom two in both SLG and ISO. These numbers can easily explain how ineffective the Guardians have been this year way better than AVG or runs scored. There is a “why?” factor that is almost guaranteed to be solved when you bring in analytics, so it helps in understanding the game far better.

Baseball is continuing to evolve and push more innovations to create accurate depictions for player evaluation. More people are turning to analytics and advanced stats to make more precise inferences on players. The need for the more unreliable and unspecific metrics has increasingly decreased as people now have this avenue to go down. Many can reject this and I understand, they are entitled to what they can believe. But again, I wanted to write this for those wishing to learn more about this area of baseball that has just recently been explored by the public. There is a definite learning curve in terms of getting acquainted with the many different advanced stats in baseball but, speaking from experience, discovering and studying them has helped me to enjoy baseball much more. I fully believe it can help you in doing so, too.