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Stats Corner: Moneyball Statistics

Explaining the Sabermetrics of Baseball

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

Baseball season has begun and at some point during the season someone will mention Moneyball, Statistics, and Sabermetrics. For those who have not seen the movie, read the book, or think that I am just making up words, here is a brief history. Billy Beane was the general manager of the Oakland A’s who had, and still have, a problem keeping their free agents and signing free agents when competing against high spending teams like the Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox. After the 2001 season, Beane had failed to resign the A’s top three free agents Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen and turned to statistical analysis to try and find undervalued players as replacements. His method was not well received as scouts and management argued that baseball experience and scouting was the preferred method. Identifying traits such as strength, posture, hand placement, speed, follow through. Beane argued that in order to win baseball games you simply had to score more runs than your opponent and focused on two questions “Does the player get on base?” and “Can he hit?” Everything else could be taught. Beane placed less emphasis on batting average and focused on on-based- percentage. Remember from previous Stats Corner posts, the purpose of stats is to get you to ask the right question. For example on 2018 opening day, Phillies manager replaced Aaron Nola after 68 pitches even though Nola was pitching a shutout because the stats say that batters do better the third time they face a pitcher. Kapler should have asked the question “why do batters do better the third time they face a pitchers?” instead of looking at the stats and use them to make a decision. How well does Moneyball work? The A’s started at 20-26, then went 83-33 the rest of the season after trading Jeremy Giambi and Carlos Pena, had the best record in baseball along with Yankees who had a payroll $84 million more than the A’s, they also won 20 games in a row, and the AL West division. In Kapler’s case, the Atlanta Braves scored eight unanswered runs and beat the Phillies.

Here are the most important Moneyball stats. We will apply them to Mountain West baseball the next few weeks. Have fun with the acronyms.

On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS)

OPS is simply on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. On-base percentage is the sum of the number of hits, walks, and hit by pitch or the number of times a player touches first base. Slugging percentage is total bases divided by at-bats. The objective is to determine how well a player gets on base and also to measure power hitting.

Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA)

All hits are not created equal, obviously a home run is much more valuable than a single. But how much more? The formula includes hit by pitch values as 0.722, single have a value of 0.888, double is valued at 1.271, triples are 1.616, and home runs are given 2.101. So while singles may drive up one’s batting average they do not guarantee a run, while homeruns do guarantee at least one run. Remember, the purpose of baseball is to score runs, not increase batting averages. Therefore, a player could have a lower batting average but a higher wOBA if the player hits more doubles and homeruns. wOBA does not take into consideration if a run is scored, i.e runner on third and scores on a single.

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)

ERA determines the number of earned runs per nine innings. But what about the things that the pitcher cannot control, quality of fielders and number of hits. Enter the FIP, which focuses on things which pitchers can control, mainly home runs, walks, hit by pitch and strikeouts and ignores what pitchers cannot control, or true to its name it looks at pitching independent of fielding and other variables that impact a pitcher’s performance. FIP also removes the results of balls hit into the field of play, also known as non-homeruns, because pitchers have limited control over their outcome.

Take the number of home runs times 13, add the number of walks and hit by pitchers times 3, then subtract 2 times the number of strike-outs, divided by the number of innings pitched.

Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR)

Now to defense or stopping the other team from scoring runs, remember the purpose of baseball is to score more runs than your opponent. Here is a stat to help on the other side, how many runs a player prevented or surrendered throw fielding. Not going into great detail about the formula, but the four of the most important items are Outfield Arm Runs (ARM) the amount of runs above average an outfielder saves with their arm by preventing runners from advancing. Double-Play Runs (DPR) the amount of runs above average an infielder is by turning double-plays. Range Runs (RngR) does a player get to more balls than average or not? Error Runs (ErrR) does the player commit more or fewer errors compared with a league-average player at their position?

Value Over Replacement Player (VORP)

Baseball Prospectus defines VORP as: “The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player’s defense.” In short, it is a measurable number of a player’s value in runs. And a replacement player is roughly 80 percent as good as an average major league hitter in that position. So, if the team calls up a minor league player, the number of runs lost would be a player’s VORP. Therefore, if a player has a VORP of 40, that means that if the player is exchanged with a less than average replacement, it would cost the team 40 runs over the season. And those players who have a negative VORP? If they were replaced by a triple A player the team would score more runs. Ouch. VORP only applies to offense, so it is possible that a player could have a negative VORP, but still have value to the team because they prevent more runs than they cost the team.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Is WAR the answer? If the question is how many more wins does a player add above previously mentioned replacement-level player, then WAR provides an answer. The formula is

WAR = (Batting Runs + Base Running Runs +Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment + League Adjustment +Replacement Runs) / (Runs Per Win)

Baseball-Reference’s lists WAR values as 8+ is an MVP candidate, 5+ is All-Star Level, 2+ is a solid starter, 0-2 WAR is a bench player, while anything below 0 is replacement level.

Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP)

BABIP is the “luck” factor. It is the average batting average on a ball in play singles, doubles, triples, sacrifice flies and all other outs, while strikeouts, home runs, walks and foul-outs are excluded. This takes us back to things pitchers cannot control once a ball is in play. The higher the BABIP, the less lucky you are, while a lower BABIP means you are carrying a four leaf clover in your pocket, or a rabbit foot, or pine tar. Or the pitcher has a high quality infield which can produce a lower-than-normal BABIP and actually sustain it if the handiwork of his fielders is the primary cause.

So many acronyms, stats, numbers, just to answer the question, how do we score more runs than the other team? Next week, we will look at some of the best in the Mountain West and their Moneyball numbers.