Baseball Statistics

My friend C Dobbie sent me an e-mail recently asking my opinion on the following:

“I have just read an article on MLB.com about new Defensive Statistics which intrigued me. I have long believed that American sports (not just baseball) are already drowning in statistics and that the last thing they need is more of the same. It seems to me that there is a danger of our losing sight of the purpose of sport, which is surely to enjoy mainly outdoor (but sometimes indoor) activity in a friendly, competitive environment.
Your country is busily engaged in turning sport into a purely business and entertainment activity. Where’s the FUN?
To take the baseball example, it is not unusual to hear quoted during a broadcast, references to a player’s stats as a Little League, High School, College, or Minor League player. Enough already!
However, it appears these new stats will marginally improve teams performances and takeup of the idea will become universal in fairly short order. Am I alone in lamenting this?
This is a people game! Bring back the people!”

As a baseball fan, I do understand the importance of statistics. They’re important, but maybe they’re becoming too important. I mean, it’s interesting to see how a player’s doing, especially as the season goes on, but it’s not essential to the actual playing of the game of baseball.

I’ve always felt that stats can be very deceptive. Take David Eckstein for example. He doesn’t have that many hits or home runs, but to really get at David Eckstein’s game, you have to look beyond the numbers. If we need a walk, he’ll get a walk. If we need to move a runner over, he’ll get down a sac bunt. He does all the little things that don’t get into the box score. He’s not too prideful to do the little things that don’t get any recognition so that his teammates can go out there and get all the glory. This is my point: what he does doesn’t get into the numbers. No, he does not have good numbers but you have to look past that. Look beyond the boxscore.

In that case, David Eckstein’s statistics are very deceptive. I think that’s true of all players. You can’t really tell the true worth of a player from his stats.

Last fall I worked for a local football team by taking their stats. In that situation, the only purpose of taking those stats was just so the players could find out how well they did. At that level, junior varsity, the stats didn’t matter as much as they would in varsity or college or the big dance. The coaches knew what their players could do. They watched them in practice and during the games and they learned where to put their players so that they were in the best position to help the team win their football games.

The coaches didn’t need the stats to tell them all of that. In fact, the stats couldn’t tell them any of that. I mean, they would be horrible coaches if they relied completely on the stats.

Same with baseball. The stats are important, but you can’t rely on them.

Like C Dobbie said, this sport is increasingly turning into a purely business and entertainment activity. I was discussing some of the finer aspects of free agency with my parents the other night when it dawned on me: this really is a business. It’s sad, as I learned with the recent trade of Kevin Kouzmanoff. He was traded because the Padres couldn’t afford him. He went from a salary of about $400,000 to $3-some million. It’s crazy!

My little brother is playing baseball again this season, and you can bet that they’re not too concerned about stats. They’re just learning the game of baseball and having fun. It’s refreshing to see baseball that’s not a business, but just enjoying the game.

I agree that we don’t need to hear all the stats all the time. Sure, it might be fun to hear how a major league player played in Little League, but it’s not necessary.

From experience, I know that we’re going to be hearing a ton of last year’s statistics during the upcoming Spring Training games. Now, that’s annoying. Last year is over. It might be interesting to hear how a player did last year, but what’s done is done. All of the players have a clean slate now.

Stats are overrated, but they’re important. And I think that though they are used a lot in baseball, they’re not interesting enough to take the fan’s attention completely away from the game itself.

Thank you so much for asking about this very interesting subject, C Dobbie!

By the way, I’m loving the new logo on the top of my blog. That’s got Jeff Moorad written all over it!

PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT TODAY!!!! I’m soooo excited. I just can’t wait for baseball to start!!!!!!!!!!!!

GO PADRES!!!!    

4 Comments

I agree with you. Stats are not everything. But they are somewhat important. I’m sure that not many athletes are focused on their batting average or homers, but are focused on winning.
http://adriangonzalez23.mlblogs.com

I think stats have their place, and I’m sure most players and fans at least look at the basics, like ERA, batting average, etc. But there are so many arcane stats out there now, that I truly think have proliferated because of the increasing popularity of fantasy baseball. Does the average fan, or even a player for that matter, keep track of BAbip, OBP, OPS, TotA, and SecA? These are just some of the batting statistics tracked on baseball-reference.com (batting average on balls in play, on-base percentage, on-base plus slugging, total average and secondary average, in case you were wondering). Some I’ve heard of, some not. It’s information overload! I guess there are those who really enjoy this kind of stuff, but since math was never my favorite subject, I tend to stick with the basic ones that I actually understand.
Sue
Rants, Raves, and Random Thoughts

I agree, to a point. Stats give fans something to talk about, especially in the off season. Their extremely important, but you’re right, they don’t tell the whole story.

Stats give people something to talk about, argue about, obsess about. There are different kinds of sports fans, one that love watching, and ones that love analyzing.

First you are talking about baseball as if it is a people’s game, but the fact is, baseball is a business. Those stats mean the world to sports agents who are negotiating contracts for the players. The players themselves love to refer to their stats to prove their worth to a team. As for last year being last year, that’s only true to a point. If a player had trouble hitting a certain pitch last year, he needs to prove he’s improved this year. If not, then last year really isn’t over. If he had trouble hitting with RSIP last year, that stat is valid to bring up when he’s hitting with RISP this year. That clean slate doesn’t mean much if a player hasn’t improved on his weaknesses, and that remains to be seen. Baseball is statistic-driven. It isn’t the only thing that matters, that’s true. But if you’re new to the game and just learning about it, you need all of that for perspective. Stats are an important part of the story even if they don’t tell the whole story.

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