Thursday, May 05, 2011

Morality, Philosophy and Distortion in Baseball Statistics

Anyone who is European, Asian* or African, or otherwise has a modicum of sanity, is excused from this post.

Baseball is a ritualized game, every move has been enacted millions of times, with every play subject to record-keeping in order to become grist for statistical analysis. There is an element of moral philosophy behind some of these "stats", the most notable being the batting average.

Divide the number of hits by the number of "official" times at bat and presto! A numerical figure between .000 and 1.000. Of course, for an at bat to be official it must not involve reaching base on an error, or advancing a runner by a sacrifice out, or reaching on a walk or hit by a pitch. All these rules are to instill a sense of "fairness" in the stat. Of course baseball games are not won by this neat trick of logic. They are won by scoring more runs than the other team.

So how are we to reconcile this personal stat of abstract effectiveness with the more desirable, and very concrete, team stat of "wins?" In the last thirty years, starting with the statistical advances by Bill James and his associates, new ways of looking at a baseball players performance have been instituted, under the general category of Sabermetrics. I was intrigued by the "Jamesian" approach for a time, but what it offered, while more realistic, was too complex for everyday use.

What I did end up using for offensive production stats was a simple "net-bases-produced" average. The unit of measurement was not hits but "bases advanced", the number of bases the team advanced or lost during that at bat.


Strike out, less than two outs= 0 bases.
Strike out with two outs, minus all the bases of any base runner.
Hit into double play, no outs= -1 base.
Grand slam home run= 10 bases.
Any single, walk or reach by error= 1 base plus additional bases by base runners.

A player who struck out 4 times in a game without making the third out would have a measure of "0" for the game, whereas someone who hit into four double-plays would be at -4 (at least) for the game. Someone who walked 4 times and stole 4 bases would have an 8 for the game- the same as two solo home runs. He would cause at least any runs to be scored (on average) and remember, the only stat that counts is runs. His traditional batting average would have dropped for the game!

Compiling these "bases" then dividing by the at-bats would give a number which would, over time, give a fair estimation of a players offensive performance over time. Any average number above 4 would be exceptional. Single game numbers would be telling as well, 4 grand slams=40 bases, whereas stranding twelve runners in 4 at-bats would be minus 24! Any number below 1 would be awful.

Any questions?

*excepting Japanese, of course

By Professor Batty


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