Learning on the Fly: Advanced Metrics and Asking the Right Questions: Part I
First, I know this an Atlanta Braves-centric blogging site that we feel is not just for us to air out opinions, but also you, the reader. We like for you to be involved and in turn, try and provide a little education as well.
It’s no secret to those who know me, that I’m not a fan of the advanced, or saber metrics being used in today’s state of the game. I consider myself a traditionalist and have always relied on batting average, ERA, and the like. Well, I’ve decided that to really talk with a smart, educated tone, I need to get up to speed on the new way of doing things.
However, this endeavor in the hopes that while I learn, you, our devoted followers of Outfield Fly Rule, learn with me; since pretty much everyone else associated with the site is already rather well versed in this arena. Hopefully, the idea is that you will also gain a better understanding of some of the things we mention or talk about in the podcasts.
We’re going to kick this off by starting at the bottom and simple, traditional stats will be questioned. The first stat I’m bringing in to question is batting average. What does it tell us? What doesn’t it tell us? How is it useful, and how isn’t useful? Should we even pay attention to it?
For further reading and in-depth break downs, go to the link here. FanGrpahs has a very good education editor and the break downs are easy to comprehend.
We all know how to figure it out. Hits divided by at bats. Simple, right? But what does this tell us? Perhaps more importantly, WHAT DOESN’T it tell us? Then, how do we determine a true value of a hitter? That will be in another post. The latter is a little bit more difficult to deduce, other metrics go into that. But let’s keep it simple starting off.
Batting average completely dismisses certain offensive actions that aren’t hits. Batting average also gives equal credit to every hit. Think about it. Singles, according to batting averages, are also doubles, triples and even home runs.
The point here is that what we as fans and analysts should be looking for is production capability. The players’ propensity to contribute in run production, run creation, and the overall run scoring process. Batting average isn’t completely bad, it’s just that there is more to it. Moreover, it shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone view or analysis of a players’ offensive, run producing prowess.
Essentially, batting average doesn’t give us enough information to accurately separate differences among hitters. For instance: a hitter gets 3 hits in 10 at bats. That’s a .300 average. However, it doesn’t account for walks, hit by pitches, reaching on an error, or reaching by virtue of a fielder’s choice. So, a hitter with a .300 average, on paper, looks good. But what about the other stuff? Where is that figured in? Well, it’s not, at least not when talking about batting average alone.
For example: Baltimore’s Chris Davis‘ batting average sits at .206, however, he has an OBP of .320. That’s well over 100 points more than his BA. AL MVP early front runner, arguably Manny Machado, has a BA blistering at .345, but his OBP is only .395. In Atlanta, Nick Markakis is hitting .279 and has an OBP of .382. Ender Inciarte, in all his 11 at bats, is hitting .182, but his OBP is astounding with a .357.
The truth is, batting average is also flawed in that it only counts for at bats, not plate appearances. So if the same hitter was 3 for 10, BUT had 4 walks, he has 4 more plate appearances than at bats, giving him a .500 on base percentage and .300 batting average. If another hitter was also 3 for 10, but had NO walks, then he has an OPB of .300 and BA of .300. Which one is the better hitter? The player with a .500 OPB and .300 BA or a batter with .300 BA and .300 OBP? The batter not making outs and getting on base half the time, is the far better choice.
Let’s stretch this out a little further. What about doubles, triples, home runs? Obviously, these offensive actions add to the value of the hitter, individually. Batting average treats every hit as if it were a single. Therefore, someone who is 3 for 10 with 3 singles compared to a hitter who is 3 for 10 with 2 doubles and a triple, is far less valuable in terms of run production and run scoring processes, than that of the player with the 2 doubles and triple.
Here’s the biggest nugget from FanGraphs that really got me. This is essentially the major take away here: Batting average isn’t useless, however, it’s only useful when used with other stats to help paint the total picture. Batting average gives you a bird’s eye like view of a hitter.
OBP, wOBA, and wRC+ are some more, but not all, of the stats now being used to determine an offensive players’ overall value. Batting average is still part of the discussion, but many are beginning to leave it behind.
On Deck …
Here’s the ultimate flaw in batting average (courtesy of Chris): A batter’s job is to not make an out. It’s not to move a runner, it’s not to just put the ball in play, and it’s not to get a SAC fly. In fact, the hitter actually is rewarded by not having failures count toward an at bat. A batter can come to the plate, and not be charged with an at bat, even if he makes an out. That’s the flaw that supersedes all.
I think that’s enough for now. In part two, I’ll look at answering these questions, going over OBP (which gives a better representation of a batter succeeding at his primary job) and other stats that can help paint that overall picture of a hitters’ run production, creation, and overall run production process.
Stay in school kids, stay in school.