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Thread: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/6641066

    The best-selling book Moneyball opened the eyes of many fans to the statistical revolution in baseball.

    This revolution actually predates Moneyball by several decades, but it's become more of a phenomenon of late, thanks in part to the popularity of Michael Lewis' book. It's engendered (silly and petty) hostilities between the stats crowd and the traditionalists, and it's led to a great deal of mutual misunderstanding.

    Still, we're certainly not here to rehash old arguments. What we are here to do is provide an introduction to the statistical movement that's now an indelible part of the game. No, we're not trying to turn you into a "stat geek," but we are trying to show that the new generation of baseball statistics is nothing to be afraid of or put off by. They're just another way to enjoy this great game and enrich your understanding of it.

    So to get the ball rolling on this series we call "Stats 101," we'll take a look at five principles vital to understanding the game through a statistical lens. Let's get started ...

    1. Context is everything

    If there's a single thing to understand, it's probably this. Context takes many forms ó the park a player toils in, his league, his era, his spot in the lineup, and the quality of his opposition, to name only a few.

    Most fans grasp that Coors Field benefits hitters and that Petco Park benefits pitchers, but knowing that really isn't enough. Shea Stadium, for instance, is much, much tougher on right-handed power hitters (like David Wright) than on left-handed power hitters (like Carlos Delgado). So it's not sufficient to say a park merely helps or hurts the offense or the pitcher. We need to know who it's helping or hurting and to what extent.

    There's also the matter of era. A run scored in, say, the year 2000 meant less than a run scored in 1968 (a.k.a., "The Year of the Pitcher"). That's because runs in 2000 were much easier to come by. You had many more hitter-friendly parks in the league and you had a strike zone that squarely benefited the hitter. In 1968, the pitcher's mound was higher (giving the hurler a serious advantage), the strike zone went from the knees to the bottom of the shoulders, and there was no DH in the AL.

    In other words, it was a time in which the pitcher worked with a measurable advantage. Heck, Carl Yastrzemski won the AL batting title that year with a .301 average. In 2000, Carlos Lee also hit .301, but that mark ranked only 22nd in the AL (Nomar Garciaparra claimed the batting title that year with a .372 average). So, particularly when comparing players from different eras, taking the run-scoring environment into account it essential.

    In this, the day of the unbalanced schedule, it's also important to take strength of opposition into consideration. For instance, those denizens of the AL Central this season will be facing much hardier opponents than, say, those in the NL Central. With the unbalanced schedule, in which teams play most of their games against intra-divisional opponents, you have some serious differences in terms of strength of schedule.

    As for the differences in league, they have serious bearing on the minor leagues. The High-A Pacific Coast League, for instance, is a great circuit for hitters, while the High-A Carolina League is fairly hostile toward the offense. So it's especially important not to take minor league numbers at face value. What kind of league did he play in? What kind of park did he play in? Was he older or younger than his peer group? These are all vital pieces of information for assessing a prospect.

    2. Beware the small sample size

    Here's an intuitive one that most fans understand. Every fan knows that you don't take a week's worth of games and use it to make grand and sweeping pronouncements. Through one game, for instance, Adam Dunn is on pace to hit 324 home runs this season. That's not going to happen because, as we all know, time has a way of bringing outrageous numbers and paces to heel.

    Sometimes, however, we don't take this principle far enough. It's not uncommon for players to put up fluke-ish numbers over the course of an entire season. Take a look at Norm Cash back in 1961. Or Brady Anderson in 1996. Or Rich Aurilia in 2001. Or Adrian Beltre in 2004. There are plenty of examples of players who drastically out-performed expectations and then never came close to doing so again. That's because they had fluke seasons.

    As well, when looking at, for example, how a hitter fares against left-handed pitching, even multiple seasons of data may not be enough to allow us to draw firm conclusions. A good rule of thumb is that if a hitter or pitcher has been exhibiting a statistical trend for at least three seasons, then you're probably looking at a genuine, repeatable skill. Otherwise, be skeptical.

    3. Beware of (some) traditional stats

    We'll got into this in further depth in the coming weeks, but it's important to recognize that many of the stats you're accustomed to seeing on television broadcasts and on the backs of Topps cards aren't especially meaningful. For hitters, batting average, RBI and runs scored, for instance, aren't particularly illuminating. For pitchers, ERA and (especially) wins and losses are all highly flawed. On defense, the same goes for errors and fielding percentage. As mentioned, we'll tackle these specific problems in later editions, and we'll also point out some alternatives to traditional stats.

    4. Use your resources

    The Internet age is a great time to be a baseball fan, and it's a great time to delve into the ever-evolving world of statistical analysis. There's a tremendous amount of resources out there, and many of them are free.

    The FOXSports.com stats page is a great place to start. If you're looking for more detailed historical information or splits (i.e., numbers versus lefties or righties, home-road stats, first half/second half splits), then Baseball-Reference.com is hard to beat. Minor league numbers? Pay a visit to TheBaseballCube.com or MinorLeagueSplits.com. Looking for more advanced metrics? Pay a visit to the stats pages at Baseball Prospectus (subscription only) and The Hardball Times. Want customized searches and queries? Try the MLB stats search engine at Enth.com. Want more sortable goodness? Give Baseball Direct a try.

    5. Know that numbers aren't everything

    Stats are nothing to be feared or scorned, but they certainly don't provide a complete picture of the game. Scouting information is also indispensable. Is a minor-league hurler dominating despite the lack of a reliable third pitch? We need scouts and the powers of observation for that. Is a hitting prospect putting up power numbers with an uppercut swing that will be exploited at the highest level? We need scouts and the powers of observation for that, too. Ditto for evaluating a player's defensive skills and a pitcher's mechanics.

    Stats and the sensible analysis of them enrich the game, but they certainly don't make the game. It's important to be mindful of that always.

    Next time out, we'll take a look at what's wrong with some of the offensive stats to which you've become accustomed.

    Dayn Perry is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com and author of the new book, "Winners: How Good Baseball Teams Become Great Ones" (Available now at Amazon.com).

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  3. #2
    nothing more than a fan Always Red's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Stats and the sensible analysis of them enrich the game, but they certainly don't make the game. It's important to be mindful of that always.
    Very interesting article. Understanding the "modern" stats have certainly increased my enjoyment of the game in many ways. But, the beauty and the pace of the game is something that just cannot be captured via any statistics though, and never will be able to be quantified. That part of the game is something many of us here enjoy very, very much!

    I try to keep something very simple in mind when looking at team statistics, especially. Runs scored, and runs given up really do tell you more about team play than anything else, as far as wins and losses go. It sounds simplistic, but the best offense is the one who scores the most runs in the end (at the end of the season), no matter how they did it. Likewise, the best "defense" (which includes pitching and glovework) is the one who gives up the least.

    I know- "duh!" But sometimes when I get in over my head with looking at all the different stats available (and they are legion!), sometimes I need to retreat and just keep it really simple.

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    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Baseball is like magic. You can enjoy it by trying to figure out how each trick works, and you can enjoy it simply for the performance.
    "I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful

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    He has the Evil Eye! flyer85's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny Footstool View Post
    Baseball is like magic.
    "see dee ball, hit dee ball".
    What are you, people? On dope? - Mr Hand

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    You know his story Redsland's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny Footstool View Post
    Baseball is like magic.
    And Dick Pole is the wand.
    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny Footstool View Post
    Baseball is like magic.
    And Bronson Arroyo is the beautiful assistant.
    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny Footstool View Post
    Baseball is like magic.
    And our uniforms finally have sleeves for nothing to be up.

    Makes all the routine posts.

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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Not a bad primer. The one point I always make to my non-stat friends is this:

    Stats are just a measurement of something that happened. The key is understanding which stats tell us about what is likely to happen in the future, and which tell us only about the past. Some stats only tell us what a guy did. Others can give us some real insight in to what a guy is likely to do in the future. The difference is often hard to discern.

    For example:
    FACT: Freddy Sanchez had the best batting average in the National League in 2006.
    FICTION: Freddy Sanchez is quite likely to be among the league leaders in batting in 2007.

    In reality, the things which most accurately predict future batting average suggest Freddy Sanchez will hit around .300 in 2007. Good, but a big step down from his .344 2006 BA.

    The problem with the "traditional" stats is that, by and large, they are very good at recording some very specific events which occurred, and not so good at predicting what is likely to happen in the future or providing a full and balanced valuation of a player's contributions to his team's success (or failure).

    If we could just get everybody to agree on this simple idea, we'd be making some real progress.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    You know his story Redsland's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    The first big lesson for me was the first one listed above: context. Making sure comparisons were apples to apples. 25-year-olds to 25-year-olds. Catchers to catchers.

    Fail to do that, and you're going to make a lot of faulty assumptions.
    Makes all the routine posts.

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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Redsland View Post
    And Dick Pole is the wand.

    And Bronson Arroyo is the beautiful assistant.

    And our uniforms finally have sleeves for nothing to be up.

    Best ever.
    When all is said and done more is said than done.

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    Not a bad primer. The one point I always make to my non-stat friends is this:

    Stats are just a measurement of something that happened. The key is understanding which stats tell us about what is likely to happen in the future, and which tell us only about the past. Some stats only tell us what a guy did. Others can give us some real insight in to what a guy is likely to do in the future. The difference is often hard to discern.

    For example:
    FACT: Freddy Sanchez had the best batting average in the National League in 2006.
    FICTION: Freddy Sanchez is quite likely to be among the league leaders in batting in 2007.

    In reality, the things which most accurately predict future batting average suggest Freddy Sanchez will hit around .300 in 2007. Good, but a big step down from his .344 2006 BA.

    The problem with the "traditional" stats is that, by and large, they are very good at recording some very specific events which occurred, and not so good at predicting what is likely to happen in the future or providing a full and balanced valuation of a player's contributions to his team's success (or failure).

    If we could just get everybody to agree on this simple idea, we'd be making some real progress.
    Not meaning to pick a fight, but why does it correlate that Sanchez will only hit .300 this year? It may well be correct, but I don't understand why it follows that he will fall off.

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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by redsmetz View Post
    Not meaning to pick a fight, but why does it correlate that Sanchez will only hit .300 this year? It may well be correct, but I don't understand why it follows that he will fall off.
    Because Sanchez hit .344 due to a ridiculously high BABIP. The types of balls he puts in to play do not usually turn in to hits at the rate at which they did for him last year. That is, the things a player does which are predictive of future batting average suggest that he is not going to hit .344 again. Could they be wrong? Of course. And Adrian Beltre could hit 45 homers.

    Basically, there are certain things which are not very predictive of themselves. For example, a pitcher's K/9 ratio is a better predictor of the next seasons ERA than is his past season's ERA. ERA is not a good predictor of ERA. It's counter intuitive, but it's true. Again, it doesn't mean he can't or won't hit for that average. But he's not likely to.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    Red's fan mbgrayson's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Good points.... Sanchez hit .370 on balls hit in play. The major league average is about .300. I agree that he will almost certainly regress.

    Sanchez's detailed stats are HERE...
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Always Red View Post
    It sounds simplistic, but the best offense is the one who scores the most runs in the end (at the end of the season), no matter how they did it. Likewise, the best "defense" (which includes pitching and glovework) is the one who gives up the least.
    For the most part, that is true.

    However, to REALLY be accurate, you would have to include some measure of run distribuition, variability, and environment. The truly great offenses are the ones that put up big numbers every night, not the ones that mix in a few 20 run outbursts to offset a couple of nights of gooseeggs.

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    Box of Frogs edabbs44's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by mbgrayson View Post
    Good points.... Sanchez hit .370 on balls hit in play. The major league average is about .300. I agree that he will almost certainly regress.

    Sanchez's detailed stats are HERE...
    I find it funny that, when you look at those stat projections from the "experts", they all predict a significantly higher than average BABIP for Sanchez in 2007.

    Bill James: .341
    CHONE: .326
    Marcel: .338
    ZiPS: .329

    How can that be explained? How do you predict luck, if it is truly only luck?

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    Five Tool Fool jojo's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by edabbs44 View Post
    I find it funny that, when you look at those stat projections from the "experts", they all predict a significantly higher than average BABIP for Sanchez in 2007.

    Bill James: .341
    CHONE: .326
    Marcel: .338
    ZiPS: .329

    How can that be explained? How do you predict luck, if it is truly only luck?
    Well its not predicting luck in this context.

    He is projected to have a significantly higher than average BABIP because he is also projected to have a significantly higher than average BA.

    BABIP as a metric is determined by a defined formula. The projection systems predict Freddie's number of hits, HR, AB and K's.... the projected BABIP is then calculated from those projected totals. So basically if he performs to James' projection of 179 hits, 6 hrs, 562 AB and 49 K's then Freddie's BABIP should be .341.

    BABIP in this instance is really just a baseline value so you have to be careful how you interpret it. As with all stats, context is important to consider. It's probably less informative to compare a hitter's BABIP to the league norm than to compare it to his own norm so comparing a projected BABIP to the league really isn't meaningful to me. In the case of a guy like Matthews Jr, it's reasonable to look at his career BABIP and conclude that his spike in performance in '06 was more a matter of being lucky than a product of his skill set.
    "This isnít stats vs scouts - this is stats and scouts working together, building an organization that blends the best of both worlds. This is the blueprint for how a baseball organization should be run. And, whether the baseball men of the 20th century like it or not, this is where baseball is going."---Dave Cameron, U.S.S. Mariner

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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Stats 101: What's fact and what's fiction?

    Not sure where you got those from Edabbs44, but here are those projections from fangraphs.

    2007 Bill James .319
    2007 CHONE .299
    2007 Marcel .313
    2007 ZiPS .306
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.


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