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The Most Important Baseball Stat?

For years now a war has been brewing among baseball fans and professionals. What's the best tool to evaluate a baseball player's talent? Your gut and eyes, or a computer munching on the latest data.

These two groups, for the most part, make up a club's philosophy when it comes to evaluation. You rarely find a team that does things as a combination, which to the casual observer, would seem to be the smart thing to do.

Sometimes baseball is confusing like that though. By using just a bit of common sense you can reach some rather solid conclusions, which most in the baseball world would scoff at. In fact, if you ever want to find a place that is set in its old ways, resisting change at every corner, baseball would be the sport to look at.

Pariahs such as Billy Beane have begun to change the way we look at baseball and have shed a light on just how many different ways you can play the game (some more effective than others to this point). Nonetheless, I think by looking at some of the techniques teams are using today, you could easily up your managerial skills in games such as MLB 2K8 and MLB 08: The Show.

To me, and many others, On-Base-Percentage is the biggest stat to look at for hitters. As long as a player is not getting an out and is keeping your chances of scoring alive, he is doing a great job. But before you call me a Sabremetrician, let me first say a few other things about Sabremetrics. I think that the system is fairly black and white, because judging a player by one stat and one stat alone is foolish. Plus it would be silly to say there isn't a human element involved. Some guys do not perform well in big game situations or aren't good clubhouse guys.

Although games do not simulate those things well, it is an important element to consider when piecing together a team. Also you can't concentrate on the big picture and say lineups don't matter, because if you don't put yourself in the best position to win every day you'll lose some games you shouldn't have. That little tidbit could cost you a playoff spot.

Quantifying how good a player's OBP is in a baseball game is more than looking at his contact hitting ratings. This will come across as a revelation for some and old hat for others, but you must always take into account all of the ratings when looking for a dynamic offensive player that will deliver. For starters, looking at a guy's avoid strikeouts eye, or whatever other ratings a game throws at you along with a batter's contact hitting is a great start.

Dave Branda, aka BlyGilmore, laid out a great starting foundation for those who plan to build a lineup to face the competition. You want to load up the front end with guys who get on base and the middle with guys who have the power to swing those guys home. A novel concept, I know.

Teams that lack power hitters should just concentrate on getting guys on base and then try to bring them home anyway possible. This can be done a few creative ways: You can load up the front end of your lineup with guys who can get on base; or you could try to support the bad offensive players on your team by giving them a bit of protection in the form of good OBP guys.

But remember, opinions in baseball are a dime a dozen. Everyone has his or her own idea when it comes to running a team. In fact, there will be a ton of people that disagree with my assessments because they have a polar opposite idea. The beauty is, with the right players, you can create your own system that works.

So where does that leave us? Well I'd say I've come to the conclusion that going simply by batting AVG and HRs is a bad idea, and going off OBP when piecing together a team is a much better option.

But what are your opinions when it comes to this volatile topic?


Member Comments
# 1 NYJets @ 03/07/08 12:06 PM
"But before you call me a Sabremetrician, let me first say a few other things about Sabremetrics. I think that the system is fairly black and white, because judging a player by one stat and one stat alone is foolish. Plus it would be silly to say there isn't a human element involved. Some guys do not perform well in big game situations or aren't good clubhouse guys."

Sabremetrics doesn't say you should judge players on one stat alone. And I think most people into stats don't feel that being a good clubhouse guy and intangible stuff like that doesn't exist, just that it is tremendously overvalued.
 
# 2 catcatch22 @ 03/07/08 12:10 PM
What happened to speed? I would put my lineup this way.

Top - Speed
Upper Middle - On base
Lower Middle - Power
Bottom - Speed
 
# 3 JoeRyan33 @ 03/07/08 12:22 PM
If I'm going to use one stat to judge a hitter, it's not any of those in current use. Basically, you must allocate value to each result of a plate appearance. You do that by breaking it down, walks (intentional and unintentional), singles, doubles, triples, home runs. Each has their value to the scoring of a run. I could elaborate on this, but I'd end up writing an article, which I have done many times on this same topic. Good post.
 
# 4 MMChrisS @ 03/07/08 12:50 PM
Only if that top guy is getting on base to use his speed then you have something with speed. However, having guys at the top who get on base (because they see more plate appearances than guys down the lineup) is far more important than speed. Speed would be looked at as a nice bonus, that old tired notion that a speedy guy at the top of the lineup is very much false in my eyes. You want guys that can get on base first and foremost. Of course, like I said in the article there WILL be dissenting opinions to my theory
 
# 5 krishna @ 03/07/08 01:03 PM
Im a bit of a statistics God.

If I had to choose one, I'd choose EqA.

http://shades-of-wrigley.blogspot.com/2008/02/equivalent-average-unmasked.html
 
# 6 krishna @ 03/07/08 01:04 PM
but only looking at traditional stats, some combination of obp and slg is the best way to go. Somewhere around k*obp + slg where 1 < k < 2.
 
# 7 bcruise @ 03/07/08 01:22 PM
In real life I'd agree that OBP is very important, but in video games I think it's a little different. Gamers are generally a lot less patient and don't walk (or the games don't allow them to), which takes a good-sized chunk out of the OBP formula. I'd say power (or statistically Slugging percentage) reigns supreme in a video game environment - a good player can make up for a hitter's other deficiencies simply by making a good swing. But power is one thing they have less control over - a weak-hitting AAAA guy isn't going to hit HR's no matter how good your timing is.

JMO.
 
# 8 Cletus @ 03/07/08 02:05 PM
Well in real life OBP is a good starting point, but having a high OBP guy batting 4th might not be what you want. Sure he will get on base, but what if you need 3 rbi's and there is 3 runners on? Would you rather the guy walk or hit the 3 run homerun? I would take the guy who could hit me a 3 run homer because the more batters you bring up in a clutch situation the more they are destined to fail. The more I think about it the more it is personal and personnel. I would rather have one guy that I trust in to bring in runs than spread it around. Walks are good and fine if you're a 1 or 2 hitter, but sometimes you need a guy to drive in runs. I think RBI's are the most important stat, or more specifically runners left on. It just depends on how you want your lineup and what order they are batting in.
 
# 9 JoeRyan33 @ 03/07/08 02:27 PM
OBP only tells you how much a hitter gets on base. It tells you nothing about how he got there. Any statistic that rates a walk and a home run identically is poor measure of a hitter. You can't walk around the bases, someone has to drive runners in. Also, take a look at your average singles hitter and you'll see the lack of actual run production.

Bank on your extra base hits. Doubles hitters keep rallies alive.

SLG tells you a lot more about a hitter, and correlates better with actual production. But then I prefer to use the raw numbers to make assessments, giving each possible result their own value.

The question becomes, what is the value of a a double, a home run, etc?
 
# 10 Bigtonyclark @ 03/07/08 02:31 PM
Quote:
These two groups, for the most part, make up a club's philosophy when it comes to evaluation. You rarely find a team that does things as a combination, which to the casual observer, would seem to be the smart thing to do.
I do not agree with that all. It'd be hard to find a team in baseball that does not integrate both scouts and statistical analysis. Really hard. Maybe the White Sox.

Also, there is no one single most important statistic, though I do think every conversation about it should begin with OBP and slugging percentage, since they correlate directly with winning. I like to use the slash stats, along with OPS+, EqA, wOBA, and some others. All of those have flaws, like every statistic, but when used in unison, you can really get a good picture of a player's offensive value.

Same goes for pitching. ERA has a lot of flaws most people don't tend to see, but I still like it, especially when looking at a player's career as a whole. If you like ERA, then take it up a notch, and use park-adjusted ERA: ERA+. But, you still can't just look at ERA+ without looking at a pitcher's peripherals. I really don't like ERA when looking at relievers.

There are some really neat things been done with fielding analysis at the moment, too.
 
# 11 JoeRyan33 @ 03/07/08 02:42 PM
Measuring pitchers performance should fall into two main categories:

1. The direct opposite of how one should measure hitters - tendency to give up certain types of hits, equating a value with each hit. This would do a better job of replacing ERA as a measuring tool. It does rely on defense to some degree, which is why #2 is necessary.

2. Strikeout/walk ratio.

Statistics won't tell you everything. Lewis' Moneyball stressed the idea of "not trusting your eyes". I couldn't disagree more with this idea. Baseball is a game of physical competition. One must assess a hitter/pitcher's physical abilities and tendencies in assessing their overall performance.

Don't overlook the importance of good coaching. Again, this flies in the face of the Moneyball theory that you cannot change a player, that they are what they are.
 
# 12 catcatch22 @ 03/07/08 03:23 PM
From Lou Brock to Ricky Henderson to Vince Coleman to Jose Reyes. Speed can change the game because those players when on can turn a single into a triple. They make pitchers stay in the stretch and slow the game down completely making the pitchers focus on them and not the hitter. Lots of Speed in a lineup can kill a pitcher who can't work well in the stretch. Yes they have to get on but when on they change the game. Mariano with Dave Roberts on first stealing second comes to mind in that classic Red Sox - Yankees series where the Yanks choked it up and lost 4 straight.
 
# 13 BlyGilmore @ 03/07/08 03:27 PM
I agree Joe. That's part of the problem i have with strict SABR folks - they completely take the humans out of the equation and instead see everything as numbers.

sure - lineups don't matter if your game plan is completely devoid of any tactics or strategy. but add those and its a different story.

The teams that are going to be successful are the teams that marry the traditional points of view with the SABR points of view. In a lot of ways this is what the Red Sox have done - taking some of the SABR teachings but applying them to more traditional beliefs.

Personally I think that's why for all their success the A's never did much in the playoffs. Their entire team was built almost like a softball team, with players who had no real skills other than being patient, working the count and having some pop in their bats.

Over a season, everything evened out and more times than not this was an advantage. But when you get into the playoffs you don't have the luxury of time. You don't always have the ability to just wait until next inning - sometimes the difference between winning and losing is manufacturing runs.

Take Game 4 in the 2004 ALCS. A strict SABR team wouldn't have won that game. Roberts never would have stolen second because stats tell you its not a safe gamble - he's more likely to score not stealing over time than he is by stealing and risking getting thrown out. Hell - a player like Roberts might not have even been on that team.
 
# 14 Blzer @ 03/07/08 03:37 PM
If OBP is the winner, then Barry Bonds is still by far and large the biggest threat in baseball.
 
# 15 snepp @ 03/07/08 03:41 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by BlyGilmore
I agree Joe. That's part of the problem i have with strict SABR folks - they completely take the humans out of the equation and instead see everything as numbers.
No they don't, this is a stereotype fed largely by old, stubborn, and in many cases closed-minded baseball writers who feel threatened by something they either don't understand, or don't want to put any effort into understanding.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BlyGilmore
Take Game 4 in the 2004 ALCS. A strict SABR team wouldn't have won that game. Roberts never would have stolen second because stats tell you its not a safe gamble - he's more likely to score not stealing over time than he is by stealing and risking getting thrown out. Hell - a player like Roberts might not have even been on that team.
Again, malarkey. Roberts has a career stolen base success rate of 81.2%, well above the generally accepted SABRmetric break even point of 75%. SABRmetrics doesn't frown upon stolen bases, contrary to popular opinion (see previous statement), unless you're unsuccessful at such a rate that you begin costing a team runs.
 
# 16 Sully @ 03/07/08 04:18 PM
I like to think the most important stat in baseball is wins.
 
# 17 Skerik @ 03/07/08 04:22 PM
VORP > all.
 
# 18 Bigtonyclark @ 03/07/08 04:27 PM
Also, to add on the point both snepp and Dkgojackets just made about the Roberts steal, the steal had a very high leverage index and increased the Red Sox's chances of winning significantly. The steal is in fact supported by statistics.So yes, a "strict" SABR would have had Roberts take the steal because of the situation and Roberts' success rate.

That is another misconception about sabremetricians. Most people think they don't support stealing bases, when in fact, we, or they, don't support stupid and illogical base stealing. Most teams do seem to be smarting up about base stealing though, as the majority had a success over 75%...
 
# 19 krishna @ 03/07/08 04:31 PM
obp isnt how often a player gets on base. dont pretend it is.
 
# 20 Stu @ 03/07/08 04:51 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bigtonyclark
That is another misconception about sabremetricians. Most people think they don't support stealing bases, when in fact, we, or they, don't support stupid base stealing. Most teams do seem to be smarting up about base stealing though, as the majority had a success over 75%...
Exactly. The point is that stolen bases (or bunts, or any other in game strategy) have their place, but shouldn't be used when the situation doesn't call for it.

You guys (OS writers) really need to stop telling us what Sabr folks think or don't think. You're really showing off your lack of knowledge on this topic.
 

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