By Jordan Ikeda
Rafu Sports Editor
For those who routinely read J-Slanted, especially the baseball columns, you have undoubtedly noticed all of the little acronyms I put in there representing stats of which you may or may not have ever heard. I routinely use OBP, OPS, WHIP and ERA. This past week, I tossed in a curveball by referencing something called zone rating.
Now, I realize that a great many of you out in readerland have been watching baseball for a lot longer than I’ve been alive. You have seen America’s favorite pastime evolve from dead ball to steroids-infused power ball to moneyball. From puffy pants tucked into high socks to Jeter-tight pants with no socks, from Dodgers in Brooklyn to Dodgers in Los Angeles, from Jackie to Manny.
What I will be beginning today and hoping to continue throughout the rest of this baseball season, is a brief and hopefully enlightening education into baseball’s sabermetrics or advanced statistics.
Over a decade ago, the statistical revolution began to sweep across the country. Sparked by “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, the timing of advanced stats coincided with the rapid development and expansion of the internet.
Today, advanced stats are so ingrained into the culture of baseball, so vital to how we interpret and analyze the game, that they have made traditional stats like RBI and batting average antiquated relics of the past.
With advanced stats, one is privy to an all-encompassing feel for what exactly happened on the field. And all that’s needed is a few (mostly) simple numerals. That’s the beauty of these new stats, for the most part, they aren’t too difficult to comprehend, and once you do, you think, “Wow, how did I ever understand baseball without them?”
Of course, my father, who played ball for nearly 40 years, will undoubtedly say that actually watching the games is more important than studying stats, that is, if you can’t play the game.
While I agree that you can’t fully understand baseball unless you watch it, I will admit that watching games has become a bit overrated.
Not to say that I don’t, but studying the numbers allows me to verify with cold, hard proof, what my eyes are telling me.
I’m sure a lot of you out there will disagree, so please, write me, email me, call me. Let’s start this discussion in earnest. I’m still learning about the even newer stats like VORP, WAR, BABIP, UZR and I find conversation, or “gentlemen’s argument,” is always the best way to learn. After all, people don’t like to be wrong.
So, let’s get to it.
I’ll start with OPS, since I use it so often, and because it has become one of the best indicators of a player’s overall offensive contribution to a team.
OPS stands for “on-base plus slugging percentage” and is actually two stats put together. On-base percentage (OBP) is a measure of how often a batter reaches base via hits, walks, and hit-by-pitches. Slugging percentage (SLG) is a measure of a player’s power calculated as total bases divided by at-bats.
OPS takes these two stats and puts them together to identify a player’s ability to get on base as well as hit for power in one number that can be compared to everyone else.
Last year, Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer finished first and second respectively in maintaining the highest OPS. Pujols was the NL MVP and Mauer took home the AL MVP.
Of course, there are some flaws with OPS. For example, the fact that SLG is weighed equally with OBP misses the mark since baseball is completely governed by outs. Another flaw is that OPS doesn’t account for stolen bases. A guy who swipes 40 bags and hits 15 doubles, is far more valuable than a guy who hits 30 doubles, but OPS will dictate the latter as a better player.
Case in point is a guy like Ichiro Suzuki, who has averaged 225 hits and 38 stolen bases per season for his career, but whose .812 career OPS would suggest that he is but an average player. Ichiro is one of those weird players that gets hyped up and consequently somewhat overrated by fans, but whose actual output is underrated by numbers like OPS.
So, while there is not one stat that can definitively rate one guy over another, adding together a variety of different sabermetics will help you evaluate the overall value of a player. At the very least, understanding advanced stats will give you a clearer, more decisive perspective on what you see when watching the games.
Check back next week for a continued discussion of sabermetrics.
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Jordan Ikeda is the Rafu sports editor. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo. He can be contacted here.