A Key to Winning
Baseball has always been described as a game of numbers. The numbers in baseball are the statistics that go along with each game, such as ERA (Earned Run Average), OBP (On Base Percentage), and winning percentage. Statisticians have taken the statistics from baseball and developed something called sabermetrics. Sabermetrics is the statistical analysis of baseball, and it is used by scouts to determine if players can help their teams win games based on specific statistics. Almost all teams use some sort of sabermetrics while scouting players, but I do not believe it is the most effective way to scout a player. While scouting a player many other things have to be taken into consideration some include; if the player is injury prone, does he get into slumps often, how clutch is he, and can the player have a “short-term memory” meaning will he still be lingering about prior at -bats or will he focus on the task at hand. I believe that experience has as much to do with if a player will help a team win as statistics do.
Teams have had success with sabermetrics, one team being the Boston Red Sox. They have drafted players such as Dustin Pedroia, Clay Bucholtz, Jonathon Papelbon, and Jacoby Ellsbury using sabermetrics (Simmons 1). Ellsbury’s statistics that caught the Red Sox’s organization were fielding percentage ( amount of putouts divided by the amount of total chances the player has) and also on base percentage ( the percentage that the player will get on base per at bat). The two statistics have been a big part of Ellsbury’s game and success in the major league, in his first three years he had on base percentages of .394, .336, and .355 which is great. his fielding percentage has also been a 1.000 (which is perfect) in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. These two statistics have made the Red Sox substantially better having a leadoff hitter that can get on base to be driven in by the power hitters of the lineup, also with a perfect fielding percentage he can go get just about anything in his position which is centerfield, and he has to cover the most ground in the outfield.
One statistic that if a team looks at can really help them win, and that would be the stat RE24. RE24 is defined as “runs above the average by the 24 base/out states,” (Appelman 1). The 24 base/out states are all situations that can happen on a baseball field while up at bat in a given inning. Another way to look at it would be whether there are zero outs and there can be no men on base, a man on first base, there can be a man on second base, a man on third base, men on first and third base, men on first and second , men on second and third base, or bases loaded. Those are eight situations but that was only with one out, there can be one or two outs also so added up all together there are 24 situations. That is just what RE24 means, there is an actual calculation to figure it out too. The RE24 is “the difference in run expectancy (RE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher,” (Appelman 1). RE24 can be considered a “winning statistic” because if the home team has an RE24 percentage greater than the away team the home team is going to win the game. An RE24 of zero is average, so a negative RE24 would be below and a positive RE24 would be above average. RE24 is calculated by every at bat and situation that a pitcher or batter can be in and over all of the situations in the game they are added together to get their RE24 for the whole game. Every game has an RE24 for batters and pitchers, the batters have an opportunity to ruin the pitcher’s percentage, and the pitchers have an opportunity to ruin the batter’s percentage. The pitchers can increase their RE24 by getting out of innings when they have men on base, striking a batter out when there is a runner on third base, getting a batter to ground out when there are runners on second and third base with two outs, or having the bases loaded and getting three consecutive outs without letting up any runs. Some ways batters can increase their RE24 by getting runs in from third base with either a fielder’s choice, a sacrifice fly, or base hit and also just by getting hits when runners are in scoring positions.
One specific example of how important RE24 has been would be the 2003 World Series between the Florida Marlins and New York Yankees. Every game was decided by whichever team had a better RE24. In game one the Marlins defeated the Yankees 3-2, the Marlins had an RE24 of 2.8 while the Yankees had an RE24 of 1.8, the Yankees did not have anyone pitcher over a 1.0 average in this game while the Marlins had two pitchers with a 1.1 average they were Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins’ closer Uguetha Urbina. In game two the Florida Marlins lost to the Yankees by a score of 1-6, the Marlins had an RE24 of -1.7 while the Yankees had an RE24 of 3.8. The Marlins’ starter Mark Redman had an RE24 of -3.3, while Andy Pettitte the Yankees’ pitcher had an RE24 of 3.3. In game three the Marlins lost to the Yankees by a score of 1-6. The Marlins had an RE24 of -1.4 while the Yankees had an RE24 of 3.6. The Marlins’ starter Josh Beckett had an RE24 of 2.4, but the closer Braden Looper had an RE24 of -2.5 which happened in the top of the ninth inning where he gave up four runs on two hits. The Yankees starting pitcher Mike Mussina had an RE24 of 2.6. In game four the Marlins defeated the Yankees by a score of 4-3. The Marlins had an RE24 of 3.1 while the Yankees had an RE24 of 1.6. Contributing to the Marlins’ average were starting pitcher Carl Pavano with an RE24 of 3.1 and closer Braden Looper who had an RE24 of 2.1. In game five the Marlins defeated the Yankees by a score of 6-4. The Marlins had an RE24 of 0.6 while the Yankees had an RE24 of -1.9. In game six the Marlins won the World Series with a score of 2-0. The Marlins had Josh Beckett pitch a complete game shutout and his RE24 was 4.8 while the Yankees had an RE24 of 2.8. In every game the RE24 was an important statistic and directly correlated with who won (“2003 World Series Florida Marlins vs. New York Yankees ” 1)
Sabermetrics are a vital part of baseball, but not all teams have great success with it. While drafting players, getting players in the offseason, and during trades sabermetrics is used, some teams pick players and they do not produce in the major league as they were predicted to. Throughout the major league a system called PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) has been used to project how many wins a team will have based on three factors major-league equivalencies to allow them to use minor-league statistics to project how a player will perform in the major-league. Baseline forecasts which use weighted averages and regression to the mean to produce an estimate of a player’s true talent level, and a career-path adjustment which incorporates information about how comparable players’ statistics changed over time (Swartz 1). PECOTA has projected wins for every team, and it showed that teams were either over or under projected. Three examples of teams that were over projected would be the Pittsburg Pirates , Cleveland Indians, and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Pittsburg Pirates were projected to have 72.4 wins, but actually had 57 wins. The Indians were projected to have 87.2 wins, but actually had 69 wins, and the Arizona Diamondbacks were projected to have 84.4 wins, but they had 65 wins. Three examples of teams that were under projected would be the Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, and Chicago White Sox. The Blue Jays were projected to have 76.4 wins, but actually had 85 wins. The Twins were projected to have 81.0 wins, but actually had 94 wins. The White Sox were projected to have 77.0 wins, but they had 88 wins (Swartz 1). These examples prove that by simply plugging statistics into a computer can give an estimate of how many wins a team may have, but it is not the greatest form of predicting teams’ records.
One thing Sabermetrics cannot predict is players having breakout seasons and having players mature in the major league. One such example of this happening would be Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays. He has played in the minor and major leagues since 2005, but even before his minor league statistics showed him to be a pretty good hitter not hitting very many homeruns, and having a low slugging percentage. Going into the 2010 season that was still being talked about when people discussed the play of Jose Bautista. That is until he had 54 homeruns that year and a slugging percentage of .617, and then in the 2011 season he hit 43 homeruns with a .608 slugging percentage (“Jose Bautista Stats” 1). A player getting so much power and then having back to back great seasons is not seen that often in baseball. PECOTA predicted that Bautista would have 18 homeruns not 54 or 43, another way that sabermetrics cannot project an outcome in baseball.
Since sabermetrics cannot be trusted a hundred percent of the time, how can teams determine players that may be able to help them win a championship? One way is to look in free agency, players in free agency are proven players that have been in the major-league and either their contract has expired , they are looking to become a member of a new team, or they are looking for a new contract and the team is not giving it to them. Free agency is a key part in baseball big name players are taken in free agency every year. Some examples include Jose Reyes who was an all-star for the New York Mets, he was one of their franchise players, but when his contract was up last year the Mets let him go into free agency and he got picked up by the Miami Marlins. Reyes is a threat to steal at anytime, he provides outstanding speed, and his defensive abilities are among the top shortstops in the major-leagues. His is a pickup that will affect the Mets and Marlins. Another notable free agent pickup this year was Albert Pujols, he went from the world champion St. Louis Cardinals to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This acquisition was amazing for the Angels, Pujols on his career has 445 home runs and a career batting average of .328 ( “Albert Pujols Stats” 1). The New York Yankees have been signing great free agent players throughout their franchise history which includes 27 World Series titles. They do also have the highest payroll in the major-league every year, but they use that payroll to get players during the off season and during free agency to help their team contend for a championship every year. A couple of players the Yankees have brought in within the last couple years would be C.C. Sabathia and Curtis Granderson. C.C. Sabathia has proven himself to be an elite pitcher in the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers, he was an all-star with the Indians in 2004 and 2007 (“C.C. Sabathia Stats” 1). The Yankees brought him into their organization to become one of their top starters and he was the best pitcher available in free agency , so they signed him and within the year they signed him they won the World Series which was in 2009. Curtis Granderson was brought in to be a defensive player with the ability to be a good number two hitter. He did that and more when the Yankees brought him in, he plays center field and played for the Detroit Tigers prior to the Yankees. Granderson had a breatkout year in 2011 finishing second in homeruns with 41, he was an all-star, he won the Silver Slugger Award, and the MLB Choice American League Outstanding Player Award (“Curtis Granderson Stats” 1). Free agency is a great aspect of baseball to take advantage of because all the teams have heard of the players that are free agents and have played against them at one point or have seen them play and know how they play.
Players in the major-leagues have all proven themselves worthy talent wise, but when evaluating a player to sign there is also something else to consider, their head. Baseball said to be ninety percent mental and ten percent physical, which I one hundred percent believe is true. There are so many mental aspects of baseball that are overlooked by a fan, announcers, or even major league managers. While playing baseball every pitch a player has to be mentally prepared and know the situations that can possibly happen at every time. If there is a runner on second base and a player is in center field he has to be thinking about if a ground ball is hit to me hard hit the cutoff man to make sure the run does not score and to make sure the batter does not travel to second base if he throws it all the way home. He also has to think about how if a fly ball comes his way he has to go catch it and make sure he is in position to throw to third base in case the runner on second is going to tag up and go to third base. That is one position on the field, and the batter has to do more thinking than that. The batter has to be able to read the seams of a baseball that can either be coming 95 miles per hour or a pitch that is coming in a 75 miles per hour. Tori Hunter who is an all-star center fielder described hitting as “a matter of precision, adjustment and accuracy, and there’s not much room for error. Miss by a half-inch, and you can top the ball or hit it into the ground. You have to have hand-eye coordination to adjust to the ball’s speed, and you have to see the rotation of the ball” (Mihoces 1). Blinking during a pitch will be catastrophic for a batter, while a batter blinks the ball will already be in the catcher’s glove before he can even decide if he wants to swing or not. A batter also has to know his own strike zone and be able to determine if the pitch will be a ball or a strike and if it will be a strike he has to meet the bat with the ball in the sweet spot of the bat which is not easy whatsoever. It is hard enough hitting a ball off of a tee on the sweet spot let alone a 95 mile per hour fastball.
Going along with a player’s mental stability and strength is something that statistics cannot calculate and that is hot and cold streaks. Players go through stretches where they will hit anything and everything a pitcher will throw at them, and at the same time players will go through stretches where they could not hit a beach ball if it was thrown to them. The mind of a baseball player comes into play at this point, while on a cold streak the player is not confident and if they do not believe they will hit the ball they will not be able to. The player can be caught up on prior at bats where he has left runners in scoring position, and that is where mental stability and strength come into play. If a player is able to have a “short term memory” meaning they will not focus on prior at bats and they will just focus on the task at hand that is a great attribute to have because those players are able to manage their cold streaks better. When a player is on a hot streak the player will not be thinking about if he can hit the ball he is thinking where he wants to drive the ball. These two characteristics of players cannot be measured by statistics, and statistics cannot calculate the amount of heart a player has in them either. A player that will run out every ground ball hit just in case the fielder bobbles the ball and they can beat it out for a base hit, or that will sacrifice their body while diving for a ball in the outfield. These attributes of players go overlooked and when teams find players that do have heart and mental stability they are happy they did because when players have these characteristics they rub off in the dugout. When teammates see that players are doing whatever they can to win, they are also going to do whatever they can possibly do to win and that contributes to more wins, and a better team.
Sabermetrics will be in baseball forever, it is not going anywhere. Statistics is a part of baseball and will always be, it is how players are ranked throughout the major-league and how to determine who the best homerun hitters are and who the best pitchers are. Statistics in baseball I feel like are used more for after games and for how years have been if players had good or bad years. I do not think that it is the sole tool to draft or evaluate players. Players should be evaluated by their effort put forward every game, their mental stability, physical abilities, and prior statistics. That would round out drafting players and determining which players would be able to help teams win games, win championships, and build dynasties.
“Albert Pujols Stats.” MLB.com. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
Appelman, David. “Get to Know: RE24.” Web log post. Baseball Statistics and Analysis. 14 Mar. 2008. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.
“C.C. Sabathia Stats” MLB.com. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
“Curtis Granderson Stats” MLB.com. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
“Jose Bautista Stats.” Toronto Blue Jays. 2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.
Mihoces, Gary. “The Hardest: Getting Bat to Meet Ball.” USA Today. Gannett, 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
Swartz, Matt. “Ahead in the Count.” Baseball Prospectus. 03 Sept. 2010. Web. 11 Apr.
“2003 World Series Florida Marlins vs. New York Yankees.” Baseball-Reference.com. Web. 01 Mar. 2012.