Adieu, Ancient Statistics Pt. 3
We have come a long way, and we have learned a lot from Part 1and Part 2of this series. Part Three will cover the pitfalls of the traditional offensive statistics of Batting Average, The RBI, and by association, The Run. We will be examining suitable replacements for these statistics, as well as detailing what it is that makes them suitable as such. We will use our new tools to take a look at whether the Dodgers are getting as much of an upgrade as many fans believe, and we will weigh him against the best hitter in The Far Division. If you want to play catch-up first, as always, please do so.
The Hit and Batting Average
A screaming line drive that finds the seats halfway up the bleachers at Dodger Stadium. A nubber in no-mans land that big, fat Bartolo Colon cannot get to in time. What do these things have in common? They are both a Hit.
This alone illustrates the failure of the Hit to accurately separate luck and success at the plate. But the fact that batting average is totally dependent on the Hit makes it much more troublesome. This is because batting average is still entrenched as the go-to stat of your hometown TV crew. And .300 is still looked to as the cutoff between the best and the rest, in terms of batting prowess. This is all incredibly misleading, given that the cornerstone the stat (the Hit) is cracked.
The RBI and the Run
Perhaps the second most problematic hitting stat, and one that is almost always referred to, in detailing the feats of great hitters, is the Run Batted In. When a batter hits a solo home run he drives himself in, and tallies one. The same value is assigned when a batter grounds out to second base, scoring a runner from third. The first batter created the run all by himself, he crushed a pitch into the seats. The second batter got lucky that there was a runner on third when he came to the plate. His RBI is actually a function of what someone else accomplished (the runner who got himself to third) and vice versa. A runner who reaches on an error and scores on a double, gets credit for a run. He is rewarded, despite failing at his job.
This line of logic can be extended to players who have a lack of RBIs or Runs. If nobody gets on in front of you, or nobody drives you in, there is nothing you can do about it. You can skillfully perform valuable actions all day long, but your team will not score runs. Meanwhile the lucky batter behind the good batters drives in run after run. Obviously if you drive in 100 runs you have to be doing something right, but the point remains.
The RBI, like the The Hit, and rest of the old guard statistics, is a record of what happened, but it does not tell us anything about how valuable a hitter is, and it is far less likely to tell us whether he will again be valuable in the future.
Gonzalez (Mr. Lucky) v. Posey (The One Man Wrecking Crew)
Through Saturday, August 26th Adrian Gonzalez has 89 RBI, and Buster Posey has 80. Adrian Gonzalez is batting .299, Posey .326. Both players are performing at an elite level by both of these measures. But let’s use advanced metrics to drill deeper.
What is valuable about a hit? The batter reaches base, and no out is recorded. But a walk accomplishes the same goal. In fact, so does getting hit by a pitch, which certain batters, like Carlos Quentin can actually own as a repeatable skill. The stat that counts all the ways a hitter achieves this desirable thing, is On Base Percentage. But OBP is limited, too. If you just walk, or just hit singles you don’t produce a lot of runs on your own. The extra base hit and the stolen base are ways of maximizing offensive value.
The stat that counts the aggregate total of your ability to move yourself along the bases with the bat is Slugging Percentage. But what about creating value with your legs, as in the case of stolen bases? A comprehensive stat (the best kind of stat, as mentioned earlier in this series) that measures all of these things, and weights them according to their impact on run scoring, is weighted On Base Average (wOBA). Think of this stat as our metric replacement for Batting Average, where .340 is above average and .400+ is elite.
In 2011 Fangraphs calculated wOBA as follows:
wOBA = (0.69×uBB + 0.72×HBP + 0.89×1B + 1.26×2B + 1.60×3B + 2.08×HR + 0.25×SB -0.50×CS) / PA
A stat that more accurately depicts the amount of runs a player generates on offense (the goal that RBI and Runs try and fails to achieve), is called weighted Runs Created plus (wRC+). It is based on wOBA, but gives us a number of runs, which is a little more tangible and result oriented. The plus just means that it is adjusted relative to league average (league adjusted), and to account for any advantages or disadvantages a player may have in differing venues (park adjusted). A wRC+ of 100 is average. This stat will serve as our metric replacement of Runs, plus RBI.
So let’s follow up on Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Posey, shall we? The two are good to compare, because neither player is very speedy, so we won’t be muddying things up with who might have been stretching more singles into doubles, etc.
Adrian Gonzalez has the greater RBI total, but with his lack of home runs (16) and walks (5.6%) he has managed a .342 OBP, and a .472 SLG, to give him a .347 wOBA, and a 114 wRC+. He ranks above average.
While striking out at nearly the same rate as Gonzalez (Posey: 16%, Gonzalez: 15.6%), but walking over twice as often (11.6%), Posey has managed a .403 OBP. He has outslugged Adrian by .064 points (.536), and has created 40 more runs by wRC+ (154), with an elite wOBA of .398.
Add speed to Posey’s caliber of hitting ability, and you’re talking league leader. Because of his tremendous wheels, Mike Trout has the top wRC+ figure this season, with a 172. Posey ranks 5th, and Gonzalez ranks 60th. Trout also leads the majors in wOBA at .434, while Posey ranks 6th; Gonzalez is buried at 52nd. Taking into account that Los Angeles’ principal first basemen in 2012 (James Loney 70 wRC+/.273 wOBA, and Juan Rivera 69/.271) have put up stunningly similar and severely bad numbers, the Dodgers are still getting a major upgrade at 1B. But don’t let the old guard stats fool you. He is not elite, like he would be if measured by his batting average, which is just .001 off the sacred .300 mark, or by his RBI total, which is the 4th highest in baseball.
The conclusion of this series is still forthcoming. It will feature an examination of the aggregate of all facets of the game, an acknowledgement of the things that advanced metrics cannot do, and a confirmation that the most elite performers in the game, as measured by metrics, are also most dynamic players in the game to watch with our eyes.