In baseball, you can judge a player's ability in two ways: by their actual playing in a game, or by statistics. While most may prefer to avoid the latter, stats are essential to baseball nonetheless.
However, there is such a thing as a "meaningless" statistic.
Some basic measures used that don't necessarily correspond to ability as much chance are RBI totals, runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, fielding percentage and for pitchers, wins, ERA and saves.
Having said that, many people still use them as primary stats for comparison, but they are all thanks to lineup position and/or chance, and just to show how meaningless they are, sabermetric statistics are better indicators and will be used to show how far off the standard statistics are
By the way, any WAR used is taken from FanGraphs (fWAR), not Baseball-Reference (rWAR).
Throughout this presentation, we'll take a look at some of baseball's best current players at an even closer level and determine whether their statistics are really All-Star caliber. We'll also examine any accolades a player might have won over the course of his career, as well as any discrepancies, and whether said awards were righteously earned compared to other players in a given season.
To keep things consistent, three hitters and three pitchers will be examined.
Let's get crackin'.
Alex Rodriguez has long been revered as one of baseball's best all-around players of the last 15 to 20 years.
He's won three AL MVP awards, has 14 All-Star nods to his credit and has won 10 Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves, both at shortstop.
With a career batting average of .302, 629 home runs, a lifetime OPS of .953 and a career 112.5 WAR, you would think that A-Rod is one of baseball's best players in the game today (track record-wise).
While the awards do show that, they must be examined a bit further.
While the advanced stats prove to be in A-Rod's favor, one must take into account the fact that the man used steroids, tainting his stats and making everyone wonder what, if anything, was legitimate.
Who knows if any of his ability in the majors can be based upon raw talent rather than steroid usage?
Sans use of steroids, A-Rod would be a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but as the players who have come under scrutiny for alleged and/or proven use of steroids become eligible to make the Hall next year, voting percentages for those players will better reflect the chances A-Rod has of making it in.
Last season, Matt Kemp was an outstanding player.
He hit .324 with 126 RBI, hit 39 home runs, stole 40 bases and posted a .985 OPS.
In addition, he had a WAR of 8.7, second only to Jacoby Ellsbury in the majors.
And aside from NL MVP Ryan Braun, whose allegations of PED usage have yet to be resolved, Kemp was clean last season and posted some of the best stats in the majors.
Not so fast. There's no denying that Kemp was great last year, but take a look at some of his more in-depth stats.
His BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls in Play, was extremely high at .380, leading the NL and tying Adrian Gonzalez for the MLB lead. BABIP is one of the stats in baseball based most on chance—if a player hits a liner or ground ball through the hole versus an easy pop-up, the player has a higher chance of reaching base safely.
While Kemp hitting hard-hit balls isn't necessarily a bad thing, this past season was still a bit luckier than his career .352 BABIP.
While his second place finish in the NL MVP voting may be more justified, Kemp's Gold Glove is not.
Fielding percentage isn't as reliable a stat as it used to be, taking into account only assists, putouts and errors. Although Kemp's wasn't bad at .986, a better stat, known as UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), shows that Kemp was well below average at fielding last season—in fact, his UZR/150 last season was -4.7. And yes, that's a negative sign in front of it.
Matt Kemp was one of baseball's best last season, but was last year a fluke?
We'll have to wait and see on that one!
Adrian Gonzalez is a great player, putting up All-Star offensive numbers and Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base.
However, some of his true hitting measures have been greatly overlooked.
In his first season as a member of the Boston Red Sox, Gonzalez hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBI. He posted a .958 OPS and had a 6.6 WAR.
Like Kemp, though, A-Gon's BABIP was high, except to another level. While Kemp has consistently had an excellent BABIP throughout his career, Gonzalez's has only been slightly above average at .322.
Granted, he was hitting at the fortress that is PETCO Park until last season, but whether this new-found BABIP is based upon an advantage at Fenway Park or just sheer luck remains to be seen.
Additionally, Gonzalez's slugging percentage last season was a monster .548. While that's perfectly attainable, advanced metrics proved that it wasn't as good as it looked.
Gonzalez's isolated power (ISO), a stat that subtracts batting average from slugging percentage and removes singles from the equation to determine true extra base power, was .210.
And though that's above the league average of approximately .145, unlike his slugging percentage, which ranked 11th in baseball last year, Gonzalez's ISO didn't even rank in the top 30 of all baseball players last year. Guess he got a lot of his hits on singles, huh?
There is no doubting that Gonzalez is one of baseball's best all-around players today, but by some measures he may have been luckier than he was skillful.
Yes, even the most dominant pitcher in the majors last season had some flaws.
Justin Verlander was a beast last year.
He unanimously won the AL Cy Young Award and took home the AL MVP Award as well, both by posting a 24-5 record with a 2.40 ERA, 250 strikeouts, 0.92 WHIP and 7.0 WAR.
There was little stopping Verlander last year, and he looks to be one of baseball's best pitchers in the coming years.
Nobody's perfect, though. Verlander's ERA was the lowest of his career at 2.40. Realize that in no prior season of the five he had pitched before last year had he posted an ERA of under 3.00.
3.37 was the lowest of his career before last season, a mark he had put up in 2010. While advanced statistics were somewhat friendly to Verlander, they weren't fantastic.
His FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, was 2.99, which would imply that had he had no protection behind him, he would have allowed almost three runs on average, ranking 11th in the category.
Additionally, Verlander's xFIP, or Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, was even higher at 3.12. Unless it's a down year, 3.12 is not a Cy Young-worthy total when you consider that Roy Halladay's was 2.71, Cliff Lee's was 2.68 and Clayton Kershaw's was 2.84.
Verlander's BABIP was also an astoundingly low .236, which was second only to AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. Lastly, getting even more precise, Verlander's tERA (True Runs Allowed) was 3.09 and his SIERA, or Skill-Interactive ERA, was 2.99 (both of which did rank fifth in baseball).
Justin Verlander's stats still rank among the top in baseball, and there's no questioning who else was deserving of the AL Cy Young Award last year. But with Verlander, some of the more in-depth analysis was ignored, and his numbers weren't perhaps as good as they looked at first glance.
Who said every slide had to discuss mediocrity?
Felix Hernandez, winner of the 2010 AL Cy Young Award, is one of baseball's most dominant pitchers in recent years.
Although he was only a game above .500 in his Cy Young season, last year he wasn't as fortunate with the wins and losses, going 14-14.
He also had 222 strikeouts, a 3.47 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP and a 5.5 WAR.
King Felix may have had flashier numbers last year, but according to advanced stats, they were actually about the same this season.
Yes, his ERA jumped over a point, but his FIP in 2010 was 3.04 and was just 3.14 this past season. As for his xFIP, the margin of change was even less, going from 3.14 to 3.15. Talk about unlucky,
In dealing with BABIP, it came back down to Earth a bit for Hernandez. After having a .263 BABIP in 2010, it was .307 last year, which is closer to his .297 career total.
Then there's tERA, which wasn't as generous to King Felix; the change from 2010 to 2011 was 2.93 to 3.34. Finally, there's SIERA, which like xFIP barely changed at all from two years ago to this past, going from 3.20 to 3.22.
King Felix has the terrible misfortune of being the ace on a team that can't put up runs to support him. With the lowest offensive production in most categories this past season, the Seattle Mariners have work to do if they want to win, and acquiring Jesus Montero is a good move for them.
But without Michael Pineda behind him, Hernandez will be alone at the top of the rotation once again. Can he take the pressure?
Back to the norm of the slideshow here for C.J. Wilson.
Wilson, the ace of the Texas Rangers' pitching staff last year following the departure of Cliff Lee, fared pretty well in his contract year.
In just his second year as a starting pitcher, Wilson went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA, 206 strikeouts, a 1.19 WHIP and a 5.9 WAR.
It earned Wilson his first All-Star nod thanks to his then-manager Ron Washington, who managed the American League at last year's All Star Game.
While Wilson was a good pitcher last season, he was not as dominant as his ERA suggests.
His FIP last year was 3.24 and his xFIP was 3.41. As for his tERA and SIERA, they came in at 3.75 and 3.44, respectively. And then there's his BABIP, which was right on cue with his career total of .287.
Whether or not Wilson will be effective in the Los Angeles Angels rotation is the biggest question, but behind Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, and in front of Ervin Santana, their staff isn't one to mess with.
Speaking of Weaver, his sabermetric numbers were even worse than those of Wilson. Believe it or not, Weaver, despite posting a 2.41 ERA and 5.8 WAR last year, had a FIP of 3.20, xFIP of 3.80, tERA of 3.21, and SIERA of 3.67.
How did he fare so well last year with these numbers suggesting otherwise? Well, Weaver's BABIP was good to him at .250 last year, which gave him some comfort room. Perhaps these numbers were inflated due to Weaver's losing streak after going 6-0 to start last season?
Who knows? But one thing's for sure: even if Wilson—or Weaver, for that matter—falters, there's insurance for him in the rest of the rotation.
Hope he's worth the $77.5 million he's getting paid over the next five years.