Baseball is our most numerical game. Ted Williams .406 average, Joe Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA, these are numbers that every baseball fan knows.
But not all statistics are created equal. Baseball historian Bill James found that only two statistics have any correlation to winning percentage, On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage.
While stats like ERA and Batting Average have taken a back seat to WHIP and OBP, they are still somewhat useful in evaluating a ballplayer.
There are some stats however, that tell us nothing. Here are four such metrics.
In 2004, Mike Cameron committed a career high eight errors. Why? Because that season he was the king of getting his glove on a ball the he had no business even getting to, only to drop it when he got there.
How does this make any sense? Am I supposed to believe that a stiff like Reed Johnson who only had two errors had a better year defensively than Mike Cameron? By getting his glove on some of these balls, he probably kept the batter and any runners on base from advancing as far as they may have, yet he’s punished with an error.
Defense is hard to quantify, but my defensive stat of choice is zone rating. This measures how many plays a player makes that an average fielder at his position doesn’t. To me, this is a much better indicator of a players defensive ability than measuring only the plays he gets his hands on.
So many problems with saves. First, a closer is dependent on his team playing a close game in order to get a save opportunity. Secondly, the number of saves a pitcher gets doesn’t take into account the circumstances, a save in a one run game counts the same as a save in a three run game.
Last season, K-Rod set the single season save record with 62, but he wasn’t even the most successful closer in the AL. Joakim Soria was much more impressive despite the fact that he saved 20 fewer games. Was it his fault that the Royals’ failed to get him as many save opportunities as K-Rod?
I’m much more interested in my closer’s WHIP (walk and hits per innings pitched). This lets me know whether or not my guy is truly lights out.
I love when people talk about a hitter being “a good RBI guy”. Guess what, any good hitter in a good lineup is a good RBI guy. Last season, David Wright had a career high 124 RBI, yet had a career low .243 average with runners in scoring position.
In 2000, Jeff Kent won the NL MVP behind a league-leading 125 RBI. Jeff Kent also led the league in runners stranded that year. His 125 RBI had nothing to do with him being a clutch hitter, he just happened to hit behind Barry Bonds, who was on base all season long.
People far smarter than me are researching whether or not there is such a thing as clutch hitting. Whether some hitters are consistently better with men on base than others. Until these people come up with a definitive yes or no, I’ll choose to ignore any situational hitting statistic.
Whenever I’m asked “how many games do you think (insert pitcher here) will win?” I have to bite my tongue. How the hell am I supposed to know? I can tell you what I think his ERA will be, or his K/BB ratio, but I have no idea how the other 24 guys are going to perform during his starts.
Last year, Brandon Webb was 10th in ERA but first in wins. Am I supposed to believe he should have won the Cy Young because of the win total? Did he somehow magically improve the other guys on the team by just stepping on the mound? Maybe his girlfriend promises to bake the team cookies if the team gets Brandon a win? Why didn’t Anna Benson think of bribing Kris‘ teammates? Kris could have been a 20-game winner!
WHIP, DIP percentage, K/BB ratio, and to a slightly lesser extent ERA, are all more useful to me when evaluating a starting pitcher. Any time you have to factor run support and bullpen into evaluating a starting pitcher, it's bad news.
When measuring a player, it is important to eliminate as little variables as possible. Aside from errors, all of these stats are too dependent on a player’s teammates. Errors are very circumstantial as well. In our most numerical game, it is important that we know which numbers are and are not meaningful. I hope to see these four statistics be de-emphasized.