To the Sabermetric Know-It-Alls: The One Stat You Don't Know That Matters Most

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To the Sabermetric Know-It-Alls: The One Stat You Don't Know That Matters Most
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In the year 2010, any baseball fan who hasn't heard the term sabermetrics must be living in a cave, and anybody who doesn't buy into the program has to be a dinosaur.

At least, that's what they want you to think.

Bill James, currently of the Boston Red Sox, is thought of as the godfather of using statistical analysis to change the way the game is played and what should be valued.

For years, batting average and RBIs were thought to be key offensive statistics in determining the value of a player--not anymore.

According to "sabermatricians," batting average doesn't necessarily lead to runs, and RBIs are skewed by the amount of baserunners a hitter has the opportunity to knock in and therefore, aren't valid indicators of run production.

This means that everyone since the inception of baseball has been wrong, and Bill James and his 'ilk' are the only ones that really know the keys to baseball success.

Can that be, or are they maybe a little full of themselves?

Anybody that writes an article and doesn't acknowledge the importance of VORP (value over replacement player), WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), WARP (wins above replacement player) etc. is called out as being 'old school' and living in another century. 

Isn't it possible that both worlds can collide and both sides of the argument have some merit?

The objective in a baseball game is to score more runs than your opponent. That is the only way you can win, but how you get there can take different paths.

Former major league baseball player and current minor league New York Mets manager, Wally Backman, has a theory of how baseball should be played and he has had a great deal of success in the minors with his style of play.

It's called "Wallyball," and it's an aggressive style that puts the onus on the other team to make plays to beat you. He constantly calls for hit and runs, stealing bases, and taking the extra base.

He also sometimes orders his batter to bunt the runner over; blasphemous to a true sabermatrician.

Referring to that method of play, Backman said, "To bunt the guy over from second base with no outs, to drive the runner in from third base with less than two outs...to do the little things."

According to sabermetrics, you're not supposed to give up an out. The statistical analysis says that in the long run, you're shooting yourself in the foot and you're not helping your team, but since when does scoring runs not help your team?

That's also been one of the critiques of possible future Chicago Cubs manager Ryne Sandberg. 

Quoting an article from the "Daily Herald' by Barry Rozner, Sandberg is not of the "new school" that makes use of advanced statistics, and often relies on "small ball" giving away outs while sacrificing bunts at odd times— something the stats analysts frown upon.

You have waited long enough, so I'm going to let you in on the secret that the sabermetric fanatics are not aware of.

If you score first in a baseball game, you have a much greater chance of winning that game. So that means you have to do whatever you can to get on the board first.

Of course, 81 times a year you play at home and don't bat first, so you have to depend on your pitcher and defense to keep the other team from scoring.

But what happens to a team that does score first?

Back in 2005, when I was getting into Cubs games as media, I would read the media notes passed out to the scribes taking in the game. They had lots of information and statistics, but there was one stat that really popped out at me.

It was late September and the Cubs were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates that day. The Pirates were their usual 30 games or so below .500, but when they scored first, they were four games over .500.

I thought that was a shocking statistic because of the huge difference when they scored first. 

Recently when the Cubs played the St. Louis Cardinals, the Redbirds were 39-10 when they scored first, and even the woe-begotten Cubs were 37-20 when they got the first run across the plate. 

These stats hold up over a great period of time. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the team that scored first in 2009 won 66.4 percent of the games played. Since 2000, it falls into a 64-67 percent win ratio.

That statistic obviously has far more impact on the game than any stat that has been developed in the past twenty years or so.

Score first and you win!

You put the pressure on the other team, and it changes the way they play and also gives you some confidence.

So, doing whatever it takes to score first including bunting should be the top priority. 

In the history of baseball, I don't believe a team with that kind of winning percentage has failed to make the playoffs.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not completely against using statistics to build a better team, but take it for what it is and accept the fact that it doesn't always work.

Take this year's Seattle Mariners. They surprised everybody last year by coming out of nowhere and finishing better than anyone expected. They were built on defense, which was supposed to be the hot, new way to build your baseball team. 

This year they're entrenched in the AL West basement with a 39-67 record. That's because they forgot that you also have to score in baseball, and as we now see is most important, find a way to score first. 

I've always been a believer in OBP (on-base percentage). I was into WHIP before anybody knew or had a term for it. I always wanted my team to go after the guy who gave up less than one base runner per inning pitched.

A 1.30 WHIP is considered excellent by today's standards. I was always a tough grader.

Admitting to these things probably makes me a closet stats geek.

But I also like the guy who can drive in the runs when he has men on base. There is no negative to that, and anybody would take a player like that on their team.

There are many ways to build a baseball team and just as many ways to win a ballgame. Just make sure you score first.

So for those people out there who because they are students of sabermetrics and think they know more than people that have watched baseball their whole lives, you just got schooled.

 

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