For some, baseball is little more than a diversion, something to switch on at 7 p.m. while you wait for your delivery guy to bring over that order of fried chicken.
But for the rest of us, maybe we don't like fried chicken. (Relax—it's a metaphor. You know, for people who aren't obsessed with baseball.)
We love baseball. We eat it up, from the moment we wake up in the morning and realize we've accidentally calculated Albert Pujols' OPS in our sleep, to the precise instant we close our eyes again at night, with visions of October glory swirling through our brains.
If you're with me in the latter group, you've probably developed (either over time, or in a sudden rush of Mark Zuckerberg-like intensity) a healthy appreciation for statistics by now.
And by "healthy appreciation," I mean you're located somewhere on the spectrum between the guy who just figured out what a fielding percentage is and that creepy nerd next door who dresses up as Darth VORP for Halloween.
(It wasn't my idea.)
Point being, Opening Day 2011 is just around the corner and it's high time you brushed up on the relevant data. So where will you go to find up-to-date, in-depth stats to not only wow your fellow fans with esoteric knowledge but also forever preclude you from becoming anything close to dating material?
In no particular order, here are some of my favorite sites for baseball stats nerds...
Any discussion of baseball stats that doesn't include Baseball-Reference.com is akin to a reminiscence on Michael Jackson without a few glorious seconds devoted to moonwalking. This just can't be allowed to happen.
In addition to the standard array of stats (AB, H, HR, K, BB, etc.), B-R contains enough other tools and numbers-crunching applications to impress anyone not named Bill James or Eric M. Van.
(Do those names mean anything to you? They should.)
The site allows you to search for specific hitting/pitching streaks; view head-to-head batter vs. pitcher numbers; select a listing of outcomes by inning (e.g. "Team X's record when leading after seven innings is..."); connect any two players in MLB history, Kevin Bacon style; find any trades made on a particular date; sort through every game result from 1901 onwards; calculate the percentage of left- and right-handed players for a certain year and otherwise manipulate a thousand other niche or obscure factoids.
Basically, if you mosey your way on over to this site and reemerge into civilized society within two or three hours (days? weeks?), you may be following the wrong sport.
This site requires a bit more time and technical know-how, but the rewards make it all worthwhile. First, you have to go to the site and download the Lahman Database, which contains all Major League Baseball statistics in history...for free. (You should really donate, though...the guy does great work.)
The data can be downloaded in either MS Access or CSV (comma-separated values) format. Once it's downloaded, the file can be manipulated by running SQL queries to isolate relevant data points, which opens up a whole host of possibilities.
(If you don't have any SQL experience, have no fear. It is a remarkably easy syntax to pick up, and you can learn a lot more about it here.)
You can search, for example, for all pitchers with at least 10 wins and 10 saves in a season, or all fielders who committed five or more errors at multiple positions in a single year. There's nothing holding you back other than your own adroitness at concocting mind-numbing SQL queries, so...have at it!
Ever wonder where the term "sabermetrics" originated? Wonder no longer.
The Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR, has so brilliantly pioneered the field of advanced baseball data gathering and analysis that the organization's name was itself incorporated into the term that describes such methods: sabermetrics.
Although the site is somewhat rudimentary, there are still a variety of activities to choose from within its contents. You can sign up to become a member of the organization and conduct some SABR-rattling (I know, I'm sorry) of your own; check out the research section, which includes articles on "baseball and the arts," the Black Sox scandal, the Negro Leagues, etc.; peruse the online magazine and bulletins; and more.
There's nothing quite like hanging out virtually with a bunch of baseball nerds. I don't know what others might think, but I'm going to go Charlie Sheen and declare that this site is, quite simply, all about "winning!"
If you can't get enough of rows and rows of data but the thought of typing in SQL sends you running for the nearest exit, this site is for you.
Lee Sinins, accessing essentially the same breadth of data as Sean Lahman's database at baseball1.com, sells his own statistical research product on Baseball-Encyclopedia.com.
The main difference between Sinins' product and Lahman's is that, unlike in the latter case, Sinins' encyclopedia includes a program that does all the hard coding and querying work for you. With Baseball-Encycolpedia, you only have to deal with a few notches and levers on his convenient graphical user interface in order to figure out, say, how much better than the league average Nomar Garciaparra was in 2000.
(Answer: way, way better.)
One further advantage of the Baseball Encyclopedia is that, by paying slightly more, you can download daily stats updates so you can follow all the numerical action as the season progresses. (Lahman's database is only downloadable at the conclusion of each season.)
This encyclopedia is one of the best ways for a stats hobbyist to gain some serious street cred. That is, if you're lucky enough to live on a street full of people who understand that Win Shares have nothing to do with the stock market.
Didn't think I would ever get to this site, did you? Of course I would.
(Quick aside: Who remembers back in the day when every MLB team's website was independently designed and had no connection or thematic similarities to any other one?
Initially, I lamented the loss of individuality as MLB enforced a common layout across all sites, but over time, as MLB.com and its network of team sites became a leviathan in their own right, I was forced to admit my error and concede.
Ah, the young and innocent days of the Internet.)
Anyway, MLB.com's stats page is formidable on its own merits. You can cycle through dozens of metrics by player, team or league; check out head-to-head numbers; follow the stats of the top rookies in baseball and even take a peek at Winter League numbers.
Now that's cool.
Score another one for the "Well, duh" department. They're not called "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" for nothing.
(They're called that because that's what their marketing department decided on, obviously.)
ESPN.com has all the basic stats you'll need to catch up on the numbers before trash-talking your least-favorite friend (who is, inevitably, a Yankees fan).
It may not be enough for those of you who've memorized pi to the 153rd digit (who, me?), but it's certainly a user-friendly interface that has the added bonus of providing fantasy baseball tips on each player's page.
Obviously, this list only covers some of the major sites, and it's biased towards the ones I like the best. There is a wealth of additional statistical resources available all over the Internet—just Google "baseball statistics" if these sites aren't cutting it for you.
And if there's a site you love that I've missed, let me know in the comments! I'm always up for finding more ways to stare at baseball numbers until my contact lenses become permanent fixtures in my eyes.
Thanks for reading!