If you’re like me, you have no clue about all of these new stats that have surfaced now that mathematicians like Bill James have taken such prominence in baseball. For awhile, I couldn’t understand why exactly Bill James has had such a big influence on the game of baseball. Then a couple of books arrived in the mail from Acta Sports, who is always so kind to me in sending me good reading material for my bathroom time. I’d like to take the time in this post to do two things that will hopefully point you in the right direction toward your journey of understanding some of the new baseball statistics.
I know you’re probably like me. You’re probably skeptical that this will turn you into a total stat geek that does nothing but analyze baseball with your calculator rather than your eyes, heart, and mind, but I assure you it won’t. Granted, if you want to go in that direction, I’m sure there is definitely a place for you in baseball. Who knows, you might even be able to make a career out of it. But, you can love statistics, especially some of the ratio stats that are common to SABR guys and still love the game of baseball for everything that it is, including what you hear, see, and smell.
1. The Idiot’s Guide to Sabermetrics
In my quest to find out a little more about some of the news stats available to us on Baseball Reference, I sought out someone far more knowledgeable about the subject than I am. I had a 25 minute conversation with Jeff Sackman, who writes for the Hardball Times, Beyond the Box Score, and Brew Crew Ball. He’s the creator of Minor League Splits as well. He’s very much a jack of all trades and really made the stats that I asked him about very easy for the common fan to use. He provided some explanation to what they measure as well as gave some benchmarks for evaluating using them. To me, that’s always a tough one. I can look at the stats, but I don’t know what they mean. Jeff helped me in that area. We discussed OPS, OPS+, ERA+, VORP, and even mentioned some ways to look at young pitchers beside the current Wins and ERA stats.
If you would like to listen to the show, here is the link to the post. You can play it right on the site.
2. Go get these two books
The first book that I recently read is How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball. It’s a short read, only 144 pages, and is perfect for readers who have a short attention span. The book is broken down into 3 or 4 page essays by some of baseball’s greatest writers and some influential people as well. The book seeks to justify why Bill James could have possibly been named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. When I first saw that list, I was skeptical as to his appearance on it. However, reading the book, I realize a little more why people are so high on the man.
The book takes you through each person’s opinions on how he was influenced by the man. At first, it seemed like it was just one big Bill James lovefest, but then I got to some of the authors that said they hated Bill James until they met the man, and saw how genuine he was. They saw how honest he is about not knowing everything. He’s not afraid to come back and say that he was wrong. Reading that alone was worth the time it took to read the book. It helped me have a lot more respect for his research and his thoughts now that I know he’s constantly trying to improve them. If you’re looking for a good, easy read before the season starts, go pick this one up.
The other book that I read, I wasn’t as high on. It’s not that it was a bad book, because it certainly was not. The reason I didn’t enjoy it as much, was because I felt it was geared for the less stat oriented fan. The book is The New Ballgame: understanding baseball statistics for the common fan. The book addresses some of the following, and this comes directly from the Acta site.
If those are some things that you’re not sure if you understand fully, definitely pick this book up. It’s worth you time.