Hey Tigers Fans, You Wanna Be Cool? Use Sabermetrics


Nerdy is the new cool. That’s how things go. Who used computers everyday in the 80’s and early 90’s? Nerds. Now computers are everywhere.

Who was it that invented fantasy baseball and played the game in the face of ridicule until the internet made it so easy to play? Nerds. Now fantasy sports is a billion dollar industry.

Who played dungeons and dragons because they weren’t included in normal social circles? Nerds. Now… well, I guess it’s still only for nerds, but there was a recent episode of Community in which the study group played the game in order to help out the self esteem of a classmate. Could it be gaining popularity? No? OK, bad example.

Sports blogs used to be for the nerdy sports fans, but now everybody reads them because the opinions and analysis are much better than in the mainstream media (anyone interested in another article about trading for Jack Wilson at the deadline? Didn’t think so.)

Anyway, advanced statistics are the “cool” of the future. They’ve been discussed on the internet and in books, but they have been infrequently brought up in newspapers, television, and radio. That, however, is about to change.

ESPN has recently hired Dean Oliver (of basketball statistic fame) as their director of production analytics (it’s a new position). USA Today has the story:

"After the Seattle SuperSonics in 2004 made him the first paid NBA team analytics consultant, Oliver went on to a similar job with the Denver Nuggets— then last month became ESPN’s first director of production analytics.Meaning? He’s supposed to come up with new stats, for various sports, for ESPN."

I’m not sure that he will actually be inventing all of the new statistics that it looks like ESPN will soon be using, why reinvent the wheel, but it looks like he is being charged with making the sure The Worldwide Leader becomes the mainstream leader in advanced metrics (or “sabermetrics” as they’re know in baseball).

If the idea of replacing traditional statistics with saber statistics seems daunting to you, and you have no idea what wOBA, FIP, wRC, or WPA mean with respect to baseball, then here’s an easy way to get started.

Forget about batting average, and instead use on-base percentage. OBP may not seem like a saber stat, because it has been growing in popularity recently, but it really is. It’s much better than batting average in that it tells us something we really want to know.

What does batting average say? It says how often a player gets a hit per at-bat. But what exactly is an at-bat? It’s a subset of plate appearances that really only includes hits and outs, unless, that is, the out is made via sacrifice (and people argue against sabermetrics because they think they’re too convoluted?) Wouldn’t it be much easier to use a stat that uses plate apperances as the base line? OBP really just tells us how often a player doesn’t make an out per plate apperance. It’s actually a much simpler (and more relevant) statistic.

So, evertime you hear someone quote batting average or see it in print, chuckle to yourself, say you don’t really care, and then ask for (or look up) the relevant OBP numbers.

Here’s the 2010 Tigers with their batting averages and on-base percentages listed (sorted by OBP).

Are you willing to make the transition? Are you willing to be cool?

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