If I were baseball stats king ...
So, I’m getting a lot of questions from Brilliant Readers about what I would do to make mainstream baseball stats less judgmental. Well, OK, they’re not all framed exactly like that. Some of them start with something along the lines of “OK, genius, what would you do if …” or “Yeah, baseball statistics have been around for 100 years, how are YOU going to improve them?” But I think the point remains the same.
So what I’m doing here is working only with mainstream statistics -- the sort you will hear talked about regularly on radio and television broadcasts. I realize that none of my suggestions will ever be embraced, and that’s almost certainly for the best. But, well, since you asked, if I were named baseball stats king, I would do some of these things:
Errors: II would immediately stop using errors the way they’re being used. As it stands now, for batting average and on-base percentage, reached-on-error is currently counted as an out. I loathe that. There was no out recorded. You cannot just make up outs because you believe they should have happened. You cannot credit (or debit) a batter with an out if he did not make an out. It’s terrible bookkeeping.
I personally dislike the error so much, I wouldn’t care if it went the way of the dodo. I think it’s pointless. And I think it does a terrible job of doing the one thing it’s supposed to do: Penalize poor defense. I saw another example of this Wednesday in the Tampa Bay-Texas game. In extra innings, Texas had the super-speedy Elvis Andrus on first base with two outs when Adrian Beltre singled to right. Tampa Bay’s right fielder Wil Myers -- whose average is back at .300 again because he’s been killing the ball lately -- did two terrible defensive things. First he took a bizarre, “I shoulda made a left turn in Albuquerque” angle to the ball and so took about three months to get to it. Second, he seemed throughly unaware that Andrus, who had gotten a great jump, was a threat to score from first on the play. It was like the idea never even occurred to him. So he kind of casually threw it to the cutoff man. Andrus did not just score, he scored EASILY. It was a disastrous defensive play. But, guess what? No error.*
*To Myers’ credit, he immediately realized his blunders and when the Rays scored the tying run in the bottom of the inning, Myers looked up at the heavens (or at the roof of Tropicana Field) and mouthed: “Thank God!”
But I realize that the error does serve some purpose for many. It’s familiar. It’s a part of baseball’s language. It connects our game to the past. It’s fairly simple. So here’s what I would do to placate the error-lovers out but still make some sense of the accounting: We still count errors. We count them for the defender. And if a player reaches base on an error it would count as a ROE (Reached On Error) and not as a hit.
BUT … for batting average, it would NOT be recorded as an out. That’s just lunacy. It would count the way a walk counts -- no at-bat. And for on-base percentage, it would credit the batter for getting on base because, um, the batter got on base.
As far as errors that allow runners to gain extra bases, I’ll leave those for another time.
ERA: So then you might ask -- without errors what would I do with Earned Run Average? ERA is actually a funny thing, I hear people lambaste various forms of FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching stats -- because they say you can’t separate pitching from fielding. But really ERA was the first form of FIP. The idea was to try and isolate what the pitcher had control over (earned runs) and what he does not (unearned runs). I think of ERA as a crude but noble statistic and, again, like errors, I realize that ERA connects us to baseball history.
But, personally, I think separating ERA from simple RA is pointless and distracting and often misleading. An unearned run counts just as much as an earned run. I personally would prefer to know a pitchers run average. So that’s what I would do -- I would make RA the statistic of choice rather than ERA. Yes, I realize it’s not quite as romantic to say that Bob Gibson had a 1.45 RA in 1968 (rather than his famous 1.12 ERA) or that this year Clayton Kershaw has a 2.22 RA (rather than his 1.94 ERA). Yes I realize that we have grown used to the rhythms of ERA -- with a sub-3.00 ERA being good, a sub-2.00 ERA being outstanding, a 5.00-plus ERA being dreadful. I still think Run Average tells us more.
I wish RA was more accessible.
Sacrifice flies and sacrifice hits: I would do two things with sacrifices. One, I would count them as outs in batting average and on-base percentage. It’s like the opposite of errors. You can’t just pretend an out wasn’t recorded because you admire the player’s benevolence.
And, anyway, not counting a sacrifice as an out in individual statistics goes against the WHOLE SPIRIT OF SACRIFICE. Sure, I know, sacrifice is supposedly referring to the team sacrificing an out for something else. But I’m sorry, we hear all the time about how unselfish these bunters and sac-fliers are -- I think they should make PERSONAL sacrifices to their batting average. I mean, sacrifice is in the very title of what they’re doing.
So that’s the first thing: Sacrifices count as outs in batting average on on base percentage. Elvis Andrus is hitting .271 this year? No he isn’t. He’s hitting .262 when you count in his 13 sacrifice hits and six sacrifice flies.
But, the second thing is: I would not only count sacrifices, I would expand their definition. I think anything that accomplishes what sacrifices do should count as sacrifices. A sac bunt moves a runner from first to second, right? Well, to me any batted ball that does that should count as a sacrifice. I’m not interested in guessing at the player’s motivation. If he check swings a runner to second, if he high chops a runner to second, if he squibs or fists or jam-shots a runner to second, I’d count it as a sacrifice hit. Remember, sacrifice hits count as an out. But your contribution to the team is noted for the record.
Sac flies … same thing. Any out-producing RBI would count as a sac fly for me -- we could change the “Sacrifice fly” to “Sacrifice score” or something. I’ve always thought it illogical that a fly ball to the outfield that scores a runner from third is considered a sacrifice but a ground ball that scores a runner when the infield is back does not. It’s the same thing. Any time you score a runner with an out, you get a sacrifice score.
No RBI on double play: Loathe the rule as it is now where batters do not get RBIs when they hit into a double play and the run scores. Did he drive in the run? Yes. That’s the only thing this stat is supposed to be counting. I think the RBI should mind its own business and let double play concerns be dealt with by more capable stats.
Defensive indifference: Loathe it. Get rid of it. If a runner steals a base, he steals a base. I don’t care if the team didn’t try to throw him out. That’s their business. A stolen base is a stolen base.
Reaching on a dropped third strike: I would treat this the same way I would treat errors. No out was recorded so no out should be recorded in batting average. The pitcher should not get credit for the strikeout either -- he didn’t strike the batter out, did he? The batter reached base so he should be credited of reaching base in on-base percentage.
Pitcher wins: Ah, our Brian Kenny section. Much like errors and ERA and so on, I realize that pitcher wins has a connection to baseball history and it has come to represent a common language. I find myself using wins and losses as shorthand to get points across and I think the win is ridiculous. So I understand why people might think Brian’s “Kill The Win” is a bit harsh. But I also find wins to be useless when actually judging a pitcher’s performance, and it is nails-against-a-chalkboard at this point to hear people who should know better try to inject some sort of magical quality to winning pitchers.
Here’s one thing I would do to improve the win -- I would simplify the statistic. I’d get rid of all the goofy pitcher rules and make it simple. If you start a game and the team wins, you get the win. If you start a game and the team loses, you get the loss. That’s it. No more reliever wins. No more no-decisions. The starter -- much like an NFL quarterback -- would have a record based precisely on how the team did.
Would this make the win any more credible as a statistic? Of course not. In some ways it will make the stat LESS credible for a million reasons I’m sure you’ve already come up with -- one example being that you will have pitchers win extra inning games when they were out in the third inning. But we’re already dealing with a silly statistic. What I like about using team wins is that, unlike pitcher wins, it gives me actual information I can use.
Take Max Scherzer. He is 19-3. OK, great, what does that tell me? Almost nothing. Scherzer has made 30 starts. In the 22 games we decided to count, his team won 19 of them. That’s what it tells me. That’s almost nothing.
Now, if you tell me that the Tigers have gone 23-7 in his 30 starts, OK, now that’s actual information. I might not use that information the way you would use it -- I might not use it at all -- but it isn’t bogged down by any judgments. If I say that the Tigers have won 23 of the 30 starts Max Scherzer has made, that’s unfiltered truth. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer’s 19-3 record is just what this silly statistic tells me.
Let me add: Team wins is a very difficult stat to find on the Internet. Best I can tell, the best way to find it is to dig deep into Baseball Reference. And you can’t really sort that information -- I’d like to be able to do that. I wish true pitcher wins was more readily accessible.