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Let's Talk Analytics!

We’re already getting down to the last week of Spring Training; during the next week we’ll see more players either cut or sent down to the minor league camps as clubs get their Opening Day 25-man rosters configured. Regulars will play more and pitchers will go deeper into games and move towards the “magic” 100-pitch “limit”.

It’s a good time to begin a discussion of what used to be called “Statistics” and is now more properly referred to as “Analytics”. If you read Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” or saw the Brad Pitt movie from last year, you already have a familiarity with these means to evaluate player performance and put together the most effective teams.

One of the top shows on MLB Network is a new one, Brian Kenny’s “Clubhouse Confidential”, which Mr. Kenny characterizes as “The Show for the Thinking Fan.” Indeed, some of those “Thinking Fans” do such because they participate in what is now called “Fantasy Baseball” where knowledge of these metrics can really help separate the winners from the also-rans. It is no coincidence that the beginning of so-called “SABR-metrics” mid-wifed by Bill James and the dawn of what was then called “Rotisserie Leagues” are both traced to the late 1970’s.

While it’s true that players in Fantasy Leagues get much information and can profit from a knowledge of Baseball Analytics in terms of which players they select and when they play them, these measures are even more crucial in the real-world of player salaries and team payrolls. There may still be Front Offices that believe more in “eyes-on” scouting rather than “stat-head” analyses, but when it comes to negotiating contracts and signing free agents, the players and their representatives and the teams and their managements both primarily use these factors in determining the value of any given player.

Web-sites such as Baseball Prospectus and Fan Graphs are constantly refining and creating new metrics to evaluate offense, pitching, and defense (defense is by far the toughest activity to quantify but big strides have been made over the past few years). “Rocket Scientists” who create such sophisticated formulae (many of which are proprietary and not easily grasped) are constantly developing new measures such as “Fielding Independent Pitching” which converts the “three true outcomes” (home runs, walks, and strikeouts) into an ERA-type number. It was independently developed by Tom Tango and Clay Dreslough, in much the same way as Newton and Leibniz came to The Calculus, but of course in not such a world-important meaning. One refinement was the addition of hit batsmen in the walks category. Constants employed in deriving the number vary from league to league and from season to season.

We will continue this discussion on an on-going basis throughout the season.

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