I always loved the Conan O’Brien skit about the year 2000. At times it even offered a glimpse in to the future of baseball, “In the year 2000, players will play, but umpires will strike leaving baseball games up to the honor system. While cheating rampantly, the Mets will still lose 100 games.”
For some people it probably seems like we’re living in the year 2000. But not the current year 2000, more like the futuristic one we used to imagine back in the 80’s. Gone are the days when writers and sportscasters talked about a player’s batting average, RBI’s and runs scored.
Okay, so maybe that isn’t true, maybe some of them still talk about these outdated statistics—I’m talking to you Joe Morgan—but for many of you, you’ve probably been hearing and reading a lot about wOBA, OPS, WAR, UZR and VORP, wondering what all of these acronyms mean and if VD is that prevalent among professional athletes—it is.
Fear not, there’s no need to turn in to Judge Smails and start drinking Fresca, just a few basics will provide you with what most people need to know and where to go to learn more.
Way back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when mustaches weren’t just for porn stars and Keith Hernandez, Bill James started publishing The Bill James Baseball Abstract. Instead of writing about baseball in terms of a story about what had transpired, James attempted to answer questions about the game using large quantities of data and statistical analysis. For all of my fellow nerds out there, much of this fell under the study of game theory and econometrics, but for everyone else he did nerdy things with numbers.
As James’ theories were proved valuable he gained notoriety and a certain amount of acceptance within baseball. Eventually, James was joined by others who continued to develop advanced metrics that gained greater and greater notoriety and acceptance, while also showing the lack of value in statistics such as RBI’s and Runs Scored because of their dependence on the actions of other players. Consequently, the player who actually drove in or scored runs was the recipient of good fortune from playing on a better team with better players, or just simply being lucky, but not necessarily any better than the player who played on a bad team or was unlucky.
Much of Sabermetrics is rooted in the theory that runs win ball games, thus a batter’s value is rooted in their ability to help his team score runs, while the measure of pitcher or fielder’s ability is to help his team stop the other team from scoring runs. Pretty simple, right?
Here in the year 2000, many people now use some of these statistics to measure a player’s value or performance:
OPS (On-base plus Slugging Percentage) – Because the worst thing towards scoring runs is to make an out, part of a player’s value is rooted in their ability to not make outs, which is measured by OBP. Also, the best thing a player can do is advance himself the greatest number of bases measured in slugging percentage. Combining the two gives a rough estimation of a player’s value.
WAR (Wins Above Replacement) – WAR measures a player’s value to his team above that of a replacement level player in terms of wins.
FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) – Because a pitcher’s ERA is dependent on the park he plays in and the defense that plays behind him he can be the recipient of both good and bad luck. For example, most people would expect a pitcher who plays for Colorado and consequently plays most of their games at Coors Field to have a higher ERA than someone who plays for the Padres at Petco with a better defense. FIP factors these variables and others in to the equation to create FIP in ERA format.
wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) - wOBA uses magic beans and pixie dust to determine a players true OBP, or, in other words, stuff I don’t understand.
UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) – Measures a player’s defensive effectiveness in terms of range, arm strength, and frequency of errors to determine the number of runs saved above a replacement level player.
WHIP (Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched) – Measures the frequency with which a pitcher allows base-runners to reach base, or as I like to call it the “Jonathan Sanchez & Brian Wilson Dancing Between the Raindrops Award.”
Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you’re interested in learning more you can visit sites such as www.fangraphs.com, www.baseball-reference.com, www.hardballtimes.com and www.baseballprospectus.com.
So there you have it, the year 2000 isn’t all that scary. Now be on the lookout for when, “Bandits will attack Queen Elizabeth. To save her life she will have to call on the knights sworn to defend her-Elton John, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney.”