Major League Baseball (MLB) is a game of numbers, and we are inundated with new “stats” every day. But not all stats are created equal…
MLB, more so than any other sport, is a game obsessed with numbers. How many hits, how many home runs, a pitcher’s ERA is the criteria used to gauge a player’s salary, his trade value, whether he qualifies for the Hall of Fame, and so on.
It used to be the first number to look is a hitter’s batting average. A player batting .270 was seen as a good but not exceptional player.
Today, a check MLB 2021 batting averages reveals All-Star players making top-dollar salaries.
Trevor Story (.255), Trey Mancini (.255), Pete Alonso (.257), Nolan Arenado (.269), Freddie Freeman (.270), and Kris Bryant (.271) are all considered major stars in baseball, despite being well below the .300 batting average typically reserved by MLB for All-Star and Fall of Fame consideration.
MLB Stats: Adding Complexity
Yet, when you dig deeper into the same set of numbers, Freeman, for example, jumps for the 52nd best BA in MLB all the way to number 18 in On Base Percentage (OBP).
Similarly, Kris Bryant moves up from 51st place in BA to 29th best in Slugging (SLG).
Conversely, we can find “negative” stats, like GIDP (Grounding Into Double Plays) for the same set of players – a no-no for MLB hitters.
There, we find Trey Mancini with the fifth most (12) among MLB rankings and Nolan Arenado in ninth place, with 11.
Back to the good stuff, and there’s even a stat now that measures the percentage of Hard Hit Balls (Hard %) when a hitter makes contact.
Again, using the same set of players, Freddie Freeman leads the group at 39.5%, but overall he’s only 42nd best in MLB, and from there, you need to go all the way down to #64 to find Trevor Story.
MLB Stats: Confused Enough, Already?
So, are you confused enough already?
I am, and it sure was easier to gauge an MLB player’s value when the almighty batting average ruled, and for the average fan of baseball, it’s still a good stat to use.
For pitchers, go with Earned Run Average (ERA) as opposed to his Won-Lost Record.
For example, the MLB leader in wins so far is Kyle Hendricks with 11, while Jacob deGrom has seven. But when you look at both pitcher’s ERA, Hendricks is only the 42nd best in the league (3.77) while deGrom ranks first at 1.08.
Among several variables, this can mean that Hendricks’ team, the Chicago Cubs, scores a bunch of runs for him when he pitches, while deGrom’s team, the Mets, does not, keeping his total wins down while Hendricks shows more wins.
MLB Numbers: The Best Advice
The best advice, however, I believe comes from MLB Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who succinctly says:
“Throw away the numbers and let your eyes tell you everything you need to know.”– John Smoltz
Even a novice fan can appreciate the athleticism of an MLB player making a great play in the field, just as they can hear the loud and distinct crack of the bat when a ball is hit for a home run, or the speed of a gifted player stretching a double into a triple.
Numbers have a place in MLB – they always have, and they always will.
Like many fans, I suppose, I can peruse a box score for ten minutes, finding this and that stat that reveals more than hits and errors.
But if I watched the game, it was my eyes that told me Player X was the real star of the game when he moved the runners up to second and third with no outs, allowing his teammate to hit a sacrifice fly to score the winning run.
This, while the box score tells me Player X was 0-4 with two strikeouts.
In theory, baseball is a simple game. We can keep it at that, or we can make it as complex as we want for the abundance of numbers and stats now at hand.
I like simplicity, and I like what John Smoltz says – our eyes can tell us all we need to know.
Here’s What Readers Are Saying…
Terence Hurley A stat would love to see is “clutch hit.” Don’t think it exists. Closest we have is RISP which is useful but if you do it when the team is up or down a lot, might not be clutch. Guess the score of the game would be the criteria. For example, Alonso HR last night, clutch. Lindor’s, while nice, not a clutch hit.
Kenneth Schultz There is nothing wrong with fans going strictly by feel. Just don’t pretend to be an expert when you don’t understand the numbers and only go by feel.