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Looking beyond the stats


June 30, 2017

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While most of America longs for summer, for us sports writers the months of June and July are a bittersweet period.

Unless Major League Baseball is your craft summer is a time to relax, hit the beach and crack a cold one with the boys. However, when the non-MLB journalists get back to work there’s not much to do. Therefore, summertime becomes a period of the doldrums – simply playing a waiting game for preseason football as the offseason drags along.

Coming up with content can be tricky. The news model demands content to be pushed on a daily basis, but content can be hard to come by when all of the players you cover are in the weight room and not on the field. The offseason forces you to get creative, which will be my goal for this month’s edition of Connect.

It may work well or it may be totally disastrous. Either way, if you’re reading this you’ve got nothing better to do at the doctor's office or the mechanic. So strap in reader, hold my hand as we take a deep dive into one of my favorite things in the world: Sabermetrics!

I assume many of you don’t have a clue what Sabermetrics are unless you’ve seen the movie “Moneyball.” Even then, maybe you were too distracted by Brad Pitt’s chiseled face or the fact the fat kid from “Superbad” was playing a serious role alongside him. But since it is baseball season, Sabermetrics are a relevant topic of conversation for any fan wanting to learn more about the game.

Sabermetrics are defined as “the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity.”

“But what about batting average, home runs, and RBI?” the average fan will ask himself. “Aren’t those enough to tell us how well a baseball player swings the bat or throws the ball?”

Simply put, no.

Once upon a time, those stats were enough to satisfy the baseball nerd’s taste for analysis. However, as we grew smarter and statisticians learned how to look at the game from a different angle, stats like batting average started to become less significant because they didn’t tell us the whole story.

Batting average is the percentage to represent how many times a batter records a hit when he appears at the plate. However, we know a hit isn’t the only way a batter can reach base safely. What about walks? Being hit by a pitch? Those get a hitter to first base just as easily as a base hit.

That’s why we now use on-base percentage as opposed to batting average because OBP paints a more colorful picture of how often a batter can reach base. That being said, OBP isn’t a real SABR stat but it is the basis of a starting point in the case of advanced analytics.

 What you’re about to read is going to get very complicated but hopefully at the end, you will look at baseball stats a little differently when you read the Braves season stats on your phone.

There are a couple of statistics you can use for offensive performance to better gauge how a baseball player is hitting – wOBA  and wRC are two of the main SABR stats, and while the formulae can look intimidating they boil down to be simple calculations.

For a player example, let’s grab a Georgia Southern Eagle who was recently drafted into the big leagues back in June. Jordan Wren, a senior right fielder who was taken in the 10th round by the Boston Red Sox, is a perfect example of why you can’t hang all of your evaluation on batting average and RBI.

At first glance, Wren’s batting average of .268 isn’t all that impressive. But as previously mentioned, using batting average is not a fair way to evaluate Wren as a prospect. For starters, his OBP is .383 – an excellent mark for being able to get on base. But it’s Wren’s wOBA and wRC that got him drafted -- not just a high OBP.

Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) is based on the concept that not all ways of arriving on base are created equal. A single isn’t a double, a double isn’t a walk and a walk isn’t a home run. In essence, wOBA aims to give the fan a complete picture of overall offensive performance.

To calculate wOBA, you need all the various things that can happen in one plate appearance – that’s singles, doubles, triples, homers, walks, hit-by-pitches and sacrifice hits. The formula runs as follows:

wOBA = (0.690×uBB + 0.722×HBP + 0.888×1B + 1.271×2B + 1.616×3B +

2.101×HR) / (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)

Whoa! That's a lot of numbers and letters, but this plugs pretty seamlessly into an Excel spreadsheet. For Wren's wOBA, plug in his numbers and this is your result:

0.371 = (0.690×26 + 0.722×12 + 0.888×30 + 1.271×13 + 1.616×3 +

2.101×6) / (194 + 26 – 0 + 3 + 12)   

A .371 wOBA is considered great by statisticians and hopefully, eliminates any confusion as to why Wren was a top-ten round pick. Instead of looking at a bunch of stats like doubles, triples, RBI, OBP and trying to make sense of all of it -- just use wOBA to paint one clear picture instead of a bunch of little ones.

Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is another SABR stat which aims to do the same thing as wOBA but uses runs instead of a percentage to measure value. In essence, how many runs was one player worth to his team last season?

This formula can become a little more tricky because to properly weight the stat you need some big numbers. Before I try to explain it further, here’s the formula for wRC:

wRC = (((wOBA-Lg wOBA)/wOBA Scale)+(Lg R/PA))*PA

To its credit, the formula isn’t as long as the one for wOBA. However I’m sure some of you have already noticed you need wOBA to calculate wRC, but what’s Lg wOBA? That’s the league’s wOBA, yes the combined wOBA of every team in the league – in this case the Sun Belt Conference.

So before you can even start here you need to grab all of the stats for the SBC, which are handily available on their website. The scale for wOBA is a weight to account for park difficulty based on climate, park size and the kind of bats you use. That weight is 1.192, conveniently calculated by the advanced state website Fangraphs.com.  

Then plug in the total runs scored by all 12 SBC teams and the total plate appearances by the SBC and Wren, your final product looks like this:

40 = (((.371-.335)/1.192)+(3818/27178))*235

So Baldwin was worth 40 runs for Georgia Southern last season in 235 plate appearances. Normally for MLB players, you scale for wRC for 600 PA, but since college players normally average around 250 PA 40 wRC is a great number for Wren.

So between a .371 wOBA and 40 wRC, Wren was a great offensive player for Georgia Southern last season – something a layman would have never thought is he just lazily glanced over at Wren’s batting average and thought “.268? Psh, what a scrub.” 


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