It seems like one of the favorite things for old fogeys to complain about these days in relation to Major League Baseball is the so-called sabermetrics revolution. Teams are increasingly reliant on analysis of advanced stats to make personnel and game decisions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that executives and coaches of baseball franchises, which are billion-dollar enterprises, would prefer to amass as much information as possible to make these decisions. This is a tough pill to swallow for many traditionalists, and resistance to sabermetrics and analytics is in keeping with the deep vein of anti-intellectualism that runs through North American culture, especially in the United States. Unfortunately, it also leads broadcast analysts, who should be ambassadors for today’s game, to complain about analytics and posit that baseball was better back in the good old days of the 1990s, in the case of ex-player John Smoltz, even though the young talent currently in MLB is among the best that has ever taken the field.
Many fans have a perception that advanced stats and “sabermetrics” are very complicated and nerdy. However, advanced stats are not as fancy as you think! Below you will find a few selected advanced stats that I think are very simple and accessible and worth discussing with your senior citizen friends and/or family, as well as John Smoltz. Digging into these stats may give you some new insights, and even deepen your understanding as to why Mike Trout is MLB’s best player.
OPS+ (On-Base Plus Slugging Plus)
I consider OPS to be a more relevant stat to a player’s offensive production than batting average alone since it takes into consideration how much a player gets on base by any means (OBP) plus how well the player is driving the ball (SLG).
However, I like OPS+ even more because it is very easy to interpret.
According to MLB.com, OPS+ “OPS+ takes a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage and normalizes the number across the entire league. It accounts for external factors like ballparks. It then adjusts so a score of 100 is league average, and 150 is 50 percent better than the league average.”
I am a big fan of the “plus” advanced stats scaled off a number of 100 being average. A player with a number above or below 100 is then above or below league average by a percentage equal to the difference between their rating and 100.
For example, Angels OF and American League MVP Award finalist Mike Trout was the OPS leader in MLB for the 2018 regular season with a total of 1.088. Converted to OPS+, his number is 199, which means he was 99% better than league average.
WRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus)
This advanced stat measures a player’s offensive contributions, adjusting the Runs Created stat for external factors, such as ballparks, to a score of 100 as league average.
Mike Trout also was the MLB leader in WRC+ in 2018 with a score of 191, followed by Red Sox OF Mookie Betts at 185 and Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez with 170, which explains their team’s regular season dominance and eventual World Series win over the Dodgers.
ERA+ (Adjusted Earned Run Average)
This is another “plus” stat that is adjusted to a scale of 100 as league average, this time taking a pitcher’s ERA (earned run average). While an ERA under 3 is generally considered good, it is not quite as good if other pitchers aren’t allowing many runs, either. The pitcher with the best all-time career ERA+ is future Yankees Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera, with a score of 205.
FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching)
This is a stat interpreted similarly to ERA. However, according to MLB.com, “it focuses solely on the events a pitcher has the most control over — strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. It entirely removes results on balls hit into the field of play.” This means FIP shows you how well a pitcher “should” be pitching as opposed to the actual results (ERA). A pitcher with a low FIP and high ERA may have been unlucky, while a pitcher with a high FIP and low ERA probably is benefiting from a good defense.
The 2018 MLB FIP leader was National League Cy Young Award finalist Jacob deGrom of the Mets with 1.99, which is not far above his 2018 ERA of 1.70, which also led MLB.
SIERA (Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average)
SIERA is also interpreted like ERA and like FIP, it seeks to eliminate factors outside the pitcher’s control but unlike FIP, it takes all balls in play into consideration. This allows for determining how well the player pitches to contact and is more predictive of a pitcher’s future performance than ERA.
The MLB leader in SIERA for 2018 is American League Cy Young Award finalist Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros, with a score of 2.63.
I hope you enjoyed this brief foray into the world of MLB advanced stats. If so, please consider supporting the site!