Double is the new walk
February 28, 2009 2 Comments
Is there a book that has been interpreted in more ways than Moneyball? (Maybe this one.) After its publication, people who didn’t really have a grasp of Sabermetrics or baseball analysis in general read the book (because everyone else was reading it) and didn’t get it. I believe that everyone reading this article, if you’ve ever disclosed your Sabermetric leanings, has had that one friend who said “What’s so great about walks? And why are you so obsessed with Kevin Youkilis?” Philistines!
However, the book did speed up the OBP revolution that is slowly over-taking even mainstream baseball commentary. (Personally, I look forward to the death of batting average.) And therein was (part of) the point. OBP is a better stat than batting average, but everyone paid attention to AVG. What’s the difference between OBP and AVG? Walks. The point behind the book was that Billy Beane recognized this and found value where people weren’t looking. But, something weird started happening. Other teams picked up on the idea. Sportscasters picked up on the idea. Your friends got the idea that this was something worth considering. Talking fluently about OBP showed that you were part of the avant garde crowd. (Frankly, if you use words like avant garde to describe yourself, I reserve the right to smack you.) Your friends didn’t understand why it was so important to know Smith’s OBP, but they knew that there was something cool about it and you knew all about it. (Note: if you are a former college DJ, like me, just replace OBP with MCR. Same basic idea.)
But like any avant garde thing, once too many people know about it, it’s not cool enough to talk about any more, and people move along looking for the next big thing that will be even edgier. If you’re worried that you won’t look enlightened enough just from talking about the importance of walks and OBP (by now everyone’s read Moneyball, even Eric Seidman), then you need to know what the new walk is so that you can sound edgy and have people look up to you as someone whom they don’t fully understand, but must be cool. And no, talking about OPS doesn’t make you cool any more either.
Yep, it’s the end of civilization as we know it. I am giving instructions to people on how to be cool.
So let’s have some candidates for the “new walk.” They should be:
- Easy to understand stats. Nothing that requires too much calculating.
- Easily get-able online.
- Something that no one really talks much about, but is brilliant. You know. Edgy.
And the nominees are:
Doubles: Quick, who led the majors in doubles last year? Don’t peek. You have no idea do you. You know who led it in HR. In the usual stats that we look at, doubles don’t really show up very well. AVG and OBP treat a double like a single (SLG is at least a little nicer), plus a double is often a homerun that just missed clearing the wall, or just missed going out by five feet. In our culture, we don’t like “just missed” so the double gets de-valued. Close only counts in horseshoes and atomic weapons. True, a double is not a homerun, but it’s much better than a single. The problem is that a guy who has a .280 average, but specializes in doubles is a better hitter than the guy who hits .280 and is a singles hitter. Give a quick look to how many doubles (and triples) a player has.
Close lead protection rate: We know. We know. K-Rod saved five million, seven hundred and twenty-two thousand, eight hundred and ninety-three games last year. And that’s nice. He was not the best reliever in baseball last year. I’d even say he wasn’t the best reliever in the American League. K-Rod benefitted from playing on a team built for saves. I’ll spare the whining about how the save rule has ruined baseball (so passe!) What do we really want to know about a reliever. When he was stuck into a tense situation, did he protect the lead? But it really doesn’t matter if it was a save situation or not. This is why the “hold” was created (and spent some time as the edgy way to talk about middle relievers.) Let’s look at the number of times that a pitcher saved a lead or held a lead, and then how many times he could have, but blew the lead. (SV + Hld) / (SV + Hld + BS). Trust me, your friend has never thought of this and you will sound amazingly smart.
tRA: True run average. Or what would happen if Earned Run Average got a clue. Get to know this one. It’s not as easy or intuitive to calculate as some of the other stats. But it’s good… and you’ll be able to “call” guys who are pitching way above their heads (or beneath their true talent) before your friends.
Defense: There once was a time when people didn’t stop to think about defense. Sure, there were guys who were fun to watch in the field, and there was the idea that they might be saving the team a few runs with their glove. Now, there are several different defensive systems to choose from. All the cool people have developed one. Pick your favorite. But understand that a player who is 60 runs above replacement/league average/some arbitrary line I drew in the statistical sand with his bat, but 30 below with his glove is really only a 30 run player. Wonder why Adam Dunn took so long to sign? He does have an outstanding bat. But, he’s a butcher in the field and people now fully realize that. And the market is starting to price those guys more accurately. You don’t even have to know how the numbers are actually calculated. Just know that they exist, and that a good offensive player may be giving back a lot of those runs in the field.
Learn a few of these, and you’re guaranteed to sound smart in front of your friends. And maybe you’ll learn a little.