A Sabermetric/English dictionary
May 21, 2007 7 Comments
You’re out with some friends watching a game, either at a bar or at the ballpark. For a while, you’re talking about old times, wondering when your favorite team is gonna trade for a good third baseman, and making fun of your buddy Larry for having to get home early because his wife asked him to take Junior to school the next morning. Then, it happens. Larry turns to Ryan and says, “Hey, Ryan, what was Billy Pilgrim’s VORP last year?”
And so it begins. For the next hour, you know that they’ll be like this, talking about obscure statistics. It’s odd really. Most of what they speak is English, but they throw in terms that to you have no meaning and those seem to be the important parts of the conversation. You guess that WARP3 has something to do with Star Trek or the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but you don’t know why they’d be talking about baseball and Star Trek at the same time.
I never quite realized what we Sabermetricians must sound like to the uninitiated until last August. I was in Moscow, Russia with my wife (she was born there). It was bad enough that I had to watch Walker, Texas Ranger dubbed into Russian(!), which I don’t speak. I could excuse myself for not knowing what was going on there, because it was all in an actual different language. The really fun part came when I joined my wife at the conference she was attending on cell biology, which was being held in English.
Unfortunately, everything I know about cell biology can be written on the back of a dime with a crayon, but at least these people spoke English. I listened just happy to hear someone speaking a language I recognized, but to this day, I have no idea what they were actually talking about. I can only presume that the non-Sabermetric speakers out there have the same reaction that I did at the conference… it’s English, but it’s not really intelligible. (That is if they don’t have the same reaction I had when watching Chuck Norris do a spin-kick-ski.) So, as a helpful guide, I give you a (tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek) Sabermetric-to-English dictionary.
Acronym: A way to try to make an incredibly geeky concept sound cool. Usage: His WXRL is 3453.22. Proper response is smiling and nodding.
Baseball Prospectus: You know how you remember the first time you saw a girlie mag? This is sorta the same thing for your Sabermetric friend.
Baseball-Reference.com: And on the eighth day…
Clutch hitting: Grab some popcorn. You’re going to be here a while.
Defense: Something that every Sabermetrician has a system for measuring that he is “working on”.
DIPS: 1) Something in which one places celery or tortilla chips, then eats. 2) An idea that basically absolves pitchers of all guilt for just about anything that happens once the ball is hit.
Fantasy leaguers: These are the little brothers of Sabermetricians. They’re the only people who are geeky enough to understand what you’re doing, or at least who care enough, but they ask annoying things like how many RBI Frank Thomas will have this year. I’m guessing most Sabermetricians actually play fantasy ball, apply their crazy theories to the league and finish third every year. Maybe that’s just me.
GB/FB Ratio: Ball go down / Ball go up.
Hunch: One of the few swear words in the Sabermetric vocabulary. Usage: “Hargrove just manages on hunches.” (see also: “gut instinct”)
Jackson, Shoeless Joe: Footwear deprived player for 1919 “Black Sox” team. Proper response to anything involving this is a sigh, and a wistful reminiscence on the collapse of character in America. Usually used in conjunction with “win expectancy.”
James, Bill: The name at which every knee must bow. Imagine saying being at a Star Trek convention and saying, “Hey, William Shatner is over there” to someone dressed as a Klingon. Same basic idea.
LOOGY: It’s not nearly as gross as it sounds. Left-handed One Out GuY. He’s the guy in the bullpen who’s been around entirely too long because he has a left arm and isn’t afraid to use it. See Schoenweis, Scott.
Morgan, Joe: 1) One of the most undervalued baseball players of the modern era, as recognized by the Sabermetrically enlightened. 2) One of the worst (i.e. Sabermetrically un-enlightened) announcers of the modern era.
OPS: Depending on whom you ask, either the greatest new-age baseball statistic ever coined or a vague hackish moderate improvement over stats like batting average. Arguing OPS with a Sabermetrician is like arguing about abortion. It doesn’t matter what you say, they ain’t changing their mind.
Park/league/era adjustment: Suppose that you had been born 20 years earlier than you were, in Kazakhstan. What would life have been like? Different, right? Now, suppose Babe Ruth would have been born 70 years later. As a Colorado Rockie.
Pythagorean win percentage: An formula which tells you that despite the fact that another team is piled on top of each other after winning the World Series, your team was actually better this year. And we can prove it. (Gee, that makes me feel better.)
RBI: The dirtiest swear word in the Sabermetric vocabulary.
Replacement level: Here’s the idea. Suppose that you want to dump your girlfriend, because you’re thinking to yourself that you could easily do just as good, if not better. Then again, suppose that you have a fantastic girlfriend, so you make sure you buy her flowers or sign her to a long-term deal because you know that if you broke up, while you could find someone else, but she wouldn’t be nearly as good. Transpose that into baseball.
Retrosheet: Where good Sabermetricians go when they die. Or get off work.
Three True Outcomes: See Kingman, Dave.
VORP: Value Over Replacement Player. Like a lion’s roar summons other lions to the hunt, it is a word used to gather together other Sabermetricians when in a bar. What it actually refers to is immaterial. If you hear it, there will soon be five other guys around speaking Sabermetrics. Run.
Got more to add? Leave ’em in the comments.