Thursday, May 17, 2012

42

What’s in a number? For over twenty years now Bill James and the sabermetric types have shown how numbers create statistics that can give fans and teams more information on which to base their assumptions of how a player/team is or can do in real games. The reference to 42 is the number from the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It is a cult classic with lots of outrageous characters and ideas. When the robot Deep Thought is sent to find the meaning of life the universe and everything. He does as he is told. It takes 7.5 million years, but after all the myriad facts gathered and tremendous computations involved, Deep Thought returns with the answer -- 42. Of course this is the answer, but it is as meaningless as the question. It is impossible to have one single all encompassing number to track down greatness and plug in success.

Will has spoken of the ERA+ and I used the OPS+ last week. I think that these numbers indicate how a player or team is doing relative to others regardless of the different parks played in. One hundred is the average mark for both measurements. They are good ways to compare all players of all time periods. Also, I think these are the best numbers for comparing all teams from both sides of the bat.

The AL East is still jammed up with all the teams scrambling for first and the unlikely Orioles tied with the Rays. So why are they ahead and Red Sox down in fifth? I am looking at whole team numbers. All teams have stars and this year it’s Josh Hamilton and Derek Jeter for career years and personal bests. But it is a team that wins or loses and managers who make lines ups and decisions on pitching. The way the ERA+ falls in the AL East is Orioles- 119, Jays -118, Yankees - 106, Rays- 100 followed by the Sox at 90 --remember 100 is average. The OPS+ is Yankees and Sox -- 115, Rays -- 114, Orioles -- 110 and the Jays -- 88. If you combine these numbers and take an average you get a rough approximation of who is in first, Orioles -- 114.5, Yankees-- 110.5, Rays -- 107, Jays -- 103 and Sox stuck at 102.5. Not actually the way it is, but fairly close for now. Just thinking out loud here.

Maybe we need more numbers, but which ones? All these teams are above average. In the AL Central it is a different matter. In the AL Central I have figured out the same scenario. The current standings are Indians, Tigers, Sox, Royals and Twins. Using my approach all the Central teams are below average. The combined average for ERA+ and OPS+ is as follows: Sox -- 99.5, Indians -- 98.5, Tigers -- 97.5, Royals -- 96, and the Twinkies at 81.
Considering other numbers, the Orioles are out in front in several categories, HRs against -- 40, WHIP -- 1.260, ERA -- 3.49 as well as OPS+. These numbers in combination would suggest their success to date.

One category not discussed is BB and SO. The Sox and the Jays have the worst record with a percentage of 1.98 and 1.78 respectively. Pretty bad since all the other AL East teams are considerably better at striking out batters.

So, which of the numbers are the best to use, which give enough practical information to the fans and the GM and managers? The Sabermetric numbers are starting to be used on a more consistent basis. However, I point out that the miracle of the 2002 Athletics has not materialized in long-term success for them. It did not work out for the Jays either when they had Billy Bean officiant, JP Riccardi. Now that Bill James himself, is in place in Boston, the Sox are in the basement.

The game of baseball is, like all sports, a horse race. You cannot predetermine a win. You can have an educated guess, but happily, all the numbers just do not add up to a certainty of success.

Please tell me which numbers you favor and which give the best information. I like the + numbers as more information is added in. Baseball is a team sport made up of hundreds individual stats. But they all have to boil-down to a number that can lead to a successful campaign or they are useless.

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