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Sabermetrics for Beginners Part II: The Violent Stats

For those of you who have already listened to Episode 6 of the podcast, yes, I know that konnichiwa means “good afternoon,” and not “thank you for listening to our podcast.” Language has never been Thomas’ strong suit, so please forgive him. We felt a shout out to our Japanese listeners was in order after seeing this [1], a Japanese language podcast directory listing our podcast, and about 88.8% of our podcast’s total downloads have come from Japan, so I guess there’s nothing I can say except for “ポッドキャストを聞いてくれてありがとう”, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

I know that we run through links pretty quickly on the podcast, so here are a few of the sites we were talking about:

ZiPS Projections: http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/oracle/discussion/2011_zips_projections_-_san_francisco_giants/ [2]

Triples Alley (Giants blog about Sabermetrics): http://triplesalley.wordpress.com/ [3]

Old Hoss Radbourn (Holds record for single-season highest Wins Above Replacement): http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/radboch01.shtml [4]

In the last blog post and this one, I’m doing what I can to define and contextualize the complicated statistics that we talk about on the podcast. Here are the two more statistical measures, both with more suggestive (and violent) names:

Walks plus Hits Per Inning Pitched (WHIP):

I’ll go with the simpler stat first, because WAR will take some explanation. WHIP is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a measure of the average number of base runners that a pitcher gives up per inning through these two actions. Lower is better.

WHIP = (Walks + Hits) / Innings Pitched

This stat can be useful for describing a little better a pitchers tendency to allow people on base, which wouldn’t show up in their ERA if they’re just good at getting out of trouble. Kirk Rueter, for instance, had a legitimately good career as a starting pitcher despite having a high walk rate and a low strikeout rate, and had a poor career WHIP of 1.394. It helped that Rueter was a sure-handed fielder, and pretty damn lucky, and personally turned 54 double plays to help keep himself out of trouble, and finished his career with a respectable 4.27 ERA.

By looking at Rueter’s WHIP, and his 70.9% Left-on-Base Percentage (LOB), you can see that he was a pitcher who would let guys on, but often got out of trouble. Cliff Lee, for contrast, has a career 1.26 WHIP with a 71.8% LOB, so he allows fewer base runners.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR):

This stat has become an all-encompassing measure of a single player’s contribution to his team’s performance. This number is derived by comparing that player’s performance to that of a generic “replacement player,” and is made up of that man’s playing on offense (oWAR) and his defense (dWAR). You’ll also see their offensive and defensive contributions broken down in terms of “runs” (Runs Above Replacement), which is then converted into games at 10 runs per game.

Keep in mind, these “runs” are not the same as the kind of runs that a player gets by scoring in a game, and just because a player gets a game-winning hit, they don’t get a “win.” These “runs” and “wins” are just a measuring system to describe how well somebody is playing, and have the unfortunate name of something that already exists in the game of baseball. If it makes more sense to you, instead of Runs Above Replacement we can just call them “points,” or “widgets,” or “cups of coffee above replacement” (COCAR), or really anything that would separate it from the other “runs” stat. But I digress…

In addition to offense and defense, players accumulate value with more playing time (“Replacement Runs”), and get an adjustment based on what position they play, as certain stats that would be impressive for a catcher or a shortstop would not be as impressive for a first baseman or a designated hitter, as those hitter-oriented positions are expected to produce more. Fangraphs.com lists the positional adjustments as:

+12.5 for C, +7.5 for SS, +2.5 for 2B/3B/CF, -7.5 for RF/LF, -12.5 for 1B, -17.5 for DH.

Confused yet? Yeah, me too. Let’s look at an example. In the 2009 season Pablo Sandoval added 35.0 RAR with his bat, and “added” -3.4 RAR with his shoddy defense. He played almost every day (153 games), which gives him a Replacement value of 21.1 RAR. He played 120 games at 3B, 26 games at 1B, and 3 underwhelming games as catcher, which serendipitously makes his positional adjustment add up to exactly zero, oddly. So let’s take a look:

Runs Above Replacement (RAR) = Offense + Defense + Replacement + Positional

RAR = 35.0 + (-3.4) + 21.1 + 0.0 = 52.7

Then we convert that to Wins, at 10 RAR/Win, and round to the nearest tenth:

WAR = 52.7/10 = 5.3

And there you have it. Not particularly surprisingly, Sandoval was the Giants’ most valuable hitter [5], and second-most-valuable player overall [6], behind only Tim Lincecum (8.2 WAR), who also had a pretty good year.

There are differing opinions and formulas for generating WAR, so I’m just going with Fangraphs. Baseball-reference.com has a different formula, which seems to give lower numbers of WAR to everyone, so I’m not sure what they do differently.

Fangraphs also assigns a dollar amount to WAR [7], which tells you how much money a player was worth, and is based on a $/WAR value that gets adjusted every year. The numbers for the past couple of years:

2002 – $2.6m / win
2003 – $2.8m / win
2004 – $3.1m / win
2005 – $3.4m / win
2006 – $3.7m / win
2007 – $4.1m / win
2008 – $4.5m / win

I’m not sure what the numbers are for 2009 or 2010, but it’ll only be increasing. Kind of makes you appreciate Sandoval’s 5.3 WAR season while being paid $400K, or Aubrey Huff’s $3 million, 5.7 WAR season. Or amazingly, Tim Lincecum’s 8.2 WAR 2009 season, when he earned $650K but pitched worthy of $36.9 million.

I hope these help explain some of what we’re talking about. If you have any questions, or anything to add, please comment or email and let me know.

Go Giants!

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