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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
8) making the same point over and over again
9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
10) being annoyed by the existence of this list
11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

The New Stats - They Mean No Harm
2003-02-19 09:03
by Jon Weisman

Calculus killed me. Math was easy until calculus. After that, math became Sanskrit. So I get that there are limits.

But the new baseball stats that are coming into use today - they aren't calculus. So don't be afraid. Give them a chance.

It's often said that no sport depends on numbers for its popularity more than baseball. Numbers like 61, .406 and 1.12 have volumes of meaning that bridge generations.

That said, many baseball fans, writers and professionals are resistant to, if not critical of, any hint of excessive or, dare I say it, newfangled statistical analysis. (By the way: 27 words in that sentence and six commas, for a ratio of 4.50 WPC.) These people can be longtime fans who worry that stats will suck the romance out of the game, or managers who feel that stats can't substitute for human observation. Statisticians are often perceived as a threat to the game itself.

In no way am I a statistician, but I'd like to speak up in their defense - and explain why this matters to Dodger fans.

The Suits and the Dungarees

Everyone will have their limit, based on how much they want to know and how much they want to learn. But it seems to me that baseball is not baseball without numbers. It is a poetic game, to be sure, and a visual one. But fundamentally, you keep score. One team gets more runs than another. Stats help us evaluate who helps their team get more runs than another.

This shouldn't be like a high school war between the jocks and the geeks. Watching a player has its role, and evaluating a player with numbers has its role. They can co-exist.

That said, can we agree that it's okay to use newer, better stats?

Some people are fiercely loyal to the stats they grew up with, and are offended by change. Batting average is cool, but OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) is too much. (Can I get away with a WKRP in Cincinnati reference here? It's a battle between "the suits and the dungarees.")

In the end, we all need clothes.

Look, I take the purist side on many issues, like being anti-DH and anti-wild card, but I don't do so for the sake of being a purist, but because I think the game was better without those changes.

I get that there will always be some magic to a player's batting average, to the idea of trying to hit .400 or even .300 and of avoiding .200, so I don't want to see batting average eliminated from the records.

But it's becoming clearer that magic and poetry are about the only value that the batting average statistic has. People should not be affronted by the idea that measures of performance that are newer and more reliable than batting average have been discovered, such as OPS. People should be encouraged that they can offer more informed explanations about why Eric Karros is no longer a very good player.

In particular, the media should not live in denial.

Pull Up a Chair for OPS

OPS is a relatively new concept. It's second-hand to me now, but I don't think I've been aware of it for more than a few years. Of course, a few years is better than nothing. I revel in the ability OPS has to provide a one-shot indicator of a player's performance. Clearly, it is more effective than batting average, and nimbler than citing separate on-base and slugging percentages. Some media outlets, such as, have come to realize this.

And yet, I'm pretty sure that the next reference to OPS in the Los Angeles Times will be the first.

The Times is the paper of record in Los Angeles, so it does not need to take change lightly. But it should also strive to provide the best analysis of any given subject. Certainly, a minority of its readers are going to be familiar with OPS. But I think if this is the best tool at hand, providing both efficiency and simplicity, then the Times beat writers should learn it and use it.

Same goes for Vin Scully. There's no announcer for whom I have more love or respect. But past achievement does not eliminate the need to adapt - just look at Kevin Brown. There are better tools available today, and I am dying to see Vinny look beyond the old school stuff and use them in his broadcasts.

(It has to be Vin, by the way. If Ross Porter does it, more power to him - but he's so criticized for his reliance on numbers that the citywide resistance may be vitriolic. And if Rick Monday does it, will anyone notice amid his rambling? Even though he has his detractors, Vin has the necessary authority to put OPS into use in Los Angeles.)

My own audience, such as it is, is a mix of people who used OPS before I knew what it was and people who may still be in the dark about it. But you know, you've got to learn sometime. It's not like the Times explains what ERA is every day. If a media outlet uses vocabulary that the reader doesn't understand, I don't see a problem with the reader having to do a little self-education.

Stats are part of the game. Everyone should agree on that. Sure, let Dusty Baker ignore OPS, play a hunch and let Shawon Dunston into a World Series game (and watch him hit a home run). But can a better stat like OPS at least be part of the discussion? I don't see why not.

EqA - Obscurely Wonderful, Like Fernando in 1980

I was gonna say Jack Fimple in 1983, but it turns out his OPS was only .658, and I thought that might be controversial.

Anyway, I'm not saying OPS is not the be-all and end-all.

I'm studying this stuff more, trying to understand all the statistical tools out there. Not as an end to itself, but as a better means to do the evaluation of the Dodgers that I'm trying to do.

In using OPS, I'm ahead of the mainstream curve, but I still trail the cutting-edge curve.

The latest item I'm just now starting to work into my baseball vocabulary is Equivalent Average, or EqA, which appears to be even more useful than OPS.

Baseball Prospectus defines EqA as "a measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. The EqA adjusted for all-time also has a correction for league difficulty."

You can see the advantages right away. OPS doesn't make any of the above corrections. So when I use OPS to compare Shawn Green to a player from another team, like Raul Mondesi -- much less a player from another era, like, oh, Mel Ott, I have to guess at the adjustments that I must make.

Additionally, in a manner that serves to appease or entice the so-called purists, the EqA scale is deliberately set to approximate that of batting average. An average EqA is .260 - which on a gut level, seems like the batting average of an average ballplayer. (Does it hurt the case for EqA if I wish they had picked .250? You know - a simple 1 for 4?)

For now, OPS remains handier because it can be located on many baseball websites and can be calculated very easily. EQA is not nearly as accessible. The only EQA chart I know of is on the Baseball Prospectus site, and it's not comprehensive.

I also have to mention that in this, my first experience writing about EqA, the shift between capital and small letters is tiresome. I hate to be insolent, but can I write EQA instead?

Let's try it. Write me if it bothers you.

In any case (literally), I'm going to start to try to work in EQA into my articles, hoping it provides some use, while acknowledging that it might be another gateway drug for me to an even more obscure if effective stat.

Here are some relevant 2002 EQAs for the Dodgers, and where they ranked in the major leagues within their given position (minimum 502 plate appearances):

.265 Paul Lo Duca (6th among C)
.294 Fred McGriff (14th among 1B)
.262 Eric Karros (21st among 1B)
.242 Mark Grudzielanek (16th among 2B)
.259 Adrian Beltre (15th among 3B)
.292 Alex Cora (in 291 plate appearances - would be 5th among SS)
.201 Cesar Izturis (in 449 PA - would be worse than all 19 SS regulars except Neifi Perez)
.284 Brian Jordan (14th among LF. Barry Bonds was at .457!)
.277 Dave Roberts (in 472 PA - would be 13th among CF)
.289 Marquis Grissom (in 367 PA - would be 11th among CF)
.322 Shawn Green (5th among RF, 21st among all players)

Beltre really does have a ways to go, doesn't he. Good thing he still qualifies as young. Of course, no one on the team is has more ground to cover than Izturis.

You can see the similarity in the EQA scores between Lo Duca and Karros, but the difference as to where they rank in their given positions.

McGriff, Jordan and Grissom were more above-average than I expected. And Cora, for his position, was really high - and it's not like he had an infinitesimal amount of at-bats. With his fielding ability, doesn't it seem strange that he is an underdog for a starting job this year? Or is it that human element that makes it wise to make him a backup? Seriously - I'd like to know.

Barry Bonds was 87 points higher than the next-best major leaguer, Manny Ramirez (.370).

No, I don't need OPS or EQA to tell me Barry Bonds had a better season than anyone else last year. But those stats say it more authoritatively, and are of great use in putting in perspective the mediocrity that is the Dodger lineup. I hope that the Dodgers are paying attention. Better stats might have helped prevent some of the horrible decisions made in recent years. Tom Goodwin - hello?

And though I hate to mention football as a role model, that sport has been using a complicated statistical formula for ranking quarterbacks for about 25 years. No one seems to mind.

Everyone who is a baseball fan should embrace OPS, if not EQA. They're great fun and easy to spell!

I wish I had Vin's number.

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