Definitions

Sabermetrics

Sabermetrics

[sey-ber-me-triks]

Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics. The term is derived from the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research. It was coined by Bill James, who was among its first proponents and has long been its most prominent and public advocate.

From David Grabiner's Sabermetric Manifesto:

Bill James defined sabermetrics as "the search for objective knowledge about baseball." Thus, sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as "which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team's offense?" or "How many home runs will Ken Griffey, Jr. hit next year?" It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as "Who is your favorite player?

It may, however, attempt to settle questions such as "Was Willie Mays faster than Mickey Mantle?" by establishing several possible parameters for examining speed in objective studies (how many triples each man hit, how many bases each man stole, how many times was he caught stealing) and then reaching a tentative conclusion on the basis of these individual studies.

Sabermetricians frequently call into question traditional measures of baseball skill. For instance, batting average is generally considered by them to be a statistic of limited usefulness because it turns out to be a poor predictor of a team's ability to score runs. A more typical sabermetric reasoning would say that runs win ballgames, and that therefore a good measure of a player's worth is his ability to help his team score more runs than the opposing team. In particular, they tend to emphasize on base percentage.

Accordingly, sabermetric measures—such as Bill James's runs created and win shares or Pete Palmer's total player rating—are usually phrased in terms of either runs or team wins; a truly outstanding player, for example, might be described as being worth 54 runs more than an average player at the same position over the course of a full season.

Sabermetrics is concerned both with determining the value of a player in past seasons and with trying to predict the value of a player in the future. While many areas of study are still in development, it has yielded a number of interesting insights into the game of baseball and in the area of performance measurement.

Some sabermetric measurements have entered mainstream baseball usage, especially OPS (on-base plus slugging) as well as WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched).

Examples of sabermetric measurements

Major proponents of sabermetrics (alphabetically arranged)

Billy Beane has been the general manager of the Oakland Athletics since 1997. Although not a public proponent of sabermetrics, it has been widely noted that Beane has steered the team during his tenure according to sabermetric principles. Since the Athletics have lower revenues and are considered a small market team, Beane's use of sabermetrics to capitalize on what are perceived to be undervalued talents is sometimes credited with keeping the A's competitive with larger market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.

Before the Oakland Athletics pioneered sabermetrics in action, rigorous statistical analysis of potential player performance was rare. In 2003, Michael Lewis published Moneyball about Billy Beane's use of a more quantitative approach. This chronicle of Beane's success at Oakland became a classic. The technique is based on skill measurement, estimates the future value of the skills, and especially on the orchestration of the skills into a successful organization.

By the late 2000s, "Sabermetric" thinking had become pervasive. In real sports, in fantasy sports, and indeed, in almost every economic activity, Sabermetrics has fostered a huge appetite for better methods. Finding efficient ways of meeting goals, or, "Winning" invigorating interest in applied statistical analysis.

Don Daglow and Eddie Dombrower are baseball simulation game designers whose sabermetrics-based games have introduced "new statistics" to expanded audiences. They are best known for Intellivision World Series Baseball (1983) and Earl Weaver Baseball (1987). Daglow also designed Baseball (1971), Tony La Russa Baseball (1991) and Old Time Baseball (1995).

Paul DePodesta was a key figure in Michael Lewis' book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. It was in this book that sabermetric baseball analysis was thrust into the mainstream. At the age of 31, he was named general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers on February 16, 2004 making him the fourth-youngest person to be named general manager in baseball history. On June 30, 2006, DePodesta was hired as the special assistant of baseball operations for the San Diego Padres.

Theo Epstein is general manager of the Boston Red Sox. He is the first GM of a large market team to utilize principles of sabermetrics. He has hired sabermetricians Bill James and Eric Van to work for the Red Sox.

Bill James is widely considered the father of sabermetrics due to his extensive series of books, although a number of less well known SABR researchers in the early 1970s provided a foundation for his work. He began publishing his Baseball Abstracts in 1977 to study some questions about baseball he found interesting, and their eclectic mix of essays based on new kinds of statistics soon became popular with a generation of thinking baseball fans. He discontinued the Abstracts after the 1988 edition, but continued to be active in the field. His two Historical Baseball Abstract editions and Win Shares book have continued to advance the field of sabermetrics, 25 years after he began. In 2002 James was hired as a special advisor to the Boston Red Sox.

Max Kellerman co-hosts Kellerman and Kenney on 1050 ESPN Radio (WEPN), from New York (also broadcast on XM). Kellerman is a very vocal proponent of sabermetrics, using concepts from the field quite frequently on the show. He has also hosted many practicing sabermetricians on the show.

Sean Lahman created a database of baseball statistics from existing sources and in the mid-1990s made it available for free download on the Internet. For the first time, this gave everyone access to the statistical data in electronic form, fostering new research and leading to innovation like Sean Forman's Baseball-Reference website. Lahman was also contributing editor for three editions of Total Baseball and four editions of the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia.

Voros McCracken developed a system called Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) to evaluate a pitcher based purely on his ability. It recognizes that a pitcher's ratio of strikeouts is much more than a trivial statistic and is the only true way a pitcher can control the play's outcome, independent of his defense (as the name would indicate.)

Rob Neyer is a columnist for ESPN's web site who has espoused sabermetrics since the mid-1980s, when he was an assistant to Bill James. He has authored or co-authored several books about baseball, and his ESPN website page focuses on sabermetric methods for looking at baseball players' and teams' performance.

Ron Shandler, author of Baseball Forecaster, an annual publication focused on applying sabermetrics to fantasy baseball, and founder of Baseball HQ, a website with the same focus.

David Smith founded Retrosheet in 1989, with the objective of computerizing the box score of every major league baseball game ever played in order to more accurately collect and compare the statistics of the game. Although Smith is most of all a historian, the opportunity to apply sabermetric analysis to the data in order to better understand baseball's history, players and records is the driving motivation behind the all-volunteer project.

Tom Tango, who has as an online presence as TangoTiger, runs the Tango on Baseball sabermetrics website. In particular, he has worked in the area of defense independent pitching statistics. He is co-author (with Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin) of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball (Potomac Books, 2006) (ISBN 1597971294).

John Thorn and Pete Palmer are the authors most often mentioned along with Bill James as having popularized sabermetrics. Thorn is a noted baseball historian, while Palmer is by profession a statistician, although each has deep knowledge in the specialty of the other. They collaborated on two books that present sabermetric statistics and readable, common-sense explanations for why it's worth thinking about them: The Hidden Game of Baseball and the series of baseball encyclopedias called Total Baseball, with David Pietrusza and the late Michael Gershman. They also include the mathematical formulae for the statisticians, but the strength of their books is the accessibility of the statistics for everyday baseball fans. Thorn is a frequent commentator for ESPN, was advisor to the Ken Burns documentary series "Baseball" (1994), and is an advisor to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Thorn, Palmer and Gershman provided the statistics and analysis for the Tony La Russa Baseball series of computer games.

Keith Woolner, creator of VORP, or Value over Replacement Player, is a former writer for sabermetric group/website Baseball Prospectus. He was hired in 2007 by the Cleveland Indians as their Manager of Baseball Research & Analytics. He has two bachelor's degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master's degree from Stanford University.

Craig R. Wright, a statistician for the Texas Rangers, was the first front office employee in Major League Baseball to work under the title "Sabermetrician." He went on to a career as a consultant to several major league teams. He is the primary author (with Tom House) of The Diamond Appraised (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989) (ISBN 0-671-67769-1). That book's later translation into Japanese allowed Wright to add the Hanshin Tigers to his stable of major league clients.

Sabermetric groups

Baseball Prospectus is an annual publication (latest Baseball Prospectus 2008 ISBN 0-452-28903-3) and web site BaseballProspectus.com produced by a group of sabermetricians who originally met over the Internet. Several Baseball Prospectus authors have invented or improved upon widely relied upon sabermetric measures and techniques. The website publishes analytical articles as well as advanced statistics and projections for individuals and teams. This group also publishes other books that use and seek to popularize sabermetric techniques, including Baseball Between the Numbers (2006) (ISBN 0-465-00596-9) and It Ain't Over 'til It's Over (2007) (ISBN 0-465-00285-4). Recently, BP's long-time team member Keith Woolner (known for his development of VORP) was hired as an assistant to the general manager of the Cleveland Indians.

The Hardball Times is a website as well as an annual volume that evaluates the preceding major league season and presents original research articles on various sabermetric topics. The website also publishes original research on baseball. It demonstrates and promotes the use of graphs and charts.

SABR is the Society for American Baseball Research, founded in 1971, and the root of the term sabermetrics. Statistical study, however, is only a small component of SABR members' research, which also focuses on diverse issues including ballparks, the Negro Leagues, rules changes, and the desegregation of baseball as a mirror of American culture.

See also

Footnotes

External links

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