Baseball Reflections

DO WE REALLY NEED MORE BASEBALL STATISTICS?

Not very many baseball fans remember Bobby Bragan today. He did not have a very memorable major league career. He had a .240 lifetime batting average and a .282 on-base percentage (back when no one paid attention to OBP) for the Phillies and Dodgers from 1940 to 1948. He went on to become manager of the Pirates, Indians, and Braves. He enjoyed modest success with the Milwaukee Braves from 1963 to 1965 and was the Braves manager when they moved to Atlanta in 1966, where he was fired mid-season. But perhaps Bobby Bragan’s most memorable feat was a quote he made about baseball statistics when he said, “Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket. According to the percentage people, you should be perfectly comfortable.”

Don’t look now, but those “percentage people” are running baseball. Every team has an analytics department relied upon by front office personnel, managers, coaches, and players alike. Once upon a time, one only needed to pay attention to the “Triple Crown” statistics for both hitters (home runs, RBIs, and batting average) and pitchers (wins, strikeouts, and earned run average). But then a bevy of newfangled statistics entered the common lexicon. It became important how often a hitter got on base, hit or not. On-base percentage became paramount, along with OPS, which combined on-base percentage with slugging percentage to reveal a hitter’s overall skill and impact. A pitcher’s wins became obsolete. That’s right, whether a pitcher won a game or not didn’t matter anymore. Quality starts became the rage, and complete games became practically extinct. If you want to blow the mind of any young baseball fan just tell him Catfish Hunter had 30 complete games in 1975. Baseball also turned their statistical hunger to those poor souls who lived between the starting pitcher and the closer. They did not have any statistic they could call their own. No problem. Holds were invented.

But lately it’s gotten completely out of control. Baseball has officially entered the world of acronyms. BABIP, FIP, WHIP, SIERA and ISO are now essential evaluators. Bragan’s “percentage people” have gone berserk with Hard Hit %, Barrel %, BB %, K %, Line Drive %, Ground Ball % and Fly Ball %. They have confused a hitter on a baseball field with a fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier by espousing launch angle and exit velocity. And who can forget when we first heard of all those statistics with the funny little lower-case letter in front of the name like wSB, wRC, wOBA, wRC+, xFIP and xFIP+? Do we really need more baseball statistics?

Of course we do!

I would like to introduce Total Bases Accounted For (TBAF). It doesn’t place emphasis on just one facet of a hitter’s worth. It doesn’t just focus on power such as ISO and slugging percentage. It doesn’t just focus on how often a hitter gets on base like OBP and BB %. It evaluates how often and how efficiently a hitter contributes to the very object of the game of baseball—to advance as far as possible around the bases from home plate and to advance as far as possible the runners already on base. Furthermore, it justly penalizes hitters who fail to advance the runners in front of them.

Simply put, TBAF gives the hitter a point for every base he accounts for. If there’s no one on base and the hitter gets a single, walk or HBP, he gets one point. Obviously, if the hitter gets a double, triple or home run, he gets 2, 3, or 4 points, respectively. However, the hitter also gets a point for every base any runner ahead of him advances. If the hitter gets a single and the runner on first advances to third, the hitter gets 3 points (one for the single and two for the two bases the runner advanced). If the hitter gets a double and the runner on first scores, the hitter gets 5 points (two for the double and three for the bases advanced by the runner). The maximum number of points a hitter can get in one plate appearance is 10—a grand slam home run. A hitter cannot do any better than that in one plate appearance.

TBAF would not be a true measure of a hitter unless it also accounted for non-performance or failure. The hitter is deducted points if he does not get on base or does not advance any runners on base ahead of him. If there’s a runner on third and the hitter strikes out, the hitter is deducted two points (one point for making an out and another point for not advancing the runner). If there are men on first and second and the hitter strikes out, the hitter is deducted three points (one point for making an out and two more for not advancing either runner). However, a hitter can also gain points for making an out. If there’s a man on first and the hitter’s ground out advances the runner to second, the hitter gets a -1 for making an out but also gains a point for advancing the runner resulting in a net of zero. If there are men on first and second and the hitter’s groundout advances the runners to second and third, the hitter gains a net of one point (-1 for making an out and +2 for advancing two runners). Before TBAF, such a hitter would merely get a high five in the dugout for doing his job and an 0-for-1 in the box score.

In this way, a hitter who strikes out with men on base is penalized more than if he makes an out by way of contact. TBAF recognizes that a strikeout is not like any other out when there are men on base. Hitting into double plays also further penalizes a hitter. If there’s a man on first and the hitter grounds into a double play, he is deducted three points (-2 for accounting for two outs and -1 for not advancing the runner).

It’s true that the runners aren’t getting any credit here. There are no points for a stolen base or for taking an extra base or for advancing on an error. But TBAF is a measure of a hitter. Besides, if a runner takes an extra base it is most likely due to where the batter hits the ball and how far. If the runner on first advances to second on a groundout, it’s usually because the ball is hit to the right side of the diamond or deep in the hole between second and third. If the runner on first scores on a double, it’s probably because the ball was hit towards the gap or deep off the wall.

So far, I’ve only described a cumulative statistic. The hitter accumulates points for every base he accounts for or loses points for every base he could’ve accounted for but did not. To appease the “percentage people,” we can also have TBAF/G (the average number of bases accounted for per game) and TBAF/PA (the average number of bases accounted for per plate appearance). Let’s say a hitter goes 2-for-5 with an RBI double with a man on first, a single with a man on first advancing him to second, a groundout with men on first and second advancing both runners, a strikeout with a man on first and a flyout with no one on base. His total TBAF for that game would be 5:

+5 for the RBI double with a man on first

+2 for the single with a man on first advancing him to second

+1 for advancing two runners on base with a ground out

-2 for striking out with a man on first

-1 for the flyout with no one on base

His TBAF/G after that one game is 5.0 and his TBAF/PA is 1.0 (5 divided by 5). If a hitter gets at least a 1.0 TBAF per plate appearance—that is to say, a hitter who accounts for at least one base every time he steps to the plate—it would seem to indicate he’s had a very good game.

In the true spirit of statistical proliferation, let’s not stop there. I’m also introducing Expected Bases Accounted For (EBAF). This statistic will evaluate how close a hitter comes to perfection. To calculate a hitter’s EBAF you must first establish the maximum number of bases the hitter can possibly account for when he enters a plate appearance. For instance, if the hitter enters a plate appearance with a man on first, the maximum number of bases he can account for would be seven (a two-run home run). If there’s no one on base, the maximum would be four (a solo home run). The absolute maximum number of bases a hitter can account for in any one plate appearance is ten (a grand slam home run). Once you ascertain the maximum number of bases possible, divide the actual number of bases the hitter accounts for into that figure:

(# of bases accounted for) / (maximum # of bases that can be accounted for) = EBAF

Now we have a figure representing how close the hitter came to achieving the absolute best he could have done given his situation. If there are men on first and second and the batter hits an RBI single, moving the man on first to third, the batter gets a TBAF of 5. The maximum number of bases he could have accounted for in that plate appearance was 9 (a 3-run home run). Therefore, his Expected Bases Accounted For was 0.55 (5 divided by 9). In other words, the batter came within 55% of achieving the best he possibly could have expected to do in that situation. If the bases are loaded, and the batter hits a 3-run triple, his EBAF was 0.9 or 90% (9 divided by 10).

That would be EBAF for one plate appearance. You can also measure a hitter’s EBAF for an entire game. Going back to that earlier example where a hitter’s TBAF was 5:

+5 for the RBI double with a man on first

+2 for the single with a man on first advancing him to second

+1 for advancing two runners on first and second with a ground out

-2 for striking out with a man on first

-1 for the flyout with no one on base

His EBAF for each one of those plate appearances was:

71% (5 divided by 7) for the RBI double with a man on first

28% (2 divided by 7) for the single with a man on first advancing him to second

11% (1 divided by 9) for advancing two runners on first and second with a ground out

-28% (-2 divided by 7) for striking out with a man on first

-25% (-1 divided by 4) for the flyout with no one on base

His total EBAF for that game was 14.7 % (5 divided by 34). The hitter came within 14.7 % of achieving the absolute best he could have. Any EBAF % over 10 % would seem to indicate a very good game. As with TBAF, you can also calculate EBAF for an entire season.

The calculation of TBAF and EBAF is very labor intensive. You can’t simply go back and examine a boxscore to determine either statistic. You need to watch each game to see who’s on base when the hitter enters each plate appearance and know exactly where the men on base ended up after the plate appearance.

I can’t think of a better way for the “percentage people” to spend their time.

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