Advanced Baseball Stats: The Ultimate Sabermetrics Guide For The Causal Fan

Baseball is arguably the one sport the relies the heaviest on statistics to measure individual performance. Everyone is graded on the same batting scales, same fielding percentages, and same advanced baseball stats whether you’re a veteran right fielder, or a rookie shortstop. More and more MLB analysts nowadays have been turning to these newer sabermetrics in order to better quantify how well baseball players are performing. Even in my personal writing here on Diamond Dialogue, I talk a decent amount about some of the more abstract statistics like, WAR, BABIP, and OPS+. 

If those acronyms all sounded like a foreign language, don’t worry one bit, because by the end of this article, you should be able to have a much better understanding of the most popular sabermetrics being talked about today.

So, what does “Sabermetrics” even mean? 

The term sabermetrics was defined all the way back in 1980, and believe it or not, it’s actually just a simple acronym made by the Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR… If you can put two and two together, sabermetrics essentially is the abbreviation of the aforementioned society, with the word, “metrics” tagged on to the end. Pretty simple right?

The definition of the term is best coined best by SABR member Bill James as, “the search for objective knowledge about baseball”. In an effort to know more about the game we all love, these abstract and detailed statistics were created so we can learn more about our favorite sport. Now that we have a greater understanding of the term, let’s chat about some of the most popular sabermetrics talked about today.

Batting Average on Balls In Play: BABIP

BABIP is going to be your best friend when it comes to wanting to know how often a certain batter gets a hit. This important sabermetric is crucial when wanting to know the true rate a batter is going to hit the ball with success. Since this stat takes away strikeouts, walks, and homers, the focus is solely on the hits that happen inside the park.

On-base Plus Slugging Plus: OPS+

OPS+ is essentially the simplification of OPS across the entirety of the MLB. For starters, a 100 OPS+ is the benchmark and league average for all of Major League Baseball. The catch with OPS+ is that it also takes into affect different ballpark factors as well so that for example, if you had a stellar performance at Petco Park which is more pitcher friendly, you would receive more OPS+ points than you otherwise would at Coors Field.

As an example in today’s game, Christian Yelich currently has an OPS+ north of 190, which means he has over a 90% better OPS than the average hitter in the MLB.

Isolated Power: ISO

Ever wondered how to determine the raw power of a certain hitter? Well, ISO is your best friend with this, specifically because it differentiates from SLG % in a single but important way. ISO is looking solely at extra bases per each at-bat, and doesn’t include the players batting average. 

That means our calculation to find this statistic is pretty simple, it’s just Slugging Percentage-Batting Average. That’s how you can get the best gauge on how many extra bases exclusively a certain batter produces each AB.

Here’s a simple example, a player who has gone 14-25 over the course of a week and each hit was a single would have a slugging percentage of .560. That is not an easy feat and quite an impressive number, however this players ISO would still only be at .000. Why is that? Because none of the hits, albeit a lot of them, were for extra bases. Doubles, Triples and Home Runs are going to be the only types of hits that will increase a players ISO.

Walk-Rate and Strike-Out-Rate: BB% & K%

You most likely have heard of these two metrics before as they are definitely one of the more common ones talked about toady—especially since strikeout-rates are higher than they ever have been before. These two twin-sabermetrics can be used for both for pitchers and hitters alike, as you take the amount of strikeouts for each type of player, but divide by batters faced for pitchers, and plate appearances for batters. 

If Jacob DeGrom struck out 200 hitters and faced a total of 600 batters, he would have a K% of 33.3%. If Joey Gallo had 200 strike outs in 600 plate appearances, he would also have 33.3 K%. The same principle applies in regards to walks.

Wins Above Replacement: WAR

Finally, we get to my all-time favorite sabermetric concept. Wins above replacement. In my opinion, this is the be-all-end-all of baseball statistics for one primary reason. It quantifies the overall value in wins that a certain player is providing you. 

Just like a batting average, this number can fluctuate positively and negatively, but with WAR, you can actually  perform poor enough to warrant yourself a negative-WAR. We will get into that in a second, but let’s dig in more about what exactly this all means and how we can define this as simply as possible. There are several current articles online that try to explain this statistic, however I believe that this one I’ve written is going to be the only one you’ll need from here on out. 

In layman’s terms, WAR measures team contribution over time and stands for wins-above-replacement. Our main theme throughout this stat’s explanation is going to be centered around this idea of “team contribution” because there are different baseball outlets that calculate this metric differently. 

The main 2 sources that actively track player WAR that you need to know is Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. You can easily delineate between which WAR is which because Fangraphs WAR is represented as fWAR, while Baseball Reference is represented as both bWAR and/or rWAR. Baseball Prospectus tracks WAR as well, (represented as WARP) but we won’t worry about them just for ease of understanding.

So to summarize, even though this stat is tracked differently between these baseball mediums, the actual variations in bWAR and fWAR aren’t all that different most of the time. Just as value in general is more of a subjective concept, so is this statistic. 

Touching back on the actual definition of this stat, WAR essentially tells you how many more wins worth a player is over someone who might replace him—whether that’s a minor-leaguer or a free-agent. Here’s an example: If you take a catcher with a WAR of 0 this far into the season, that would deem him as “statistically” replaceable, and you would most likely get equal or greater value from a brand new catcher. 

WAR not only accounts for offense either, it takes the player’s skills on defense and on the base paths as well too. Once again, if you’re contributing to your team, your WAR is naturally going to increase.

To give you a solid idea of what some current players are at with their 2019 WAR, I compiled a short list to give you an idea where some of your favorite, (and maybe least favorite) players are currently at as of today.

fWAR tiers for the 2019 season

  • Jeff Mathis | -1.6 fWAR | This is dead last in the MLB and is on pace for one the top 10 worst fWAR seasons of all time… Yeah it’s that bad and you should definitely read what I have to say about it by clicking here
  • Randal Grichuk | 0.0 fWAR | Grichuk’s fWAR currently ranks 142nd out of all qualified batters and means he most likely won’t have a job next year unless he turns things around.
  • Dexter Fowler | 1.5 fWAR | This is pretty good and indicates that Fowler is a solid all-around player. If you’ve seen his highlight reel, you know this guy is a baller for sure.
  • Manny Machado | 2.4 fWAR | Machado is having another great season and his fWAR indicates that clearly. He’s an excellent all around player that is on-pace for another incredible year.
  • Mookie Betts | 3.6 fWAR |Mookie as we all know is a phenomenal baseball player and his fWAR shows he’s an absolute superstar. A WAR of this caliber at this point in the season is indicative of being one-of, if not, the best player on a team.
  • Christian Yelich | 5.9 fWAR |Yelich is a different breed of athlete. The season he has already had thus far is nearly uncharted territory for 99% of all ballplayers. This is MVP level WAR right here and untouchable for just about everyone…
  • Mike Trout | 6.6 fWAR | Oh yeah, Mike Trout. I cannot even begin to explain the value of a 6.6 fWAR at this point in the season. That is so astronomically and downright comedically high, it basically translates into Trout being the reason the Angels have won 7 of their games this season. In other words, Trout is responsible for the Angels being 52-49 rather than 45-56. Yes, he is that good.

Well, that wraps up this guide on some of the more well-known sabermetrics out there today. I hope this was an enjoyable read filled with information that you can now reflect on as you continue to enjoy the sport. What are some of your favorite baseball stats? Do you think there is one more important than WAR? Comment down below, or shoot me a tweet @OfficialDDBlog and I would love to hear what you have to say.

I don’t really know how to end this, so here is a video of Greg Maddux pitching his 78 pitch shutout, which happened 22-years ago today!

Image by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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