My Issue With Advanced Statistics

We live in a world with more information than we ever would have imagined humanly possible. Baseball is the leading example of this massive increase in the available data to us. It used to be that baseball statistics could be boiled down to 5 or 6 major categories such as batting average, HRs, RBI, W/L, ERA, and Saves. That was just about it. Today, there are more statistics/acronyms than you can count – WAR, FIP, UZR, OPS, BABIP, WPA, and the list goes on.

These advanced statistics have done much in the game to improve our understanding of what a player contributes to a team on the field. When discussing the best players on the 2011 Rangers, the “old-school” statistics may point us to names like Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, and C.J. Wilson. However, thanks to the increase in available data we know the most valuable players to the Rangers were guys like Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler.

I love statistics. I’ve always been a numbers-oriented individual, so the exponential increase in the use of sabermetrics is fascinating to me. Despite that fact, I still have a problem with advanced statistics.

Baseball is an emotional game, and that is what it should be. The players, the coaches, the umpires, and especially the fans are impacted by their emotions for the game. Advanced statistics strip the game of its emotion, and boil it down to the facts of what is produced on the field. These sabermetrics can never replace what our eyes tell us, or what we feel as we watch a ballgame.

If you tell me that in 2011 C.J. Wilson had an ERA+ of 152, or that Ian Kinsler had a UZR/150 rating of 16.2, I would have to go research those statistics before determining if that was good or not. Those numbers don’t yet mean anything to me on their own. What means something to me is hearing Rangers fans chant “Na-po-li” and seeing him deliver, or watching Derek Holland grow up in a World Series game 4 start that was one of the top-5 pitching performances in Rangers history.

Even from a statistics basis, I know what it means if a guy has a .300 batting average. A .300 batting average, 30 HRs, 100 RBI, a 3.00 ERA, and 20 Wins in a season are all the classic benchmarks for a great season for a player. I hope that one day I can so fluently understand similar benchmarks for WAR, FIP, ERA+, and OPS+, but I am not yet there. Congratulations if you are.

As the ancient Greeks used to say – “Nothing in excess”. I’ll continue to embrace advanced statistics as a tool to use when discussing the game, but it can never tell the whole story. As a baseball fan, I’ll never separate from my emotions when I am watching a game, or cheering for my team. I love this game and this Rangers team, and I will never let data on a stat sheet get in the way of that.

Peter is a Shut Down Inning Staff Writer. Email him at peter.ellwood@shutdowninning.com, or you can reach him on Twitter @peter_ellwood

Peter Ellwood

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