I am a huge MLB fan. I won’t say which team because I do not want to give away information about my location (look at what happened to poor Sunshine Mary and you’ll realize why), but rest assured I love watching the sport.
Anyway, Fr. Z, on his blog, posted this cool story about a pitcher named Salazar. He pitched a fascinating game, allowing five runs, including six hits and two walks. Sounds bad, right? Well, the fascinating part is that he struck out every other batter he faced.
Fr. Z wrote this:
I was alerted to this by a Chicagoan friend, a long-suffering Cubs fan It shows how statistics don’t tell the whole story.
Now, here’s the problem with that line. From the article itself that Fr. Z was quoting:
Check out his BABIP [Batting Average on Balls in Play] yesterday — the White Sox were perfect [1.000].
That, my friends, is a statistic. What this REALLY tells us is that ERA (earned run average) doesn’t tell the whole story. A much better measure of pitcher success is Fielding Independent Pitching, which only takes into account things the picture personally has full control over: Walks, Home Runs, and Strikeouts. FIP gives us a much better picture of how the pitcher actually performed and allows us to better predict how he will perform in the future, no matter how many runs he actually gave up.
A 1.000 BABIP is completely unsustainable, and is a product of ludicrously bad luck. With the number of strikeouts that Salazar had I’d imagine that his FIP was probably off the charts excellent. He had 12 strikeouts out of 18 batters faced, and of those six batters that he did not get out he gave up two home runs and two walks. His strikeouts outnumbered his home runs/walks by 3 to 1.
And those are statistics. Statistics are, in fact, much, much simpler than people think they are. All stats are are a recording of what happened during the game. Now, we need to look deeply into the numbers to make sure we’re not misinterpreting things, but by measuring how many times a certain event occurs in a certain situation it allows us to draw conclusions about how a player is performing and make an educated prediction at how he probably will perform in the future.
Can those predictions be wrong? Well, of course, but that doesn’t mean the statistics are “not telling the full story”, except in the sense that they can’t predict the future with 100% accuracy. All they do is tell us what has happened, and then let us draw our own conclusions from there. Salazar, objectively, allowed five runs. But, he also struck out 12 batters and walked only two. This suggests that when Salazar could personally influence events purely by himself he performed much better than when his fielders were supposed to make plays behind him. As a result, we can hope that in the future his luck balances out and he pitches a good game.
There is no divide between “stat people” and “traditional people”. All stats do is let us convert what we see into our eyes into hard numbers.