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Saber-Friendly Tip #3: On Decimals

If you’ve missed my earlier Saber-Friendly Tips, you can find them here.

As I have alluded to in the not-so-distant past, I feel like sabermetric writing should not be all the same. If you’re writing a piece that’s geared for other saberists — or for a very knowledgeable audience, like this one — then obviously very different rules apply than if you’re trying to cater your analysis to a broader audience. You can toss around multiple acronyms and discuss statistical concepts without much worry, while doing the same thing in other places could have you denigrated by your audience as a know-it-all, pompous jerkface.

We all love to poke fun at television announcers — whether at ESPN, MLBN, or elsewhere during game broadcasts — but they face a very difficult task: how do you give insightful analysis while still appealing to the wide range of different viewers out there? There are plenty of announcers out there that love stats and analysis (hello, David Cone!), and it’s no easy task to try and mesh those numbers into a game broadcast without scaring off all the viewers out there who don’t like math.

These same challenges apply to us saberists. What sort of an audience are we trying to reach, and how can we best do so? Today I want to suggest another way in which people can help make saber-stats easier to digest: rounding your numbers.

All too often, saber writers and bloggers neglect to consider the aesthetics of their posts. When I sit back and look at this piece, does it look like something that I would want to read? Does it have large blocks of text? Are there multiple acronyms in each paragraph? Are there too many links? As silly as some of these things may sound, all them influence whether people are going to read a piece or not.

And one of the worst offenders of aesthetics in sabermetric pieces are decimal points. Many of our traditional baseball stats are based around decimals — batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, etc. — and many of the new stats list out decimals to the point of insane specificity. Paragraphs end up looking like giant strings of numbers, separated by odd acronyms, making the piece dense and tough to access unless you really, really like sabermetrics.

So here’s my question: Does it really matter if I know that Evan Longoria has a 2.66 wFB/C, or is it enough to know that he has a 2.7 wFB/C? What difference does it make if we say someone has a 12% walk rate instead of an 11.7% walk rate? Is it sacrilegious to say someone has thrown 57% fastballs, when really it’s only been 56.7%? These are all very small changes, but they can go a long way toward making pieces more readable.

Of course, it all depends what audience you want to try and reach. I’m glad that FanGraphs lists out statistics to such detail, as it’s perfect for research purposes and allows people to get as specific as they desire, but we sometimes forget that it’s okay to take these numbers and round a bit (especially any percentages). Don’t round those that require that extra precision — I’m thinking of WAR and wOBA, specifically — but for the vast majority of stats, you should be able to make the numbers shorter and easier to read without losing any meaning.

So cut loose. Be wild. And be conscious of the audience you’re trying to reach.