The Most Convoluted Statistic: ERA

In many cases, the battle to convince those that rely on traditional metrics for player evaluation is a losing one. Consider, for example, this tweet from Mike Silva.

Trying to figure out why I should take stats with a lower case letter in front seriously

Of course, fans, writers, players, GMs, and all others are certainly welcome to watch, enjoy, and interpret the game in their own way. However, the argument that certain advanced statistics are too convoluted or complicated, whereas traditional stats are best for their simplicity, is simply not an argument grounded in logic.

Consider ERA. The formula behind earned run average is, indeed, quite simple – ERA = 9*ER/IP. Perhaps most appealing, the answer to the question “What is ERA?” has a one sentence answer: the amount of earned runs a pitcher gives up in nine innings.

Still, we are introducing what is a slightly abstract concept here. An earned run is any run for which the pitcher is held accountable. Anybody who has scored a baseball game using a pencil and paper system has likely grappled with the question of whether or not a run is earned. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here’s a handy list of which runs are unearned:

-A batter reaches base on an error (including catcher’s interference), and later scores a run in that inning by any means.
-A baserunner remains on base as the result of an error on a fielder’s choice play that would put the baserunner out except for an error, and subsequently scores.
-A batter reaches first base on a passed ball (but not a wild pitch) and subsequently scores by any means.
-A baserunner scores after the third out would have been made except for an error other than catcher’s interference.
-A batter reaches base on a fielder’s choice which removes a baserunner who has reached base safely on an error or has remained on base as the result of an error, reaching first base on a passed ball on a called or swinging third strike, or remained on base on an error on a fielders’ choice play that should have retired him, and subsequently scores.
-A batter or runner advances one or more bases on an error or passed ball and scores on a play that would otherwise not have provided the opportunity to score.

OK. Simple enough, right? Once we’ve accounted for these largely subjective criteria, including the error, another abstract concept, supposedly we arrive at a number telling us how many runs the pitcher was responsible for. If a ball goes off Franklin Gutierrez‘s glove as he shows great range but just misses, it is not the pitcher’s fault, but if a ball gets under Brad Hawpe‘s glove within any other RF’s range, it’s Ubaldo Jimenez‘s responsibility.

Consider me unconvinced. Pure runs allowed does a better job of conveying a pitcher’s true talent, as it avoids this rather arbitrary system of responsibility which leads to unwarranted penalization or not enough penalization of the pitcher. However, for generations we have thought of ERA as the best measurement of a pitcher’s talent.

The real issue is that ERA does not answer the relevant questions about pitching performances. It doesn’t answer either “Who pitched the best?” or “Who will pitch the best?” That is, whose pitching performance was most valuable to his team? Whose performance, based on available data, is likely to be the best going forward? ERA’s weaknesses when it comes to providing these answers aren’t difficult to find, and it’s for these reasons that we use superior statistics such as FIP and tRA, both of which come much closer to achieving this goal.




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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.


97 Responses to “The Most Convoluted Statistic: ERA”

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  1. Jon Heyman says:

    You’re a nerd who hates baseball.

    Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame.

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  2. Scottwood says:

    I like Runs Allowed better than ERA. We can account for defensive contributions in other ways and we have defense independent stats now. They are obviously both flawed, but I do think that RA is better than ERA.

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    • Joe R says:

      To be fair, there is slightly more correlation between ERA and K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 than RA. At least using 2009 team data.

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      • Scottwood says:

        Interesting. I wonder if there has been a historical study between the two stats? Obviously, one year of data is not much to go off of. That could be a trend we see throughout time, though. I don’t know.

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      • Joe R says:

        It’s probably pretty easy, if you’re willing to do a whole lot of copy-pasting from baseball prospectus to MS Excel. Problem is that it’s much harder to do a multiplicative error term test on Excel.

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      • Toffer Peak says:

        To be fair RA has more predictive characteristics than ERA and in the end aren’t total runs scored all we really care about. Not to mention that ERA is biased toward Knucklers/Grounders.

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      • Joe R says:

        I’m just reporting what I saw, that earned runs had more correlation to peripherals than runs, and about the same r-squared in a year as OBP for offense.

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  3. Mike Ketchen says:

    Jack,

    Great piece, a perfect example of the fundamental flaw with ERA can be found by simply looking at Ben Sheets. Consider his 2006 and 2007 seasons.

    His ERA:
    2006: 3.82
    2007: 3.82

    His Fip:
    2006:2.43
    2007:4.11

    One season he was dominant, one season he was a third starter. Yet the ERA says he was the same pitcher. I guess just keep fighting the good fight my friend.

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    • hk says:

      Another example is Cole Hamels over the last two years with the difference being his FIP remained the same (3.72 in both 2008 and 2009) while his ERA increased from 3.09 to 4.32. Most fans and sports talk radio hosts around Philly are wondering if / hoping that Hamels can return to his 2008 form, when FIP tells us he did so this year. It also tells us he was lucky in 2008, unlucky in 2009 and more likely to post a 3.72 ERA in 2010 than he is to post an ERA as low as 2008’s or as high as 2009’s.

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      • Joe R says:

        And an xFIP of 3.63 in 2008 vs. a 3.69 in 2009.
        And a tRA of 4.63 vs. a 4.51 from 08 to 09.

        So basically, same guy. Only real difference is in 2008, 26.2% of balls in play went for hits. In 2009, 32.1% did.

        182 balls in play off Hamels resulted in hits in 2009, if he had maintained his BABIP from 2008, he gives up 33.5 less hits. That’s a full .173 addition to his WHIP, which added to his 2008 WHIP, is almost exactly his 2009.

        Back to the 567 balls in play in 2009. Use his career BABIP mark of .288 now. 163.3 hits. .097 increase in 2008 WHIP. Hey, that’s pretty much his career mark.

        Long story short, Hamels was the exact same guy, except more balls fell in for hits. That’s just not fun to talk about on sports radio, though. Much more interesting to ascribe struggles, point out one or two cherry picked scenarios, and roll with it (we can call it the ESPN analysis).

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      • Brian Cartwright says:

        I did an analysis of Hamels BIP in a response on one of these sites recently – of his 35 or 36 added hits in 2009, I believe 13 where infield hits, another 11 or 12 were ground ablls to the outfield – 2/3 were the hits the pitchers probably has the very least control of – ground balls.

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      • MA says:

        Actually, if you lived in Philadelphia, you’d know that Hamels’ 2009 performance is due almost entirely to his high cheekbones and silky long black hair. Consensus is, though, that he’ll bounce back.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      Cole Hamels?

      FIP:

      2008: 3.72
      2009: 3.72

      ERA:

      2008: 3.09
      2009: 4.32

      Ace one season, “average” the next. No matter how much FIP tells me Cole was the same pitcher in 09 as in 08, but just had some Bad Ass Brutal Inexplicably Poor luck in 09, I just can’t buy it.

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      • MBD says:

        The BABIP against him was 55 points higher than in 2008 and 30 points higher than his career mark – that’s bad luck. His K rate was just as high and his walk and home run rates were just as low. His LD% was actually a point lower than in 2008. He did everything just as well, and some extra balls just fell in.

        Hamels did 2 things wrong in 2009: he didn’t throw as many innings and he let bad statistics convince him he was pitching poorly (and let it show in his demeanor). The Phillies and their fans should have been thrilled with him and should have wanted him to pitch more – say in November, maybe.

        I wonder if the Braves could have traded Vazquez for him. :-)

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  4. Christian Seehausen says:

    ERA naturally grows more useful the larger the sample size. It’s not something you want to rely on season to season, but there IS a certain attractive simplicity to being able to look at Roger Clemens career and see that he pitched 5000 innings for a 3.12 ERA (3.09 FIP, for comparison). Hey, he was pretty good! But yes, I’d generally prefer getting rid of the “Earned” concept.

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    • Scottwood says:

      Yeah, MGL said that ERA is something you use over a larger sample size b/c all of the things that FIP does not account for (like holding runners, the sequencing of events, pitching well with men on base, etc) becomes clearer over time.

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  5. Bill says:

    There’s no post about this but how in the world did the Yankees do that Vazquez trade?

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    • Joe R says:

      Easy, Vasquez is underrated thanks to his ERA.

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      • Rob in CT says:

        Vasquez has a history of underperforming his FIP (probably, IMO, due to things FIP doesn’t measure).

        That said, I like the trade as a Yankees fan. Vizcaino is the guy who I could end up missing, but he’s a long way from the majors. Melky is a borderline starter/4th OFer and won’t be terribly cheap anymore. Thanks for the memories, Melkman, and good luck. Dunn is a lefty reliever with no command.

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  6. Jon C. says:

    @Mike Silva

    Trying to figure out why I should take a man with an IQ below the Gump line seriously

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  7. Danya says:

    You make all good points Jack but just one thing, I hardly believe it is right to say ERA is the “most” convoluted statistic. I don’t think any baseball statistic, not even Saves or RBIs, is as astoundingly convoluted as Wins. That’s just my opinion anyway.

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    • Sam A says:

      Wins isn’t a convoluted stat. An astoundingly stupid stat, but not terribly convoluted.

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      • Joe R says:

        “The Lowdown on Statistics” — Everyone believes that a .300 hitter is a good player and that a pitcher with a low ERA is a good pitcher. That belief is not necessarily the case. . . A .300 hitter makes seven outs for every ten at-bats, and if his seven outs come with men on base and his three hits come with no one on base, these hits are not very productive. . . Likewise, many pitchers pitch just good enough to lose. . .Run production is how you measure hitters. Wins and losses are how you measure pitchers. Batting averages and ERAs are personal stats.

        My favorite Joe Morganism

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      • Nate says:

        A good ol’ quote from the aptly titled “Baseball For Dummies”.

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      • Joe R says:

        I’d like to find one hitter in history that magically started sucking it up with men on base.

        Wait isn’t JD Drew famous for this crime?
        Drew, no MOB: .286/.388/.511
        Drew, w/ MOB: .280/.397/.495

        Oops, okay, I think Adam Dunn also has this problem…
        Dunn, no MOB: .252/.361/.528
        Dunn, w/ MOB: .246/.409/.509

        Well crap.

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      • Eric R says:

        Wins is convoluted for the same reasons stated for ERA. The rules aren’t even the same for starters and relievers.

        The win is awarded to the pitcher who left the game with a lead and from that point onward there are no further lead changes, unless it is a starter, who also has to pitch five+ innings to qualify. A reliever can technically win games without actually pitching.

        IE, a pitcher could come in with 2 outs in the 7th inning and a runner on first, with his team either tied or losing. Out of complete ineptitude, he could throw the ball into CF while trying to pick-off the runner on first, who takes second and third and then gets thrown out at home. Next half inning, the team scores enough runs to take the lead and in the following half-inning a new pitcher comes in.

        Best I can tell, that pitcher, who did nothing positive in the game [lets assume he wasn’t part of the offensive rally], is now the games winner!

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      • Joe R says:

        Also, of course, the closer who blows a 3 run lead by walking the bases loaded, then allowing a grand slam in the top of the 9th, only for his team to score 2 runs in the bottom half of the inning, is the game winner.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        I really think that people wouldn’t be so up-in-arms about the stat if it was just called a different name. If I said “I’m going to keep a tally of every time a pitcher was in the game at the last lead-change, giving him plus one if his team wins and minus one if his team loses,” people would think I was crazy, because in my definition of the term, I didn’t arbitrarily give him credit for what he didn’t control, but rather called it what it was.

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      • Eric R says:

        “I really think that people wouldn’t be so up-in-arms about the stat if it was just called a different name. If I said “I’m going to keep a tally of every time a pitcher was in the game at the last lead-change, giving him plus one if his team wins and minus one if his team loses,” people would think I was crazy, because in my definition of the term, I didn’t arbitrarily give him credit for what he didn’t control, but rather called it what it was.”

        The name *is* the problem. Because the ultimate positive thing a team can do in a game is win and the ultimate negative thing is a loss [except in hockey], the masses take a stat named after the most positive thing a team can do as the best stat for measuring quality. Had a “win” for a pitcher been called a PWITGATLLC instead, I don’t think there would be too many issues for even common fans to push that down a few notches and look at other metrics.

        In the 1870s and 1880s pitchers routinely pitched 75%+ [Some even at 100%! of their teams’ TOTAL innings and hit much better relative to the league than modern pitchers, giving them “credit” for wins made atleast decent sense. Now, pitchers will top out at around 15% and either not hit because of the DH or not hit because of specialization. So instead of being worth 75%+ of like 35% of the game [pitching], plus about 10% of 50% [offense] and maybe 10% of the remaining 15% [non-pitching defense], 33% total, they are now more like:

        16% of 35% + 0.1% of 50% + 2% of 15% = 6%

        At 33% of the teams production, they probably deserve credit for the teams wins and losses. At 6%, I’m not sure they’re even leading the team any more- Any really good position player would be atleast in that neighborhood, no? I don’t think awarding pitchers with the wins and losses in 2009 makes any more sense than awarding it to the best player on the team.

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      • johng says:

        Joe R @11:07am –

        Didn’t Bill James once “prove” that there’s no such thing as a “clutch” hitter?

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      • Joe R says:

        My JD Drew / Adam Dunn reference was just a veiled insult at Joe Morgan for actually implying in “baseball for dummies” that some players magically start sucking with men on base, and using two guys constantly lumped in that category as an example of their sameness, and therefore Joe Morgan’s craziness.

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Dunn and Drew are among the bottom over the last 3 years if you sort the “clutch” stat on Fangraphs. Utley is 2nd worst, so unclutch players arent necessarily poor producers. Rather, they performed worse in high leverage situations than they would have performed in a context neutral environment.

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      • MBD says:

        On clutch hitting: I think that the main reason some hitters (Drew, Dunn, A-Rod, etc.) get a rep for failing in the clutch is that they strike out more* with runners on, even though they usually get on base more, too, because they also walk more with runners on.

        *more than themselves with no one on or than contact hitters with runners on – kind of depends on the hitter being maligned

        Most fans see the SOs and can’t believe how often a guy whiffs with runners on. Those same fans don’t appreciate the walks. It’s like they don’t see them or think they count as a tie or a no contest or something. Walks used to be errors on the pitcher for a reason.

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      • Joe R says:

        Basically guys like Joe Morgan are hilarious but infuriating at the same time that they’ve made the public assume a guy who strikes out 30% of the time sucks, no matter what else he does the other 70% of the time (unless his name is Ryan Howard, hey at least one of my whiff king boys get some love).

        But I digress. Joe Morgan sucks. Tom Seaver > Nolan Ryan. Bert Blyleven > Tommy John. Fin.

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  8. Jimbo says:

    Simple question for people who still like ERA.

    A pitcher gets two outs before an error occurs. He subsequently gives up 5 consecutive hits and 3 runs. Next inning he’s replaced with the bases loaded and the reliever lets all three runners score.

    Which runs count toward his ERA and which runs BEST reflect his ability as a pitcher?

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    • WY says:

      Those situations tend to balance themselves out over the course of a career. ERA has flaws, but it is not totally useless. Same with FIP and other advanced stats. They are all data points.

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  9. Justin Leibowitz says:

    People like ERA because it has been used since 1876 and comparisons can be made from one era to another. Especially over a pitchers entire career, one has to assume his defense was at league average or withing range of being average.

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    • Eric R says:

      I’ll buy that it’s existance for 100+ years helps push the masses towards it, but how is it comparable from one era to the next? Full careers may generally balance out park and defense — but it has little impact on the different offensive levels.

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      • aweb says:

        I think ERA is especially crucial when comparing early baseball careers, because defense has so vastly improved (playing conditions and equipment being the dominant factors it’s attributed to ). Look at someone like Walter Johnson – from 1907 to 1912, he gave up 522 Runs, and 324 Earned Runs (62% in those years). Defense was likely being rightly faulted for a lot of these runs.

        Cy Young gave up 3167 Runs, of which only 2147 (68%) were earned. Warren Spahn’s runs were 89% earned. Roger Clemens was at 91%. So in the “modern” era, Runs Allowed might be better, but that makes comparing the older eras even harder than it already is.

        Also, I’d like to suggest the unearned runs be assigned to players (they already are in some sense, I just don’t think it’s kept track of) and counted against them as fielders. The pitcher isn’t “at fault”? Fine, give the SS two “runs caused by defensive error” and keep track of them. I’d be interested in knowing the yearly leaders in costly errors…

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  10. DavidCEisen says:

    Who is Mike Silva and why does anyone care what he thinks?

    Look there are people in this world who think climate change is a giant international conspiracy, that President Obama is secretly a socialist Muslim born in Kenya, that President Bush personally coordinated 9/11, and that the Denver International Airport is the secret headquarters of the NWO–in short the world is filled with idiots. Its best not to think about them too much.

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  11. James K. says:

    Just a heads up – Silva is not a professional journalist and in his desperation for page hitzzz trolls people who are into sabermetrics. He’s grossly uninformed and criticizes statistics that he hasn’t even taken the time to understand. For awhile his act worked and he got a few more page hitzzz but he’s continuing it and people have generally started ignoring him. I’d recommend doing the same.

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    • Joe R says:

      Isn’t that what most of these journalists do?
      I have a tough time believing guys like Jon Heyman, Bill Plaschke, et al, are so dumb that they can’t at least understand what advanced metrics are trying to explain.

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  12. geo says:

    Let’s just capitalize those lower-case letters and be done with it. Then Mike Silva will be happy and take the stats seriously.

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  13. WY says:

    ERA is a flawed stat? This is not a newsflash. With all due respect, I think this kind of post is preaching to the converted on a site like this.

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    • Joe R says:

      I don’t think posts like this are for us, per ce.

      It’s more to be shared so those who don’t like the opinions of people like Keith Law may learn something.

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  14. Daniel says:

    Something I’ve often wondered – if we trust UZR so much as a measure of defensive ability, why can’t we just take a pitcher’s runs allowed and subtract the team UZR over those innings that he pitched, thus calculating the “true” earned runs of that pitcher, and then taking that over nine innings. I’d be interested to see how it correlates with other fielding independent stats like FIP and tRA.

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  15. johng says:

    If you want to get right down to it, actual team Wins and Losses are convoluted statistics, because some teams win or lose because of luck. There are even statistics that compute projected wins for teams based on statistics, or now, even more arcane measurement of what should have been a hit or out, based on the area the ball was hit, and the ratings of the player in that area.

    I don’t really care what these statistics and ratings are called, that’s why I didn’t look them up.

    The measurement of achievement and the assignment of ratings based on that measurement is convoluted. If teams started paying players based on UZR, wERA, or WAR, players would figure out ways to game that system to increase their value.

    ERA is an inelegant statistic that measures something, people follow it, and root for their players to score better in it. Much like runs during a game.

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  16. WY says:

    P.S. This sentence…

    “The formula behind earned run average is, indeed, quite simple – ERA = 9*ER/IP.”

    …is evidence that ERA is, in fact, not convoluted at all relative to many of the alternatives. I think “misleading” or “flawed” might be better descriptions in terms of what the post actually argues.

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  17. Steve says:

    “Of course, fans, writers, players, GMs, and all others are certainly welcome to watch, enjoy, and interpret the game in their own way. However, the argument that certain advanced statistics are too convoluted or complicated, whereas traditional stats are best for their simplicity, is simply not an argument grounded in logic.”

    I could be wrong, but I thought baseball was a game. If your a student athlete who plays baseball/softball or an employee of an amateur or professional baseball organization I could understand the yearning to dig deeper and find statistics that more precisely measure individual or team performance. If writing about baseball pays or helps pay your bills by no means do I object if your quest is similar to the aforementioned. Baseball as a hobby if your employed in some other capacity is fine with me as well. I have no problem with individuals who monetarily benefit from the game of baseball or use it as a hobby while holding employment in another arena (unless disabled of course). The people who fall in those categories have a legitimate argument for mainstream use of advanced statistical analysis (hobby is arguable)

    Let’s not forget though that baseball is a GAME. Games are played for amusement. I doubt many if any of you could accurately and thoroughly explain how devices such as a car, refrigerator, water heater, furnace, stove, microwave, etc function, but you most likely have used or continue to benefit from the use of such items. Baseball is a game and if it were never invented a different avenue of entertainment would fill the void. Until the baseline level of education drastically improves in this country don’t expect sabermetrics to become commonplace in baseball. People were attracted to the game in its earliest stages for a number reasons, one being the simplicity; that’s why it’s sometimes referred to as a kids game. I don’t have a survey result, but I doubt the general population of baseball observers cares that ERA or Wins don’t efficiently represent an idividuals performance.

    I personally love the game of baseball and when I have time browse some of the advanced metrics, but I am fine with the basic and archaic for evaluating my favorite team along with the other teams.

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    • Joe R says:

      Once again, articles like this aren’t for the casual fan who is apathetic towards actual player analysis. It’s for those who want to analyze, but still would make points like “Tommy John has more wins than Bob Gibson, so Tommy John > Bob Gibson.”

      Example: my mom watches the Red Sox all the time and probably doesn’t know what OPS is. She’s obviously not the braintrust of the game. This kind of writing isn’t for her.

      Now, take the guy who sees one pitcher has 20 wins and a 2.50 ERA vs. a pitcher with 15 wins and a 2.80 ERA. Guy immediately assumes pitcher A is the superior pitcher. That’s who this kind of writing is for.

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    • Eric R says:

      “I doubt many if any of you could accurately and thoroughly explain how devices such as a car, refrigerator, water heater, furnace, stove, microwave, etc function, but you most likely have used or continue to benefit from the use of such items.”

      Sure– but if the common perception was that microwaves heat your food via the heat from the bulb that goes on when you start it, and there were people trying to put bigger bulbs in their microwaves to cook their food faster, do you just keep letting them do it? Or do you explain the basics- ie, the light is just so you can see inside and the cooking is done with microwaves, a type of radio wave, that cause particular molecules to move which creates heat.

      You don’t NEED to be able to build a microwave oven out of stuff you’d find in an abandoned warehouse to atleast have a rough idea of how it works.

      BTW- there are signs like howstuffworks.com and dozens of shows that do exactly that. Give you a good idea of how things work. What’s the difference between people creating websites about how baseball works and Marshall Brain creating howstuffworks.com?

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      • Steve says:

        “Sure– but if the common perception was that microwaves heat your food via the heat from the bulb that goes on when you start it, and there were people trying to put bigger bulbs in their microwaves to cook their food faster, do you just keep letting them do it? Or do you explain the basics- ie, the light is just so you can see inside and the cooking is done with microwaves, a type of radio wave, that cause particular molecules to move which creates heat.”

        I can’t agree with your analogy of a person needing an explanation to correct a mispercetion of fundamental microwave utilization as compared to the same common person/baseball observer needing a revised more encompassing formula to understand why a player/team is good or bad.

        Car’s, refrigerators and the like that I listed in my previous comment were used as an example of basic items that are common to the majority of the North American population. I know people can do their own research and enlighten themselves in almost any arena one would choose. My point is that people in general will veer toward the path of least resistance and producers will continue to focus on attracting consumers using that path. As a poster mentioned below MLB baseball is a business. It is a game that is used as entertainment/amusement as well so in order to appeal to the widest audience simplicity is the ideal.

        How many 16 or 75 year-olds know how to drive an automobile? How many of them can tell you how it functions? I would bet less than half. They just know it helps them get from point A to point B in less time than it would take walking. Some of you may not want to hear it, but all some baseball observers care about is if their team wins or losses. ERA, WHIP, quality start, what is that? Hurray, so-and-so hit a HR. Hurray, so-and-so struck that hitter out. Hurray, so-and-so stole a base, made an error, etc. Maybe 200 years from now baseball stadium scoreboards will have BABIP, WAR, FIP, RAA etc. but I doubt it.

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      • GGear says:

        “I can’t agree with your analogy of a person needing an explanation to correct a mispercetion of fundamental microwave utilization as compared to the same common person/baseball observer needing a revised more encompassing formula to understand why a player/team is good or bad.”

        what you are missing is the point he brought up about someone taking their misconceptions as fact as using them toward a goal, in his example, putting bigger bulbs in a microwave to heat food faster. this isnt about the common layperson who is just interested in the wins and losses of their team, this is about WANTS an explanation as to how their team can best be put together or why one player is better than another.

        or another example, me. if i was the common baseball fan that only cared about whether my team won or lost, if i only cared about the results, liked going to games, just liked watching a good game of baseball no matter the team, etc… i probably wouldnt even be here. but if i DO care about whether the trade my team just made was a good one, if the player they just got will help contribute, if the team improved it’s chances to win, if the pitcher we just traded for is as good as some people say, etc… then i would like to have the pertinent information on hand to make a better judgment on that.

        on the flip side, if my job is to only report the results, the wins and losses, to give people the information about the game that was already played, then i wouldnt care about the underlying data. but if my job was to discuss trade rumors, talk about which team were the winners and losers as it were in a trade, discuss the implications of a free agent signing, etc… then i would like the most accurate information possible, and as to the point of this article, i am not going to simply spout wins/losses and ERA if i was going to talk about how good a player, say, Vazquez will be for the Yanks next year.

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  18. recca says:

    MLB baseball is a business first and a game second.

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  19. Ender says:

    For a single season there is no reason to use FIP over xFIP imo. When you start getting into larger samples looking at the relationship of xFIP, FIP, ERA and tRA is probably the best way to go.

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    • Scottwood says:

      xFIP is slightly more predictive than FIP so when projecting to the next season, on the average, it is the better stat to use.

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  20. Padman Jones says:

    And here I thought there’d be an entire comment section sans dissent. Thank goodness someone came along to tell us to study our microwaves instead of our pastimes, ’cause after all, who could even care so much about a hobby as to want to understand it better?

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    • Steve says:

      “I have no problem with individuals who monetarily benefit from the game of baseball or use it as a hobby while holding employment in another arena (unless disabled of course). The people who fall in those categories have a legitimate argument for mainstream use of advanced statistical analysis (hobby is arguable)”

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  21. StevenEll says:

    ERA might be more convoluted than RA, but it’s not necessarily worse. There IS a difference between a booted ball and a ball outside the range of a fielder.

    The difference is that plays labeled as errors are plays that are made by average fielders a large percentage of the time, maybe 95% (I don’t know the exact percentage).

    A ball that is out of range for a fielder is in general NOT made a large percentage of the time (again I don’t know the exact percent).

    There are very few non-error plays that are plays that would be made by another fielder. Almost all errors are plays that would be made by other fielders. The example of Gutierrez making to to a ball that noone else gets to is the exception, not the rule.

    Why does this matter? It is more predicative to give credit to pitchers for the plays that are usually not made, and give credit to the fielders for plays that are usually made. It makes logical sense, and was the best we could do before the sabermetric revolution.

    Yes, designation of errors is seemingly arbitrary. Yes, RA is similar, only the arbitrary classification of errors is taken out, giving you a simpler statistic. But that doesn’t mean that RA is BETTER than ERA.

    RA is simple and makes perfect sense
    ERA is the first step towards separating defense and pitching. It is flawed and seemingly arbitrary, but still does a slightly better job at predicting future performance than RA.

    FIP, and other fielding independent metrics, are the next step: completely separating defense and pitching. They are substantially better than ERA or RA at judging or predicting pitcher skill, and should be used whenever possible. But if all I have is ERA or RA, I’m taking ERA.

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  22. Brent says:

    Good article – good commentary. When it’s in small, sample sizes ERA can be when it’s misleading. but overall I still think ERA in a good stat overtime.

    Greg Maddux: Career ERA – 3.16 (Good)*

    Sidney Ponson: Career ERA – 5.03 (Bad)*

    *Loaded examples

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    • Eric R says:

      Yes and no– what about differences in era and leagues and parks and team defense [beyond errors]?

      IE
      Mike Mussina 3562 IP 3.68 ERA 123 ERA+ (4.2 WAR/200IP)
      Stump Wiedman 2318 IP 3.60 ERA 88 ERA+ (1.2)

      Case Patten 2062 IP 3.36 ERA 88 ERA+ (0.5)
      Lefty Gomez 2503 IP 3.34 ERA 130 ERA+ (3.4)

      Tom Hughes 2644 IP 3.09 ERA 93 ERA+ (0.5)
      Lefty Grove 3940 IP 3.06 ERA 146 ERA+(5.0)

      Lefty Tyler 2230 IP 2.95 ERA 101 ERA+ (1.8)
      Pedro Martinez 2782 IP 2.91 ERA 153 ERA+ (5.5)

      These groups of players are nearly identical by ERA alone, but using advanced metrics we might be talking inner circle HoF vs nearreplacement level!

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    • Joe R says:

      I think he meant comparing guys of a similar era. Obviously across eras, you would use ERA+.

      And ERA+ generally works. Look at your top ERA+’ers from b-r (min 1000 IP)

      1) Mariano Rivera
      2) Pedro Martinez
      3) Lefty Grove
      4) Trevor Hoffman
      5) Walter Johnson
      6) Dan Quisenberry (whoa wait, what?)
      7) Ed Walsh
      8) Hoyt Wilhelm
      9) Joe Wood
      10) Roger Clemens
      11) Johan Santana
      12) Jim Devlin
      13) Addie Joss
      14) Brandon Webb (really)
      15) Al Spalding

      (btw, check out Jim Devlin in 1876 and 1877. Holy shit, 1,181 IP, 157 ERA+. Hall of Famer if he didn’t throw games).

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  23. Carl says:

    Great article. Fighting against the (il)logic of people like Mr. Silva is a never-ending, probably un-winnable war but the best we can do is keep fighting. As a Professional Engineer I take scientific and mathematical scrutiny very seriously. Unfortunately, it appears that the people who speak the loudest and have the most opinions (journalists and lawyers) are always the LEAST diligent in their analysis. These people struggle with the mandatory complexity of using numbers to describe and evaluate a real-world scenario. They want one basic metric on a 0 to 100 scale that tells them exactly how “good” everyone is compared to everyone else. Those of us that actually understand numbers know this is impossible and that every real-world scenario can be described by countless metrics, all offering slightly different pieces of information. Using multiple metrics and understanding how they are calculated and putting it all together into an objective evaluation is something very few people can apparently do and I commend you for it!

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    • Joe R says:

      Now let’s not go bashing the legal profession. Remember what Voros McCracken was doing before he discovered the need for defensive-independent pitching stats?

      But yes, I’m a cost estimator/analyst for engineering work, so I (kind of) come from the same boat as you. Obviously many media-types were English / BA degree type guys, and I’m not out to bash people who just happen to be more talented in putting together paragraphs than an excel spreadsheet. But analytically, too many of them talk out of their ass.

      For one, a lot do not understand that statistics are NOT a certainty. If a baseball team scores 729 runs in a season (exactly 4.5 a game), profiles out as a 4.5 run/game team and then in a 163rd game tiebreaker, breaks out for 10 runs, did statistics lie to you? No, they didn’t. Guys like Silva likely don’t understand the purpose of stats like xFIP, and aren’t grasping the value of current numbers to predict future numbers (and that certain #’s do a better job of it than others).

      So in turn, they reject the analysis, mostly because they don’t understand what the metric is trying to accomplish. W-L and ERA, that’s simple, and generally an 18-5, 3.00 ERA guy is a pretty good pitcher, and most of the time, they are right.

      For a perfect example of my point, look at Barry Zito. Even after 3 years in SF, his ERA is still .44 better than his FIP. He had an ERA+ of 125, and a 2006 ERA+ of 116, and many writers saw nothing wrong. Others wanted to point out his high walk totals and a K/BB that’s way too low for a #1 starter. People notice now.

      For another concrete example, throughout their careers, Andre Dawson was considered the superior player to Tim Raines. Now, more and more analysts are changing their mind, citing Raines’ high SB% and high BB rate vs. Dawson’s hack-tastic approach. Writers see people saying these things, and rather than look into it, cite the good ole HR and RBI totals because, to them, what really happened is all that matters (regardless of why it happened). More and more are cracking every day, though, hell, even Buster Olney loves citing K/BB now. Soon enough, these hacks will either have to learn this stuff, or learn up on the HS basketball games they’ll soon be covering, because people won’t care about their opinions. It’s happening already for guys like Dan Shaughnessy in Boston.

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  24. MBD says:

    One general point – although the equation for ERA may be simple, the majority of fans couldn’t tell you what it is.

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  25. Joe R says:

    By the way, here’s my favorite Heyman-ism ever:

    2008 AL MVP:
    1) Francisco Rodriguez
    2) Carlos Quentin
    3) Dustin Pedroia

    2008 AL Cy Young:
    1) Cliff Lee
    2) Roy Halladay
    3) Francisco Rodriguez

    So, Francisco Rodriguez was the most valuable player in the AL in 2008…but not the best pitcher? Okay.

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  26. Rich in NJ says:

    Without getting personal, NY Baseball Digest is often funnier than The Onion, although I’m not certain that the humor is intentional…

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  27. pete says:

    Using ERA as a method of pure evaluation – that is, the type of analysis that is necessary for the construction of a winning baseball team – is idiotic. At this point though, after Moneyball, Bill James, Fangraphs, etc., nobody who is responsible for building teams does. Some managers still do I think, but that’s bound to change with the next wave of smart managers, rather than former players who are smart only in relation to other ahletes.

    That said, there is really nothing wrong with people liking to use ERA as an interpretive statistic. There are 30 baseball teams, of which only 15 have winning records, and only 8 make the playoffs, and only 1 wins every year. That means that there are a hell of a lot of fans out there who have to cheer for things other than their team winning. ERA is a simple, easy-to-understand statistic, despite its poor reflection of pitcher performance. If your team sucks, and everybody on your team has a shitty WAR or tRA or wOBA or wRC+, but your fave hitter hits .315/.330/.370, then who is to say you can’t be happy he is hitting .315, even if he is actually kindof a shitty producer? On the same note, if your favorite pitcher has a K/9 of 4.5, a BB/9 of 4.5, a FIP of 4.5, and a WHIP of 1.6, but somehow managed to scrape a 3.30 ERA, then you should be allowed to be happy about that.

    Obviously, fans care most about winning, and smart fans are going to look into analysis that better reflects how baseball games are actually won. But the majority of baseball fans (like most sports fans – most people, really), aren’t particularly smart people, and the ones that are rarely have the time or enthusiasm to study the game in such a way. It takes an obsession, which in all likelihood most of the people who read this site have, to convert oneself into the era of advanced baseball metrics.

    Also, for many people, the attraction to the game is the “magic” of it – the fact that the results can appear to defy the statistics. A lot of people like the notion that a guy who goes out and wins 20 games with a FIP of 4.5 “just wins games”. People like to think that unquantifiable or intangible factors play as big a role as the statistics, even though they don’t. There really is nothing wrong with this. And since there are fans who see things a certain way, it makes sense that there are writers (who are generally not mathematically inclined anyway) who do too.

    The thing to remember is that when it comes to analysis, while it may be annoying that the general public and most of the media lag so far behind, it really doesn’t matter. Like, at all. So long as baseball front offices operate on the principles of the most advanced metrics they know of, it really doesn’t matter what Mike Silva cares about.

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  28. Cherie Priefert says:

    which would you prefer Cpanel or Directadmin. and why? any two reasons

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