Advanced statistics in baseball have an image problem. A romance problem, if you will. Specifically: the idea of a grizzled scout looking out onto the battlefield and seeing the kind of gritty player who wins ballgames, well, that has romance. A dude plugging wOBA and wRC+ into a spreadsheet? In the words of ESPN, “We’re all gonna go dateless!”
A point must be made: the opacity of the acronyms themselves is a major factor in the perceived complexity of the statistics. Imagine integrating them into regular conversations, if you don’t already do so (and still have friends). “He’s above average as a hitter. You can tell from his double-you are see plus.” “Whoa, dude, that sounds too damn complicated.” “The guy’s got terrible range at shortstop, though. That’s why he can make highlight-reel plays with a terrible UZR.” “Oozer? I hardly know ‘er!” And so forth.
We statheads, cocooning ourselves in things like RA-9 WAR and expecting our friends to catch up, might make it easier on them by explaining what we measure in plain English. There are FanGraphs writers who are very good at this; it’s why they get paid money for what they do. Some other folks need a little help.
My modest proposal is to revise the acronyms we use to signify some of our favorite statistics. With a little luck, a little savvy, and a medium-height English literature graduate, we can create new terms which both summarize the needed statistic and are catchy to say aloud. For example:
– isolated power (ISO). ISO is used to show a hitter’s raw power. Batting average is hits divided by chances for hits; ISO is extra bases taken divided by chances for hits. And we can make that even more clear by calling it Hitting Ultra Long, Knowledgeable Statistic Measuring Ability to Stroke Homers (HULKSMASH).
EXAMPLE: “Jose Bautista was a pretty unremarkable hitter for most of his career, until September 2009, when he came out of nowhere with an amazing HULKSMASH.”
– weighted runs created plus (wRC+). What lies behind this dorky name? Well, we first measure roughly how many runs a player creates with his bat, using hits, walks, and so on. Then we create a putative average and set that at 100. Then everything’s scaled so that, for instance, 120 means you’re 20% better and 5 means you’re 95% worse than average.
Wouldn’t it be useful if the name wRC+ explained itself in plain English? For instance, we might explain that we’re comparing runs added by a player to a putative average. In other words, Comparing Runs Added to Putative Mean of All Players (CRAPMAP).
EXAMPLE: “The New York Mets lineup is all over the CRAPMAP. Last year David Wright’s CRAPMAP coordinate was 155 but Kirk Nieuwenhuis was way down at 72.”
In light of the negative connotation of “crap,” we might consider reversing the scale so that higher numbers mean more crappiness.
– ultimate zone rating (UZR). This measures how good you are at defense, but I don’t know how it works. The proposed replacement acronym reflects this central mystery, but it also describes the statistic much better than UZR, which for all I know could measure how “in the zone” somebody is. Let’s change it to Fielding: Official Numerical Descriptive Utility of Excellence (FONDUE).
EXAMPLE: “Last year, with all his throwing issues, Ryan Zimmerman was one of the worst defenders in baseball as measured by FONDUE.”
– baserunning (BsR). Okay, this one’s pretty simple, so simple I don’t even know why we gave it such a silly abbreviation. Was BSR taken? Or just BR? Anyway, we don’t need to worry about it anymore, because now we’re checking on Hitters Effectively Running Bases, Assessed Logically (HERBAL).
EXAMPLE: “The Colorado Rockies are hoping that outfielder Charlie Blackmon will supply them with a lot of HERBAL this year.”
– batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Simple, you think. But more descriptive yet is Batting Average Regarding Fair Contact Only if Playable (BARFCOP).
EXAMPLE: “I don’t think he can sustain that success going forward. No hitter, no matter how good, can escape the consequences of having such an erratic BARFCOP.”
– weighted on-base average (wOBA). First of all, what’s with the lowercase W? Is wOBA the iPad of stats? Second, this is another term whose meaning is unclear. We could explain to readers that wOBA weighs various outcomes (single vs. home run) and makes the more important outcomes a more important part of the equation.
Or we could go with the coolest acronym and call it Weighted Hitting Assessment Measuring Meaningful Outcomes (WHAMMO).
EXAMPLE: “Joey Votto is a great guy. He’s always going to have his WHAMMO sitting among the very best.”
And finally, the most important stat of all:
– wins above replacement (WAR) or victories over replacement player (VORP). To the average baseball fan, WAR is a bit of a nebulous concept. “Mike Trout is worth ten wins.” “Uh, whaddya mean?” Now, if you explain it for twenty more seconds, they’ll understand just fine. But wouldn’t you rather we had something everyone can understand and get behind? Wouldn’t you rather have it that nobody would dare speak an ill word about WAR?
Well, that’s possible. We just call it Baseball Excellence Exceeding Replacements (BEER). Same concept. Same math. Same powerful analysis. Just measured in BEER.
“Well, it’s like this. Imagine if the average AAA guy was worth zero BEERs, and the average major leaguer was worth, say, two BEERs.”
“Mike Trout is worth ten BEERs.”
“I’ll be damned.”
Before you know it, everyone in baseball will be talking the language of statistical analysis. And we won’t all be going dateless. We’re the ones with the BEER.
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