A Few Things I Hate

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by Ryan Potter

I’m all for a good discussion of baseball. In fact, I seek them out. However, here is a shortlist of topics that you want to avoid discussing if you don’t want me to walk away or toss you into the body of water closest to the city in which we are speaking. (Note: This list is not exhaustive, I hate a lot of baseball related things.)

RBI

This is a statistic that is far too dependent on the situation. For example, if a batter singles with a runner on base, he will most likely earn an RBI. If he singles with the bases empty he will not. Since the batter could not control whether a player was on base or not when he came to the plate, why should be give him more credit for the first hit as opposed to the second? Weren’t they both singles? You might say it’s a measure of clutch hitting, but I’ll get to that in a minute.  A batter’s RBI numbers can be directly correlated to the On Base Percentage (OBP) of the batters in the lineup in front of him. So RBI are more of a reflection of the strength of a lineup than of an individual player’s performance. RBI is a statistic of opportunity.
(Note:  And since it’s Runs Batted In, shouldn’t it be RsBI?)

Saves

Saves are an entirely imaginary construct.  Here is an example of the type of logic employed by those who measure a relief pitcher’s value entirely based on the “save” statistic:

If a pitcher enters the game with a 4 run lead he’s not going to bear down like he would if he entered the game with a 3 run lead, and with a 3 run the pitcher won’t bear down like he would with a 2 run lead.  If the pitcher comes in with a 3 run lead and then gives up a run, than he’s going to bear down less with a 4 run lead.  The pitcher gives up another run, it’s a 5 run lead, which means he’ll bear down less.

By this logic, the pitcher would then give up an infinite number of runs because he’s failing to bear down. That’s essentially the argument. So pitcher’s intensity increases as the lead shrinks? Their ability increases as the lead shrinks?  Their ability to prevent runs increases as the lead gets smaller? Why? Because of pressure?

I’ve never seen any data that would bear out this type of reasoning. The save stat does not actually measure an event that occurs on the field. It’s a narrative. I hate it because it affects the way bullpens and rosters are structured. Pitchers who accumulate a large amount of saves go into the free agent market and get huge contracts, contracts that they may or may not deserve based on the more useful measures of pitching success, such as Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP), Earned Run Average (ERA) and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).

Pitcher Wins

Don’t tell us anything particularly useless in terms of analyzing the quality of a particular pitcher. In an era when pitching 6 innings and allowing 3 ER or fewer is considered a quality start, is it really fair to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness this way? In earlier eras of baseball, when pitchers often went the distance, wins were a useful way of measuring a pitcher’s value. However, in this era of 8 man bullpens, in which an outing in when a pitcher goes 6 innings giving up 3 or less ER is deemed a “quality start”, is it fair to say he won the game when the bullpen did a fairly significant amount of the heavy lifting?

Run support also factors very heavily into the equation. A few seasons ago Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award despite losing 12 games. Here are the amount of runs the Mariners scored in Felix’s 12 losses:  1-3-0-1-1-2-1-0-0-1-4-0. Can you really blame him for any of those losses?

Clutch Hitting

There is such a thing as a clutch hit, there is no such a thing as a clutch hitter. If you imply that a hitter raises his game in clutch situations, than you’re also implying that player isn’t trying as hard in non-clutch situations. There may be players who wilt in clutch situations, but playing baseball in general is very stressful.  Scouts look very closely at how players handle stress  and players who can’t handle it usually get weeded out in the minors. I’ve often heard “Player X doesn’t hit as well in the playoffs, he’s not clutch”. Well, statistically speaking, most hitters should fare worse in the playoffs because they are (generally) facing better opposition. For me to believe that there is such a thing as a “clutch hitter”,  it would need to be explained to me how a player who is so bad in clutch situations was able to get through the minors and how that player is able to perform at a major league level throughout the regular season, in which there are many high pressure situations. The idea of “clutch” sounds a lot like part of a narrative that gives the guys on Baseball Tonight something to talk about.

Bonus: The other day I was listening to ESPN.com’s new Baseball Tonight podcast (which upon further thought, should have made this list) when I heard charlatan analyst John Kruk say that Robinson Cano might hit 40 to 50 home runs this season “because (the Yankees) need him to”. Does anyone really think that a player capable of hitting that many home runs wouldn’t, because his team didn’t need them? That’s illogical. No player would act like that, mostly because he would cost himself money during his next contract negotiation.

Ryan Potter can be reached on Twitter @ProfessorP0TTER

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One response to “A Few Things I Hate

  1. Great article. Tend to agree with you on everything except maybe the part about clutch hitting. There are certain players who, for one reason or another, do seem to hit better with runners on base. I think it’s because they focus less on the long ball and more on taking advantage of the opportunity to drive in a run in a variety of ways. But I guess what I’m saying really depends on how you define “clutch” and if they are really “clutch hitters” for having higher batting averages with runners in scoring position or if it’s simply a change in approach.

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