Sabermetrics ruin baseball for the casual fan

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Justin Schmidt, Staff Writer

Disclaimer: If you find it difficult to follow baseball, this editorial will be equally hard to follow. That being said, if you are a baseball fanatic, I’d like to proceed with demonstrating how advanced statistics can tell a much deeper story, and confuse the casual fan. There are many statistics that are tracked in baseball to both enhance the fan experience and create an in-depth understanding of player performance. Some statistics are composed of basic math equations such hits divided by at-bats to formulate the batting average, while others known as sabermetrics are much more complicated, and adjusted based on the league average such as ERA+ or WRC+ and even OPS+.

There was an outcry in the baseball world when the Yankees’ DJ Lemahieu seemed to be snubbed of third place in MVP voting, when Oakland’s Marcus Semien took the podium. If you compare their basic stats, DJ was the “clear” favorite. He had a great 2019 season, having finished with only a few hits shy of the batting title claimed by Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox, even though Lemahieu saw significantly fewer at-bats. Let us look at the numbers between DJ Lemahieu and Marcus Semien.

As a reference, a slash line stands for batting average / on-base percentage / slugging percentage. Lemahieu slashed .327/.375/.518 with 26 Home Runs, 102 RBI’s and 109 runs scored, while Semien slashed .285/.369/.522 with 33 Home Runs, 92 RBI’s and 123 runs scored. Now based on the basic statistics, you may think that because DJ had a batting average 42 points higher, he clearly had the better season hitting, however the statistics that really matter relate back to the idea of “moneyball”.

The idea of baseball is to score runs, and how you score runs other than hitting home runs, is by getting on base and batting the runner home. Although DJ had a .042 better batting average, he only had a .006 advantage in OBP (on-base percentage). One very popular category to judge a baseball player’s hitting performance is OPS, a player’s slugging percentage plus on-base percentage, which DJ leads by .001. Currently, OPS is the mainstream way to rate how a player is batting, but is not considered an advanced statistic.  However, look at what happens when we compare Lemahieu and Semien using OPS+ which is considered an advanced statistic, or sabermetric. OPS+ is the calculation of OPS, but adjusted to league averages, so if a player has a 100 OPS+, they are quite literally an average batter. DJ’s OPS+ was 136 while Semien’s was 138, which means by using this metric, we see that DJ was 1.36 times better than the average batter while Semien was 1.38 times better, which is why he was considered a better batter even though the basic statistics may suggest otherwise.

There is also another advanced stat that is used basically to help you understand how useful a player is to their team, which is WAR, or “wins above replacement.” This sabermetric essentially calculates every stat you have, and boils it down to show how many wins you brought to your team above what an average player at your position would bring. DJ’s WAR was 6.0 while Semien’s was 8.1, which was third best in the AL (only behind Mike Trout who won MVP and Alex Bregman who was the MVP-runner up).

The point of all this information is not to slander DJ or anything he did in 2019 (I’m actually a HUGE Yankee fan), it is just to highlight the fact that to an average baseball fan it seems like a robbery to claim that Semien had a “better season” than DJ, even though in reality he did. In fact, it could even be argued that without Semien’s contributions, the Oakland A’s do not even make the playoffs. They were five games ahead of the Cleveland Indians for the second wildcard spot, and if you take away Semien’s 8.1 “wins above replacement,” then they would be sitting out in October. Sabermetrics are fun for the dedicated fan, and quite telling of true baseball performance, but 90% of baseball fans look at everything at face value and do not understand these advanced statistics.  Therefore, casual fans may be confused around award time when they do not understand the advanced statistics used nowadays to understand true player performance. For better or for worse, sabermetrics have become an integral part of the baseball experience, and it is important to understand the significance behind the numbers.