This post is many moons in the making. I wrote a draft a long time ago but tossed it and forgot about it all. Then picked it up again just weeks ago to focus on the aftermath of the 2012 MLB season, and then see if I could draw any proper calculations. This will be the first of 4 posts. In this post I’m describing a stat I created years ago that no one knows about, yet could be beneficial for those wanting to study the inner game of baseball, and something for you sabermetrics/Bill James aficionados. The 2nd post will address one stat that actually is a Bill James creation that I’ve dusted off and examined.
As the title of my blog suggests, I’m all about idealism in sports. I know more about baseball than the other sports in my radar combined. Granted I do like my football (soccer) and do follow other sports like auto racing, tennis, golf, and others which have a good deal of stats. I admit I appreciate some sports primarily for those stats. In this blog you’ve seen me post biorhythms re the chances of tennis and boxing players for a given day.
What got me started on this essay were 2 publications. Actually, one book and one quote. The ofted-quote line by Ted Williams about having a goal to be the greatest hitter who ever lived was worth examining. Then by chance, in a local library where I lived in Brooklyn, was a book published in Canada by an author you’ve never heard of. He takes the spiritual name of Go, and wrote about The Tao of Baseball. The book reads poetically, yet it gives enough meat for those who desire some amount of strategy and inspired example of how the game ought to be played. I eventually bought a used version one of those online bookstores and studied it further.
The key quote from the book centers around the pitcher dictating the action and starting the cycle. It also touches upon the conflict of batter vs. pitcher. It occurred to me that this is really the art. The very art that is supposedly one of the hardest feats of all in sports; hitting a 5.5 ounce ball with a round bat. Not to mention hitting that objects ‘where they ain’t ‘, and hitting for a home run ,labeled as the ultimate Yang, by the author. No question. Even if something about the player or the objects seem unrealistic in this age of steroids, there still is the mystique of the home run. Nothing quite like it compares, except maybe the drama of a corner or long free kick in football (soccer) or field goal in American football, or maybe even a boundary in cricket. It does look tough to do!
So the thought occurred to me, could there be a statistical way to measure the elements of making contact, along with the threat of hitting a home run? I’ve worked on the formula a while and came up with this, after a number of trials:
Fear factor (patent pending, patent pending!) = [PA – (BB + K + HBP) / PA ] x (SLG/BA)
This measures every single plate appearance by a batter, removing every single occurrence where the batter does not make contact.
In the other half of the function, we are measuring bases per hit, the opposite of Bill James’ Isolated Power stat, which subtracts BA from SLG. Here we see how much of a power a hitter is.
Combining these 2 elements, we come up with a ratio that could be seen as Adjusted Bases Per Hit. I decided to give a temporary title, and also dress up the number a bit. But first, a bit more on these 2 multiples:
(SLG/BA), again, is a measure of how many bases per hit a batter gets. Very simple.
In putting this together, I want to measure who are the most dangerous hitters at the plate, those who you dare not pitch to. Potentially this could be a lineup yardstick, where you’d have a middle score at the top, a larger score in the middle, and the weaker scores at the bottom.
[PA – (BB + K + HBP) is what I call a Contact Average. This average is the amount of times per 100 PA that a batter makes fair contact with the ball, so there is either a hit or an out. Note that sacrifices are not in the equation.
A sample of 459 MLB batters from 2012 were drawn. My only standard were that a batter have 100 PAs.
Attached to the blog is a spreadsheet that contain the contact average, bases per hit, the combined product (Fear Factor…again, a better name should be chosen), and yet another stat that we’ll get to in the next post. Oh yeah, this gets real good.
Further I think it best if we draw a matrix that shows a profile of players. From our 2 variables, here’s what we can come up with:
Free swingers (low contact average, high bases per hit) Great examples include Mark Reynolds and Giancarlo Stanton
Sacrifical lambs (high contact average, low bases per hit) (Placido Polanco, Marco Scutaro, et al.)
Weak fishes (low contact average, low bases per hit) Bottom 5 of the FF
MVPs (high contact average, high bases per hit) Top 5 of the FF
The MLB average for 2012 were:
Contact average: .714. Top scores per the spreadsheet were well into the mid .800’s, with the low around .500. Imagine that!
Bases per hit average was 1.588. Figure 1.6 bases per hit per batter; that’s like 3 doubles and 2 singles for a typical 5 hits. Or 1 homer and 4 singles.
And the Fear Factor average (.714 x 1.588) is 1.13383.
As for the dress-up: I took the stance, as it were of imaging a home-run-derby, where you’d have to hit past a certain number to clear the fence. The base number I chose was 300. So if a player had a ratio that matched the MLB average of 1.13383, that translates to 340.149. The stat is not to be taken to the very letter in that such a hitter must hit a ball 340 feet but it’s a good number for this purpose. The top 20 hitters in my scope gathered at least a ratio of 1.35, so the base number of 300 presents our Fear Factor number at 405. It looks better because hitting a ball 400 feet will guarantee a homer in many ballparks, and…well…we are measuring contact and power here, right? The lowest numbers (our weak fishes) had ratios of under .7, for converted scores in the 200s.
And that’s the delicate combo here that I want to see among the players. Who has the MVP numbers, those who have high contact and power numbers based on my stats?
The answers, folks, are in the spreadsheet attached.
And your bottom 5:
Top 20 are listed in bold, bottom 20 in italics.
Also, the players are rather consistent from year to year in this particular formula. Which makes sense. A hitter will never really change stripes all that much except a loss in bat or foot speed. A pitcher can always use deception and change pitches, or (as The Tao Of Baseball suggests), learn to use the knuckler.
Is there a pitcher equivalent to this stat? There just might be. I haven’t fully worked it out, but the ideal situation would be this:
Looking for batters who almost always make contact, who have a good deal of pop;
Facing pitchers who encourage the batter to work the count. One good example of such a pitcher is Nolan Ryan. See how many BBs he acquired along with the Ks? To ‘win’ against Ryan, you’d have to make contact and quickly. For a contact pitcher, you’d have to do the opposite and work the count. So it depends on the matchup.
Truly, the ultimate win for a batter is the home run, while the ultimate loss is the K. I promise to get to work on this in a future installment.
Now if you’ve gotten this far, and figure this might be a bit of a stretch, here’s a quick-and-dirty method: Look at a batter’s ratio of HRs to Ks. Obviously every batter will have much less HRs. But look at some modern players, and then look at one Joseph Paul DiMaggio.
And that’s where I’ll leave you. In the next I will give you something of an historical perspective, taking several leading players in several variables and apply these formulas. You might be surprised at what comes up.