In this week’s edition of Curveballs and Sliders, Herts Baseball Club’s Joe Gray takes explores the stats and numbers involved in baseball.
When it comes to statistics in sport, baseball trumps all-comers in the richness and popularity of those used. Perhaps only cricket, in fact, runs it anywhere close.
Every event on a baseball field can be easily summarised in numerical data, and with the regular season alone comprising 162 games it is not difficult to see how this is the case.
Some statistics are easy enough to understand without any deep knowledge of the game as they are simply tallies of events.
The number of home runs a player has hit, for instance, is tracked, and the player with the most at the end of the season across the league is awarded the home-run title.
But even tallies can be tricky to understand for newcomers. There is a fairly intricate definition, for instance, of when a pitcher is credited with a win, a loss, a save or something else besides.
Essentially, though, the starting pitchers amassing the greatest number of wins receive the most fan interest, while for closers - pitchers who are brought in at the end of tight games - the core statistic in this regard is saves.
For other statistics, some kind of average is calculated, and these can range from being slightly more intricate than the simple tallies, to being deeply more so.
One of the more basic of these is batting average, in which a batter’s hit tally is divided by the at-bat tally - the output is provided to three decimal places and written without a leading zero.
In professional baseball, the benchmark for a very good season is a batting average of .300. Hitters dream of batting .400 over the season, but this is a feat not achieved for decades in the Major Leagues.
Another classic average-based stat is a pitcher’s ERA - earned-run average - which gives the number of runs that a pitcher would typically give up (discounting any attributable to fielding errors) over the course of a nine-inning game. Anything below 3.00 is considered very good.
But these stats have been criticised for being overly simplistic – by not taking into account all the ways a player can contribute to his team and not adequately ruling out the influence of team-mates. A whole raft of more advanced statistics has thus been developed, and with baseball the big-money sport that it is, teams employ analysts to mine the data and try to be better at assessing established players, and scouting emerging talent, than their rivals.
> Joe Gray is the founder and co-ordinator of Project COBB, the home of the chronicling of British Baseball. To visit the website click here
Next week, Curveballs and Sliders will delve into baseball slang and terminology.