Traditional Baseball Statistics Still Pertinent in Today’s Game, But New Metrics Have Merit

Traditional Baseball Statistics Still Pertinent in Today's Game, But New Metrics Have Merit Editor’s Note: Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will examine one hot-button baseball topic each day in December. On Thursday, he determined which team has the best uniforms.

We live in an age where UZR and WAR mean as much to baseball analysts as ERA and RBI, pitting old- and new-school camps against one another in debates related to the merits of each player.

Every organization is aware of and utilizes many of the new metric systems designed to analyze a player’s value in ways that home run totals cannot. Many base particular moves on such systems alone, causing us to wonder, do traditional statistics matter anymore in baseball?

Obviously, the number of runs a player scores or the percentage of times he gets a hit means plenty. A better question may be how much the older categories still matter.

On their own, they do not mean as much as they used to. A player with a .314 batting average used to stand out, regardless of the rest of his game. Now, if metrics show him to be a poor defender and a guy who rarely performs well in high-leverage situations, he might be knocked down a peg or two. If the management of his team is interested in such parameters, said player may be benched. A .314 hitter riding the pine…wouldn’t imagine it years ago.

Similarly, a player who sports a sizable UZR (the oft-used defensive metric of the day) but only hits .228 when given a starting job likely lacks value in the same way as our first case. Sounds more like a late-game defensive replacement or a utility guy than anyone you would want taking up a spot in the lineup for 150-plus games.

There are also less-heralded and less-concrete numerals for base running, a vital component that players such as Kevin Youkilis and Derek Jeter have made a mastery of, squeezing runs out of situations that never should’ve allowed them, even if they don’t possess blinding speed. It’s an aspect of the game that is hard to quantify, although many have tried.

The landscape upon which many new statistics are calculated is constantly changing, at times even becoming littered with contradictions. Some formulae used to determine one value system can be vastly different than others designed to determine the same thing. Most are entirely digit driven, but there can be a “naked eye” component to others. Certain systems account for wind, rain or other forces of nature. Others do not.

The lesson in all of this is simple: both camps have usable statistics, but very few reach the moon. They must be utilized in conjunction with one another to get the best possible picture and determination of exactly what a player brings to the table.

The granddaddy of them all when it comes to valuation schemes, WAR (Wins Above Replacement), does just that. By translating the counting stats of your father’s father (doubles, home runs, etc.) to contemporary rate stats (on-base percentage, for instance) of your older brother and then combining them, an overarching determination of value is established. But even then, park effects are often excluded, or adjusted through other wildly confusing calculations, for which we don’t have the time or the mental capacity to get into right now.

Central in the new-fangled web is a solid understanding that OBP is vastly important in the process, and the basis upon which many statistics are derived. We learned this in Moneyball, so that’s not necessarily new.

We have yet to even touch on the process and value of fielding and pitching metrics, which shows how far-reaching this new era of analysis is. None of it will do a manager a darn thing when he needs to find someone to pinch hit against a lefty in the bottom of the eighth (simple stats against southpaws should suffice) but the collection of numbers will allow organizations to be a bit more careful with their money. Real value systems are in place, and big money for pure home run hitters may not always make sense. Increasingly, value-rated statistics are being used to determine contract terms.

By that logic, the new statistics have great merit. Baseball, after all, is just a business.

What is your take on non-traditional stats? Share your thoughts below.

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