Beyond Batting Average: A Reviewby David Gassko
April 07, 2010
Discussions about Win Probability Added on the MLB Network; Fangraphs founder (and friend of THT) David Appleman appearing on ESPN; Bill Simmons finally converting to the baseball statistical revolution—it’s clear that sabermetrics has hit the mainstream.
It’s about time. Over the past many years, baseball statistical analysis has advanced by leaps and bounds. In fact, while many believe that sabermetrics is slowing down, the fact is that more advanced statistics have become available to the general public over the past couple years (thanks largely to Fangraphs) than at any other time.
Take a look at this neat timeline that Appleman recently posted: In the past two years, Fangraphs has made public for the first time pitch type and velocity number, plate discipline statistics based on play-by-play data, Ultimate Zone Rating, Wins Above Replacement and individual pitch values. That is a ton of new and extremely important information. Now we just need someone to explain it all.
Because the amount of data available has increased exponentially over the past few years, it has been just about impossible for all but the most hardcore stat nuts to keep up with it all. Ironically, the more data that became available, the less accessible it became to the average (or even well above-average, sabermetrically speaking) fan.
Over the past year or so, many baseball bloggers have tried to help their readers comprehend all this information by writing primers about the most important statistics and concepts in sabermetrics. Perhaps the most notable series is the one that Graham Macaree did on Lookout Landing.
Still, there has not really been a comprehensive resource that explains all the sabermetric statistics you need to know in one simple package. Well, at least there wasn’t until Lee Panas published Beyond Batting Average: Baseball Statistics for the 21st Century last month.
Beyond Batting Average is split into 15 chapters covering, among other things, the history of baseball statistics, hitting statistics, pitching statistics, fielding statistics and base running statistics, with chapters on what wins ball games, adjusting for a player’s environment and, finally putting everything together, how to measure a player’s total contribution as well.
Each chapter progresses from simpler statistics to the more advanced variety, and Panas does a great job explaining how each statistic is calculated, as well as its strengths and weaknesses. As a writer Panas is no Bill James, but his explanations are simple and easy to follow. The organization of the chapters also allows Panas to bring the reader along slowly, first explaining the simpler numbers and then delving into the more advanced stuff.
Overall, Panas accomplishes his goal: Explaining the baseball statistics you need to know to be a fully informed fan these days. To be honest, though, I was personally hoping for more.
Beyond Batting Average is a good guide or manual, but it is not a manifesto. What I am still waiting for is a book that does not use the statistics that are out there as a starting point, but rather a book that asks, what is it that we want to measure and how should we measure it, and then shows how advanced baseball statistics are the answer to that question.
Panas’ book serves as guide to those who are already convinced that sabermetric statistics are the way to go and wants to understand how they are derived, but it is not going to convince any of the unconverted that sabermetric concepts are important to understanding baseball. There is still a book to be written that asks how do we measure a fielder’s performance, and then shows why Ultimate Zone Rating is the answer to that question. Such a book could serve as a sabermetric textbook, and it could do a lot of good in winning over skeptical, but open-minded baseball fans.
Still, I don’t want to criticize Beyond Batting Average for what it is not. After all, Panas sets out with a specific goal—in his own words, “to explain the new world of baseball statistics in a way that any knowledgeable and curious baseball fan will comprehend”—and he very much fulfills it. For fans who are interested in the world of sabermetric statistics (as any reader of The Hardball Times surely must be), but want to better understand all of the advanced statistics that have proliferated over the past few years, Beyond Batting Average serves as a great guide.
David Gassko is a former consultant to a major league team. He welcomes comments via e-mail.