500 Level Fan Presents – Baseball’s Stupidest Stats

stupidity

Baseball is a sport full of statistics. Of all the major sports, it is the one that lends itself best to data collection, a fact proven by the almost unlimited amount of statistical information available to the public.

Do you want to know how many doubles Jose Bautista hit in 2009 when faced with a 2-1 count? I can tell you – one. Dying to know Mark DeRosa’s career batting average with one out and runners on first and third? Sure thing: .258.

Baseball has so many stats, from the general (hits, HR), to the specific (average with runners in scoring position, less than two outs, facing a left handed pitcher, in an afternoon game in May), that even existing stats are creating new stats (ERA+, OPS+, etc).

But of all of baseball’s statistics, of all the numbers that are quoted by analysts and television commentators, some are just mind blowingly stupid. I can get really specific with some, but without getting too obscure, here is a list of five fairly common stats that I can do without. The first two are shared by many, the last three are more personal irritants. Enjoy!

1. Pitcher’s W-L record

Any sophisticated fan knows that a pitcher’s record is meaningless, but for those that still might find value in it, let me show you how stupid it actually is with one example:

Two weeks ago, on May 11th, the Jays faced the Red Sox in Boston. Mark Buehrle walked the leadoff batter in the bottom of the 8th and was pulled. His pitching line at that point: 7 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 5 K. The Jays led 2-0. Darren Oliver came into the game, and promptly allowed a triple, before an infield error allowed the tying run to score. In the top of the 9th Adam Lind hit a game winning HR, and the Jays won 3-2. Winning pitcher? Not the guy who had tossed 7 shutout innings, but the guy who was on the mound when both runs scored to tie the game.

Theoretically, a starting pitcher could pitch 8 innings every start for 32 starts, allow one solo HR each game, walk nobody, and strike out 15. But his team could be shutout in all 32 starts he makes. His final season line? 256 IP, 1.13 ERA, 0.13 WHIP, 480 K, 0-32 record.

Similarly, a starting pitcher could pitch 5 innings every start for 32 starts, allow 8 earned runs, walk five, give up 8 hits, and strike out a single batter. But his team could score 10 runs a game in each of his starts. His final season line? 160 IP, 14.40 ERA, 2.60 WHIP, 32 K, 32-0 record.

Still think a pitcher’s record tells you how good a pitcher is?

2. Saves

A lot has been written about meaningless the save stat is, and I fully agree. The official definition of a save is:

Rule 10.20 in the Official Rule Book states:
Credit a pitcher with a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:
(1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
(2) He is not the winning pitcher; and
(3) He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
– (a) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
– (b) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batsmen he faces; or
– (c) He pitches effectively for at least three innings. No more than one save may be credited in each game

There are many problems with that. A pitcher coming into a game with a 3-run lead and the bases empty gets a save. A pitcher coming into pitch the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings of a 15-0 blowout gets a save. Yet a pitcher who comes into the 8th inning to face a bases loaded, nobody out jam with a one-run lead and gets out of it gets no credit (other than a hold).

The worst part about saves? They have destroyed bullpen management as managers tend to use closers (usually by definition a team’s best reliever) ONLY in a save situation. If a game is tied, or if a team is down by a run in a key situation, wouldn’t you want the best available pitcher into the game? Exactly.

3. Comeback Wins

Often when you watch a baseball game on TV, you’ll hear the announcers mention that one team “leads the league with 26 comeback wins”. Sounds impressive right? Well, kind of. Except comeback wins literally means games when a team has trailed in a game and ended up winning. Trailed at ANY time in a game, and by ANY amount.

Down 8-1 in the bottom of the 9th with two outs and nobody on, and comeback to win? Count it as a comeback

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win. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the first before you’ve even had a player come to the plate, and then win? Yes sir – still counts as a comeback win.

The stat is so deceiving that in my opinion it’s meaningless. Make it more specific (comeback wins when trailing in the 9th, or comeback wins when down by 5+ runs) then it adds value.

Otherwise? Who cares.

4. Errors

For baseball eternity it has always been a general rule of thumb: the fewer the errors a fielder commits, the better the fielder. But is it true? Absolutely not.

So many subjective decisions go into deciding if a play is an error or not, and if it is, who is credited with the error. If there is a routine grounder to short and the throw is bungled at first, who gets the error? The shortstop for the throw, or the first baseman for the catch? It all depends the official scorer. (And often on the player – I’m sure there are more E3 when Derek Jeter makes the throw because of his name value).

Similarly, if there is a ball deep in the gap and a CF runs a huge distance to get there but ends up dropping the ball (but keeping the runner at first), it is likely an error. If a slower CF puts less effort in and lets the ball go to the fence, it is a double. In the boxscore, the CF with the error beside his name will appear to be a worse fielder, which is clearly untrue.

5. Historical Team vs. Player Head-to-Head Records

This one really irks me. An example of what I mean by this is as follows: “Andy Pettitte owns the Blue Jays in his career”. If that sentence is stated as a fact to preview a Yankees vs. Jays game, that’s fine. But more often than not, it is meant as an implication that Toronto will struggle against Pettitte in the upcoming game.

What is never mentioned, and also rarely considered by fans when something like that is said, is that every team is different. Pettitte pitched against the Jays in 1995. He pitched against them in 2002. He pitched against them in 2008. Those three teams were INCREDIBLY DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER!! Virtually 100% of the 2013 roster wasn’t on the team in those years, so why does the statement “Andy Pettitte owns the Blue Jays in his career” mean anything to anybody? Pettitte vs. an individual player, yes. But vs. an entire team that continually churns its roster? Please.

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