On several sports sites, I continually see so-called sports fans (and some paid analysts!) using stats to justify player comparisons or evaluations without actually knowing what the stats actually mean and how important each stat is in the big picture. This is a big problem when talking about baseball players. So, in this article and next week in part two, I will do a breakdown of all the relevant stats for hitters and pitchers, what they mean and how they should be used when comparing players, evaluating a player’s career etc. The stats I will use will be those listed on any player’s main player page on Baseball-Reference (not the stats you will find under the “more stats” section) because these encompass the main stats people use when talking baseball.
This week I’m going to start with hitting stats – what’s more important RBIs or OBP for instance? Hopefully, by the time you get done reading this article you will know the answer and be able to explain why and the next time you are talking about baseball, you will sound like an informed sports fan and not just a typical talking-head. So, here’s what stats are listed on Baseball-Reference and what they actually mean, how important they actually are and how they should be used. Then, at the end, I will rank the stats in order of importance – but keep in mind, no single stat can or should be used to say whether a player was good or not; you have to use all the stats to get a complete picture a player.
First, let me breakdown how I categorize a stat. I have three categories of stats – compiled/longevity stat, production stat and performance stat. Here’s the definition of each:
Compiled/Longevity stat – due to playing time, being on good teams and/or other factors that the player has 0 control over. These reflect durability, length of career, etc. While important, they don’t necessarily indicate value unless they are examined within the context of their own timeframe. For example, having a lot of at bats or a lot of hits, in and of itself, means only so much. If you get to 3,000 hits but bat .250 while doing so, does the milestone really matter? These stats are used by the non-informed sports fan or blind homer when arguing their player’s strengths (i.e. the Phillies fan that first uses Jimmy Rollins’ record Plate Appearances in 2007 to show how good he was but as you’ll see below, the player himself has 0 control over plate appearances). These stats should only be used as a last resort when performance stats and production stats are equal, and even then, you have to still take into many other factors such as era played in, number of pitchers in the rotation etc.
Production stat – reflect what a player produces as a result of his play. Do his at bats produce runs or RBIs? These stats are useful because production matters, but they are also not entirely within the player’s control. Significant external factors, such as the quality of the team around that player, can have a dramatic impact and have to be accounted for. A good player on a bad team might end up with the same number of RBIs as a bad player on a good team, that doesn’t make them equal. When comparing/evaluating players, you should only look at most production stats when the performance stats are equal or very close.
Performance stat – a stat that is measurable but is not directly affected by other factors but is instead almost 100% on the player themselves (it can be made up of other stats – i.e. Slugging %). Basically, when the result was all on the player, how did that player perform? These stats more accurately measure how good a player is – is he getting on base, is he hitting, how many bases is he getting from those hits, what is his walk or strikeout rate, what is his stolen base percentage etc? These stats reflect aspects of the game that are most dependent upon the player himself and thus are arguably the most important and the better the player in more of these stats, the better the player is overall. When comparing/evaluating players, performance stats for the most part are the most important to look at – if one player is significantly better in these stats, the production or compiled/longevity stats don’t come into play.
Games (G) – How many games a player actually played in (not just was on the team for). This stat is used to determine if a player was injured, injury prone or an everyday player (but keep in mind, when comparing players from different eras that the length of the seasons changed and why Commissioner Frick gave Roger Maris an * when he hit 61 HRs in a season, because he did it in 162 game season, while Ruth did it in 154).. Number of games played also increases the chances for other stats, so when comparing players, the player with more games played had more chances to succeed so you have to take that into account when looking at their stats. For example, Hank Aaron had more home runs than Babe Ruth, however, Aaron also played in 3298 games compared to 2503 for Ruth. So, it took 795 more games for Aaron to hit 41 more home runs than Ruth – so ask yourself, if given 795 more games, just how many more HRs would Ruth have hit? The flip side is also true, more games played than another player can show that one player was an everyday player or less injury prone and that also needs to be taken into account. For example, Cal Ripken played every day for almost his entire career, while another shortstop with better offensive numbers overall played in less. That other shortstop is Barry Larkin and his durability is always used as a sticking point when comparing the two. What’s more important – a slightly worse offensive player (in some respects) who actually played every day or a player who had a hard time being healthy but when he was healthy was the better player?
The biggest problem with Games is it’s a double-edged sword – a high number of games might mean the player was a compiler (only put up the final numbers because he played a lot) or the high number of games actually hurt his final stats (player hung around too long and the decline at the end of his career caused some stats to drop, i.e. batting average, OBP etc); while, a low number of games might mean the player missed significant time due to injury, not being an everyday player for part of his career or just retired early.
Games as a stat should only be used to determine how many chances the player had to improve (or decrease) his stats and how many games he played in comparison to another player. So, basically, if you have to use Games as a stat to justify your evaluation/comparison of a player, you’re reaching for straws; however, if you have two players who are very close in all stats across the board (including number of seasons played) and one player has a significant advantage in games player, that player may have been more valuable due to the ability to play every day; but only if the other stats are too close to tell who was actually better.
Games is a compiled/longevity stat – don’t use it unless everything else is close.
Plate Appearances (PA) – The number of times a player got to the plate, no matter the outcome (different than At Bats which doesn’t count the times a player got a BB or a Sac Fly etc). The problem with this stat is that it is highly dependent on other factors – number of games played (more games played, more plate appearances), spot in the batting order (a leadoff hitter will get more plate appearances per game than a guy who hits 8th) and how potent an offense the player is on (more high powered offense, the more times per game the lineup turns over meaning the players on that team get to the plate more often). Is it really fair to use Plate Appearances as a stat when comparing a leadoff hitter to a guy who bats 8th or a hitter on the Yankees to say the Pirates? No, because the player himself can’t control how many times he gets to the plate and any stat that is 100% out of the player’s control is a stat that should never be considered. So, while Jimmy Rollins lead the NL in Plate Appearances with 725 in 2009 (leadoff hitter on high powered offense), what he did when he got to the plate is all what matters (the other stats in this article), not the fact that he simply got to the plate.
Plate Appearances is a compiled/longevity stat – but unlike other compiled/longevity stats, I wouldn’t use this as a stat at all when comparing players because the player himself had 0 say in how many plate appearances he got.
At Bats (AB) – The number of times a player got to the plate minus any times he was walked, hit by a pitch, got a sacrifice bunt, got a sacrifice fly or reached first on catcher’s interference. Similar to plate appearances but determined by the result of the plate appearance. The problem with this stat is it is also dependent on the same things plate appearances are (games played, spot in order, type of offense) but it is also dependent on what the player does at the plate. If the batter takes a lot of walks for example, his AB will be lower than a hitter who doesn’t take a lot of walks. For example, in 1959 Hank Aaron had 693 plate appearances and 629 ABs and was walked only 51 times. In comparison, in 1921, Babe Ruth had 693 plate appearances but only 540 ABs because he was walked 145 times. So, as you can see using At Bats to compare two players is pointless because a player may be better in other areas that cause At Bats to drop and being better in the other categories is more telling than having a higher or lower number of At Bats.
At Bats is in between a production stat and a compiled/longevity stat – production stat because it can give you a quick idea of what kind of hitter the hitter was (take a lot of walks?) but I wouldn’t use it all, so it’s also a compiled/longevity stat (more games, plate appearances = more at bats).
Runs (R) – Scoring runs means better chance to win right? Yes, the goal in any sport is to score more than your opponent. Runs are a result of OBP – the more you get on base, the more runs you can score and Runs are highly dependent on the batters behind you in the lineup driving you in. If a player has a high OBP (say over .400) but has no one in the lineup to drive him in, he won’t score runs. However, if a player has just a decent OBP (say .350) he can easily score 100 runs in a season if he has a strong lineup behind him. So while scoring Runs is important to the team, if you’re using Runs to compare players you have to take into account the other factors – did one player have a better lineup, did one player get on-base more etc.
Runs is a production stat – can show you how his at bats or OBP produced for his team, however, you need to ensure you understand everything involved in why the stat was what it was (good/bad lineup, good/bad OBP etc).
Hits (H) – Hits should never be used by themselves as a stat because while they may look great at first glance, you have to look at the other stats that use Hits as part of their determination (OBP, Slugging %, Batting Average). A guy can get 200 hits for a season (good) but if he did it while having an OBP of .300 and a Slugging % of .400 (both not good), pretty much means he’s just a slap hitter. When looking at hits for a career, 3000 hits is the magic number, but you have to look at how many seasons he played for – 3000 hits in 20 seasons is 150 a year while 3000 hits in 16 seasons is 187.5 a year and look at the other stats too; getting 3000 hits for a career while batting .250 is not as good as getting 2900 hits while batting .320 just means one guy hung around longer than the other.
Hits are a performance stat, but one of the last ones you should look at because hits comprise many of the other “better” stats like batting average, OBP etc. Also, be wary of the “compiler” aspect of hits I mentioned above.
Doubles (2B) and Triples (3B) - Doubles/triples, like Hits, should never be used by themselves. Many factors go into doubles/triples – speed of the player, size of the ballparks etc. Joe Dimaggio had a lot of doubles and not as many HRs but that was because being a right-handed hitter in the old Yankee Stadium, left-center was so deep that any ball hit there became a double, but if he was in any other park it would have been a HR and a guy like Ichiro (or any other speedster) can turn a deep single into a double just by virtue of being able to run fast.
Doubles/triples are performance stats but one of the last performance stats you should use (already accounted for in Slugging %), because whether or not a player has a lot of doubles or triples in comparison to another could be because of something as simple as their home ballpark. If you’re using doubles or triples to make the final call on how good a player is, it means none of the other stats were able to do that already.
Home Runs (HR) – Home Runs are a tricky stat to use because when used on their own they can be deceiving. If a player hits 40 HRs in a season, that’s great and means he’s a power hitter, however, did that player also have a good OBP to go along with it meaning he got on base other ways or was he just an “all or nothing” type hitter? Which would you rather have – a player who hits 40 HRs with a batting average of .250 and an OBP of .340 or a player who hits 30 HRs with a batting average of .300 and an OBP of .400? While pure power hitters are always great to have, a player with power and the ability to do other things with the bat are better overall players.
Home Runs are a performance stat but one of the last performance stats you should use (already accounted for in Slugging %). Also, ensure you are using this stat in conjunction with the more important performance stats (OBP, Slugging % etc) to truly see how good the player was overall not just in power. Keep in mind, the era played in, the ballpark (small parks of today compared to the cavernous stadiums back in the day) etc, all can play a part in a player’s HR totals.
Runs Batted In (RBI) – RBIs are important, after all, the more you have, the more your team scores. However, RBIs are not solely on the hitter driving people in, first, he has to have people on the bases ahead of him. So, whether or not a player gets a lot of RBIs in a season or not (or for a career), depends on if the batters ahead of him in the lineup had good/great OBPs. A player batting 3rd in a lineup where the leadoff and number 2 guys in the lineup both have OBPs over .400 will have many more chances for RBIs than say a guy batting 8th where the 6th and 7th guys in the lineup have OBPs around .350. If the leadoff guy and number 2 guy both score over 100 Runs, chances are your 3rd and 4th guys in the lineup each have well over 100 RBIs and vice versa, if the leadoff guy and number 2 guy each score 80 Runs, chances are your 3rd/4th guys in the lineup don’t have 100 RBIs (or just barely).
RBIs are a production stat because it’s what the hitter produces while also taking into account how the other players ahead of him do – a bad player on a great offensive team may have just as many RBIs as a great player on a bad offensive team; sometimes you have to look at other factors to determine if this stat was because of the player’s ability or solely the team he was on.
Stolen Bases (SB) and Caught Stealing (CS) - Two stats that with rare exception (Rickey Henderson for example) should never be used individually, instead, they should be used together as the stat Stolen Base %. While having high stolen bases numbers is great, if the player gets thrown out every other time he tries to steal, did he really help his team? Which would you rather have – a player with 30 steals on the season but a 50% stolen base percentage or a player with 25 steals but an 80% stolen base percentage? Stealing bases is more than just having speed, it’s also knowing when to steal and when not to and being successful at it.
Stolen bases and Caught Stealing are performance stats. Stolen bases should only be used by itself when comparing/evaluating players if the number is very high or the difference between two players is big. Otherwise, use both these stats to create the more telling Stolen Base % and you’ll get a better idea of the greatness and value of a player.
Walks (BB) - Walks for the most part demonstrate a hitter’s patience and eye (and in some instances a great player will get a walk if he doesn’t have a threat hitting behind him). A player who takes a lot of walks makes his OBP look great while a player who doesn’t take a lot of walks has to rely on getting more hits to have a decent OBP. Let’s take a look at two current players, Adam Dunn and Ichiro. Dunn’s career batting average is .251 but his career OBP is .383 while Ichiro has a career batting average of .333 but a career OBP of .378. Ichiro’s career batting average is 82 points higher than Dunn’s but he gets on base fewer times than Dunn. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that Dunn is better than Ichiro because he walks more, but that a player that gets on base more will have more value to a team than a player that doesn’t get on base as much (provided other stats are equal, because remember, you never only look at one stat to compare players).
Walks are a performance stat and they are a key component to having a high OBP. Walks themselves should never be used individually as a stat to compare/evaluate players unless all other stats are equal.
Strikeouts (K) - Strikeouts by a batter are looked at differently by each person. Some people put emphasis on them because a batter’s job is to try to put the ball in play and if they strikeout, they didn’t do that. Others don’t care how many times a batter has struck out because at least they got the opposing pitcher to throw more pitches (minimum of 3 compared to getting a hitter to pop out on first pitch – an out is an out). Strikeouts affect your batting average and OBP (will cause them to drop like any out) so if a player strikes out a lot and has a low batting average and a low OBP, that player isn’t a good hitter. However, if that player that strikes out a lot has an average batting average but a great OBP, the strikeout wasn’t that much a factor (I once again refer you to Adam Dunn who gets over 150 strikeouts a year but also draws over 100 walks and has an OBP near .400).
Strikeouts are a performance stat, however, you should never look at strikeouts by themselves, instead look at OBP, batting average and a stat they use for pitchers but not for hitters – K to BB ratio (how many times does the player strikeout compared to how many times he draws a walk).
Batting Average (BA) - Batting average shows you how much a player gets a hit for every 10 At Bats. A player is considered pretty good if he can get a hit 3 out of every 10 at bats (.300 average). However, if all he does his hit singles, his batting average may be high, but his slugging % (which I’ll discuss later) is low. Take Ichiro in 2007 for example. He had a total of 238 hits, a batting average of .351 but a slugging % of .431 while in that same year, Magglio Ordonez had a total of 216 hits, a batting average of .363 but a slugging % of .595. So, by comparing these two players, even though there batting average was only .012 different, the slugging % difference was drastic.
Batting average is a performance stat, however, while just getting a hit is great, what that hit actually was (basically slugging %) is more important. Yes, being a singles hitter has its place in baseball, but if that’s all a player does is hit singles, how valuable is he if the other, more important stats (OPS for example) aren’t even close? Keep in mind, that batting averages are dependent on the era played in as well; a look through history will show that at one time in baseball, hitting .400 or better was the norm and that’s why you need to look at other stats before batting average.
On-Base Percentage (OBP) - You’ve seen me mention this stat several times so far and now you get to see what it is. On-base percentage basically tells you how often out of every 10 at-bats will a player get on base whether it’s through a hit, a walk or a hit-by-pitch. This is an important stat and is part of the most important batting stat OPS (on-base plus slugging). In order to win games, you need guys on base so they can score – you don’t get on base, you can’t score, plain and simple. A high OBP normally indicates a player that gets a lot of hits or draws a lot of walks (to get a truly great OBP, a player gets lot of hits and a lot of walks – Ted Williams and his career average of 188 hits per season and 143 walks per season gave him the all-time career OBP record of .482). In the example of Ted Williams, basically it means that he would get on-base once out of every two at-bats and was one of the main reasons early in his career he was scoring over 130 runs a season (keep in mind 100 runs in a season is considered great). A player with a higher OBP helps his team win games and helps the teammates behind him in the lineup get more chances for RBIs.
OBP is a performance stat that makes up part of OPS and should be used along with Slugging % to further separate players with similar OPS to determine what kind of hitter the player was – power hitter, slap hitter that drew a lot of walks etc.
Slugging Percentage (SLG) - While batting average measures how many times out of 10 at-bats you’ll get a hit, slugging % tells how “powerful” the hit was – basically it’s total bases (which I’ll describe later but gives points to each hit – a single is worth 1, a double 2, triple 3 and HR 4) divided by at-bats. This stat was once referred to as Extra Base Power – was the hitter more than just a singles hitter? There’s a big difference between a player who gets 200 hits but 150 are singles and a player who gets 170 hits with 30 HRs, 30 doubles and 30 triples for instance. A single can only get an RBI if there is a guy on 3rd and maybe 2nd depending on where the hit was. However, a double/triple can score a guy from first, and of course a HR scores at least 1 run every time. Let’s compare the top players in MLB for total hits in a career – Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Both played 24 seasons, Ty Cobb finished with 4189 hits, Rose with 4256 (and just an FYI – Rose played in 500 games more than Cobb). If any hit was just as good as another, we could just stop there. However, as I mentioned above, each kind of hit has different affects on the game; HRs result in a run each time, a triple can result in a run scoring from first etc. So, if we look deeper at Rose and Cobb’s career we’ll see that out of Cobb’s hits, 724 were doubles, 295 were triples and 117 were HRs resulting in a slugging % of .512 while Rose managed 746 doubles, 135 triples and 160 HRs resulting in a slugging % of .409. What this tells us is that Cobb was more likely to get an extra-base hit than Rose so Cobb was basically the better power hitter even though he trails Rose in HRs.
Slugging % is a performance stat that makes up part of OPS and should be used at along with OBP to further separate players with similar OPS to determine what kind of hitter the player was – power hitter, slap hitter that drew a lot of walks etc.
On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) - This stat combines the two most important individual hitting stats of OBP and Slugging % to form one stat that measures a player’s offensive worth – combines OBP which accounts for batting average and BBs, and slugging % which accounts for HRs, Triples, Doubles and Singles. Because this stat is a combination of two stats, it can have its flaws – a player can offset a “low” OBP by having a higher Slugging % and thus a higher OPS and vice versa (low slugging %, high OBP). What this stat does give you is a place to start when comparing/evaluating players and as I have repeated over and over in this article, you never rely on just one stat. For example, using the Cobb and Rose comparison from the Slugging % description above, let’s see what their OPS would have been; after all, Rose walked a lot more than Cobb (1566 BBs for Rose compared to 1249 BBs for Cobb) so maybe OPS will tell us that even though Rose in reality had more offensive worth than Cobb. Well, Rose’s OPS for his career is .784 and Cobb’s is .945. In this case, OPS (which accounts for the key hitting stats of batting average, BBs, singles, doubles, triples and HRs in either OBP or Slugging % and without needing to compare each of those stats individually), tells me that on the surface, not only was Cobb worth more offensively than Rose, it wasn’t even close (a difference of 164 points is very big), however, to further verify this fact, I would then proceed to look at the stats individually to see if Rose did better in single categories than Cobb before making the final determination.
OPS is the epitome of the performance stats and should be the first stat you look at. If you start with OPS you’ll have a good idea of what the answer is regarding a player’s offensive worth before you look at individual stat categories.
Adjusted OPS (commonly called OPS+) - Either of the + stats (whether it’s OPS+ for hitters or ERA+ for pitchers) are useful in comparing players from different leagues or from different eras and for telling you exactly what the stat is based on means. If you look at an OPS stat and see 1.000 you may think, wow, that guy had a great OPS. Now, what if I told you that the league average OPS for that time 1.100? That 1.000 OPS doesn’t look as good does it? That’s what OPS+ does. It compares the player’s OPS to the league, has a slight adjustment for ballparks played in and then compares it to a starting number of 100 (being the league average). The higher above 100, the better in comparison to the league the OPS is, the closer to 100 the closer to league average the OPS is and if it’s below 100 that means it wasn’t as good as the league average. What this means is, if a player has an OPS of 1.000 and the league average for OPS is 1.000 his OPS+ will be 100.
It is also useful to see how dominating a player was in comparison to other players he played against. For example, Babe Ruth’s highest OPS+ was in 1920 and was 255. Seeing how the league average is 100, Ruth’s OPS+ basically means he was 2 ½ times better than the average player (solely based on the OPS stat).
A key thing to keep in mind when looking at + stats, it basically removes the player’s era as any consideration so you can easily compare players from different eras. Because it ignores what the actual OPS stats are but instead is a comparison of how they compared to the rest of the league you can see how one player from today in terms of OPS compares to a player from 60 years ago, at least in respect to how that player did compared to the average player he played against. If a player has a 200 OPS+ today, it means he is basically 2x better than the average player regardless of what the actual OPS stat itself is (which can be era dependent – dead ball era, bigger ballparks, offensive explosion due to PEDs etc). Let’s take a look at the greatest player today, Albert Pujols, and compare him strictly on an OPS+ standpoint to Babe Ruth (using their highest OPS+ season). As mentioned before, Ruth’s highest single OPS+ season was 1920 when his OPS was 1.379 and his OPS+ was 255. Pujols’ best OPS+ season was 2008 when his OPS was 1.114 and his OPS+ was 190. What this tells me, is that even as great as Albert Pujols is, the difference between Pujols and everyone else in the National League isn’t as great as the difference between Babe Ruth and everyone else in the American League at the time – shows you just how truly dominate Babe Ruth was (basically Ruth was 2 ½ times better than league average while Pujols is just under 2 times better).
Also, you can have a OPS that is lower than the season before, but your OPS+ is higher For example, in 1926, Babe Ruth had an OPS of 1.253 and an OPS+ of 227 however, in 1927, Ruth had an OPS of 1.258 and an OPS+ of. If I was solely looking at OPS, I would automatically think that his 1927 OPS was better than 1926 but in reality, his 1927 OPS was closer to league average than his 1926 OPS was, even though his 1926 OPS was lower because the higher OPS+ in 1926 means he was slightly better compared to league average in 1926 than in 1927!
OPS+ is a performance stat that should only be used to get a general understanding of what an OPS stat actually means for that season or a career – a high OPS may have been the norm for that time so OPS+ will show this by being lower (closer to 100), but a high OPS may have been truly spectacular and this will be shown by an OPS+ far higher than 100. Just remember that the higher over 100 that better the player was, the closer to 100, the more average that player was and the further under 100 the number is, the worse that player was.
Total Bases (TB) - Total Bases gives you 1 point for a single, 2 for a double, 3 for a triple and 4 for a Home Run. Don’t make the mistake I have seen some people make in thinking this accounts for all bases a batter gets from the start of the inning to the end of the inning (for instance, he walks so that’s 1 base, then he steals 2nd, so that’s another). It is strictly how many bases did you get as a result of your hit.
While Total Bases are good and is a performance stat, it is accounted for in Slugging % and should never be used for comparing/evaluating players.
Grounded into Double Play (GDP) - Nothing kills an inning like grounding into a double play. If you do it too much, fans and analysts will hold it against you (this was one of the biggest reasons some people used to keep Jim Rice out of the Hall of Fame for so long), however, part of grounding into a double play is on the hitter and part of it depends on the player who’s on first – if that player is slow and that batter hits a groundball, chances are that’s a double play everytime (especially if the hitter is slow too).
GDP is in my mind a production stat (borderline performance stat) but I would never use it as a stat to compare or evaluate a player. If your strongest argument for or against player is how many times they grounded into a double play, you either didn’t look at enough stats or there was absolutely nothing to give you an answer in the other stats to tell you how good the player was (and if you can’t tell if a player was good or not by using the previous dozen or stats then the person obviously WASN’T).
Hit By Pitch (HBP) - Getting on base is all what matters and that’s the only reason they track how many times a player gets hit by a pitch but the use of body armor has made the practice much easier to do today than in previous years (how many hitters would’ve crowded the plate against Bob Gibson if they could have worn armor that wouldn’t have resulted in a broken elbow if Gibson decided to throw there – that’s the reason pitchers back in the day could pitch inside, the hitters were “afraid” of getting it, with the body armor today, that fear is gone).
HBP are accounted for in OBP, and even though it’s a production stat (borderline performance stat), don’t use it. Similar to GDP above, if you’re using this stat at all to compare or evaluate players you’re in trouble.
Sacrifice Hits (SH) – This is actually Sacrifice Bunts (hitting the ball to 2B with a man on 2nd thus advancing him to 3B is not tracked but it should be because it’s a lost art). Sac Bunts are very important because they are used to get guys into scoring position, however, you don’t see your “big hitters” do this because it’s a waste of their talents so you generally only see pitchers or guys at the bottom of the order do this.
Sac Bunts are a performance stat and is a key skill to have but due to the limited players that do it, you should avoid this stat in comparisons or evaluations of players.
Sacrifice Flies (SF) - There’s nothing better than getting a guy to 3B with less than 2 outs and being able to get the run in while getting an out at the same time, however, whether or not a player got a lot of Sac Flies or not doesn’t really matter.
Sac Flies is a performance stat (making sure you hit a fly ball to outfield with man on 3rd and less than 2 outs), but like GDP, Sac Bunts etc, if you’re using this as a stat for comparison you’re in trouble.
Intentional Walks (IBB) - Intentional walks are given to a hitter for one of three reasons; they are the only threat in the lineup and it’s easier to just walk them than face the guy behind them, the opposing team is trying to setup a double-play situation and finally, in the case of Bonds/Pujols etc, no matter who the guy is batting behind them, it’s better than facing them, no matter the game situation.
Intentional walks are a production stat. Yes, you got on-base, but it’s generally not because of you, it’s because of the game situation or the lack of people behind you. While this stat can increase your OBP (especially if you’re Bonds or Ruth and you get over 50 of them in a season) you really didn’t do anything to earn it. Never use this stat for anything other than to recognize the amount of respect a hitter might have gotten, that’s all.
Alright, now that your brain is full and you stuck with me to this point, let’s actually decide in what order you should look at stats (reminder, not one stat is key to determining greatness, but some are better indicators than others):
The following are the stats, in order, that you should start with when evaluating/comparing players. Chances are, you’ll know how good or great a player was when you are finished with these 4 stats:
OPS and OPS+ – OPS is the most important stat (as described above) and OPS+ just tells you more exactly what the OPS actually means. If a player has a distinct advantage is OPS and OPS+, the remaining stats will just prove it.
OBP and Slugging % – They make up OPS and are used to further tell the story of a player’s career – power hitter, great on-base guy etc.
The following stats should only be used to further prove what OPS, OPS+, OBP and Slugging % showed you. The order isn’t as important because it’s important to look at ALL of these stats as a group, not individually.
Batting Average – While batting average is part of OBP, a high batting average is better than a low one for example.
HRs – Chicks dig the long ball. Home Runs are guaranteed runs scored and RBIs. But HRs without a good batting average or OBP can be an indicator of an “all or nothing player”.
Runs – Can’t win games without scoring, just remember you can’t score if you don’t get on-base AND have someone to drive you in.
RBIs – Can’t win without scoring and this is why the guy ahead of the player drew a walk, so this player could drive him in.
Hits – the basic desire of any batter, to get a hit. Just remember, what kind of hit it was is covered in Slugging %, how many you get is covered in Batting Average and if looking at a career, remember to check how many games it took to get that many hits.
If for some reason, the previous stats still haven’t told you if the player was good or not or if they were better than another player, use these stats but only when absolutely necessary:
SBs and CS – Stolen bases and caught stealing is better if you combine the 2 into 1 stat – Stolen Base % because that shows you effectiveness and value better than just straight steals; unless you’re Rickey Henderson than all what matters is thousands of bases you were able to swipe.
Doubles, Triples, Total Bases, BBs and Ks – these stats are already accounted for in OBP, Batting Average or Slugging so there’s really no need to look at them but they can further clarify what those stats already showed you.
The following stats are mainly used just to see how long a career was and if the player was injured a lot etc. Basically these stats are used just to determine averages, per game averages etc and should only be used to solidfy a point, NEVER to make one:
Games and At Bats – the longer a player plays, the more chances he has to accumulate the stats above but sometimes more chances can actually make a great player not seem as great when in comparison (Aaron played in 800 more games than Ruth but only had 41 more HRs for example).
And finally, the stats you NEVER, EVER want to use because the stat is 100% out of the player’s control or serves no actual purpose because by now the previous 17 stat categories should have already shown you who was better, who was good/great etc:
GDP, HBP, SH, IBB, PA and SF – I repeat, never use these stats or you’ll sound like a fool (or at best like you work for ESPN).
Hopefully the next time you are glancing at a player’s stats you know what you’re looking at AND you know why those stats are important (and which ones are important). When all else fails, on each player’s page on Baseball-Reference.com, under their main stats, you’ll see a line called “162 Game Average” this will show you what the player would have done for an average 162 game season in his career, great thing to look at if you don’t feel up to calculating all the stats, but like I’ve mentioned before, it’s just a guide, the stats themselves will show you the truth (because 162 game averages can be hurt by longer careers, made better by shorter ones etc).
Return next week when I break down pitching stats, that is if you’re brain didn’t explode from reading this.