Over the last twenty years or so SABR-metrics has taken baseball by storm. Slowly but surely, old school idealists are giving way to more “new age” thinkers and SABR-matricians in MLB front offices. The Society for American Baseball Research has been around since 1971 and just wrapped up their 43rd annual conference in Philadelphia.
The Astros were the first team to add a “Decision Scientist” to their payroll when Jeff Luhnow, shortly after being hired as the team’s General Manager, brought Sig Mejdal on board. Luhnow also hired forward-thinking writers Mike Fast and Kevin Goldstein to beef up Houston’s scouting department.
A trend that is becoming more and more common started back in the late nineties in Oakland. Or did it? We’re all familiar with the term “moneyball”. Most baseball fans have either read the book by Michael Lewis, or at least seen the movie starring Brad Pitt. But stat-crunching computer geeks who devise their own formulas to measure player productivity have been around even longer.
As writer Hua Hsu of Grantland points out, a man named Mike Gimbel may actually be the father of modern SABR-metrics. Gimbel developed his own player metrics and published yearly handbooks that ranked players long before Bill James and Billy Beane drew notoriety.
Today, there are tons of different SABR-metric stats available at sites like Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. Some of the formulas are easy to understand and might be more readily received by fans than others. Some, such as WAR, don’t even have a standardized formula and players might have a different ranking depending on the site that is publishing them. Yet, surprisingly, teams and agents are now commonly using these stats when negotiating contracts.
I think many of us tend to shy away from SABR-metric ratings like these. If we can’t calculate the number on our own — or with the help of a simple calculator — then is it even a real number? Does it have a true value? As former Astros radio broadcaster Dave Raymond points out, a stat like wRC+ can be intimidating.
Baseball fans have always been enamored with stats — more so than any other sport. And recently, thanks to SABR-metrics, we have been introduced to an exponential amount of new numbers to take into consideration. Personally, I’ve slowly come to value some of the SABR-based stats. But there are also a few that I don’t care for.
The argument between “old school” and “new school” rages on with shows like MLB Network’s MLB Now. On the program, Brian Kenny takes the pro-SABR side against Harold Reynolds and anyone else (like Ken “Hawk” Harrelson) who is out to defend the “will to win” approach. Side note: I wholeheartedly recommend you check out MLB Network’s recent documentary on Harrelson. If you are someone who doesn’t care for him, it might change your mind.
Changing our minds — that’s sort of what this post is about. Is it silly to stand firmly on one side of this particular argument? Probably. But, then again, everyone has their own unique point of view. I’m actually curious to know what you think. Maybe, like me, you’re into OPS but don’t care for BABIP. And what about WAR and xFIP? Please take a moment to answer the poll question below. I truly value your input.