I recently spent three days in Phoenix, Arizona attending baseball meetings, panels, and competitions at the SABR Analytics Conference. SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) uses a lot of new metrics to help solve debates on today’s game. You may have seen some of their stats, which include BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), WAR (Wins Above Replacement), and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). Bill James, who was also at the conference, came up with this new way of thinking about baseball stats. The people at a company called Baseball Info Solutions go through every play of every season and calculate how many runs a player saves compared to the average player. To give you a better idea, here’s an example using actual players. Say the Pittsburgh Pirates are playing the Tampa Bay Rays in an interleague match. Tampa Bay has Desmond Jennings on third with Evan Longoria at the plate. Longoria hits a drive deep to centerfield, where Andrew McCutchen makes a great diving catch that the average defensive player would not make. This stops Jennings from being able to score, so McCutchen is given credit for defensive runs saved. These metrics are also different from regular stats because they help make it easier to compare players across leagues. For example, because there’s a DH in the AL, a pitcher’s ERA might be higher than if he played in the NL, but his opponent’s BABIP would say more about the pitcher when compared to another pitcher, in his league or not.
One highlight of the trip was a player panel with Brandon McCarthy (that's me with him in the photo above) of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Javier Lopez of the San Francisco Giants. Diamondbacks broadcaster Steve Berthiaume moderated the talk. Lopez is a lefthanded reliever who has three World Series rings, two with the Giants, from 2010 and 2012, and one with Boston, from 2007. He talked about the challenges they faced when Giants closer Brian “The Beard” Wilson required Tommy John surgery after their sixth game of the year. Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and especially Sergio Romo helped to fill the void in a season that also saw two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum getting sent down to the bullpen after a terrible year.
McCarthy, a righthanded pitcher, played for the Oakland A’s last year, but he got hit in the head by a line drive in September and was out the rest of the season. He had to watch as his team over took the AL West by winning the last game of the year. However, in the playoffs Oakland lost to the Detroit Tigers, despite trying to mount a comeback after being down 2–0 in the series. McCarthy said he loved the run. He signed a two-year deal this past offseason with Arizona. On his new team, he joins many former Oakland players. He said he is excited for a battle in the NL West this year against Lopez, Buster Posey, and the rest of the Giants, as well as Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and the Dodgers. The player panel was very interesting, but I still had more on the horizon. I will write more about the conference and metrics in future blogs.
Max Mannis is an 11-year-old special correspondent for sikids.com and a member of SABR. Catch his posts on advanced baseball statistics. To learn more about SABR and to join, visit www.sabr.org.