What is Sabermetrics?

Matthew F.

Sabermetrics is a method of objectively analyzing baseball performance through statistics. The study relies on collecting records to develop conclusions and make predictions about players, teams and performances. Unlike batting average and other more traditional baseball statistics, sabermetrics relies on measuring runs scored, on-base percentage and individual value.

A young baseball pitcher.
A young baseball pitcher.

The term sabermetrics was coined by Bill James, a noted baseball historian and statistician. Derived from the acronym SABR, from the Society of American Baseball Research, sabermetrics is an attempt at a system to determine which statistics are useful for which purposes. Over its history it has introduced many statistics into mainstream usage, such as: WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and OPS (on-base plus slugging).

A man playing baseball.
A man playing baseball.

Sabermetrics has famously derived a new method of determining a player’s value to their team, through, for example, Base Runs (BsR), the number of runs a team should have scored; Late Inning Pressure Situations (LIPS), at bats after the sixth inning in games closer than three runs; and speed score, a value of a player’s speed using stolen bases, doubles, triples and runs scored.

Most proponents of sabermetrics discount the usefulness of statistics like batting average, because they believe it is a poor predictor of a team’s success. A player with a high batting average, a sabermetrics proponent might argue, may have few runs scored and even fewer Runs Batted In (RBI), and so would not have helped his team win many games.

It is through statistics like this that sabermetrics found followers among many at the highest of baseball levels. Theo Epstein, general manager of the Boston Red Sox, hired Bill James to work for the team, becoming the first big market team to publicly support sabermetric principles. Billy Beane, hired as general manager of the Oakland Athletics in 1997, has used sabermetrics statistics to evaluate talent, keeping a low market team in high competition with players that have been traditionally undervalued using mainstream statistics.

From Bill James’ annual statistical baseball abstracts, in wide circulation since 1977, the study has found followers among many coaches, writers, historians and statisticians. With the prospect of objectively finding out who was more valuable to their team, Willie McCovey or Lou Brock, Mickey Mantle or Jimmie Foxx, sabermetrics has opened a new gate for statistical analysis in the game of baseball.

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