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Continuing The Discussion - What IS wOBA and a Defense of the Homerun

Sadly, Game 6 has been postponed until tomorrow. <Bitter.>

I'm unabashedly piggybacking on Dan's excellent post yesterday because I think it deserves much more time than a day on the front page. While my ideal is to blend "traditional", "magical", "unquantifiable" baseball with the best of what statistical analysis has to offer, I have to say that if Dan and the sabermetric crew tells me to use a certain stat to measure offensive performance, I can rest assured that it's the very best, most up-to-date barometer out there, and I should use it.

In layman's terms, yesterday's post exposed the serious flaws of using the trifecta of AVG/HR/RBI as any kind of a measure in offensive performance. And if you've been around AN for any length of time, I would think that you wouldn't argue a point with batting average anyway. It's been a long time since I've seen an argument lean on that stat. And as far as RBI is concerned (and not to be an English snob, but I still consider "Runs Batted In" as a plural, so technically a player should have 100 RBI; despite the cute colloquialism of the word "RBI" in general...but I digress), I think it's the worlds' most useless stat, possibly tied with the stupid "W/L". When you play for a team that scores twice as many runs as any other team in the league, it's no great surprise that you might win a few more games as a pitcher. Likewise, when your team scores twice as many runs as any other team in the league, it's also not surprising that you as a batter, might pick up a few more RBI in the course of the season. So I generally don't care about almost any of the above stats, unless the player is an outlier. Forty homeruns or a batting average of .350 is hard to ignore, from any stat. It's sorting out the rest of the players in the league that's the problem.

Like everyone else yesterday, I was shocked that the RBI stat has been proven to be just as useful (read: useless) as batting average and homeruns in measuring offensive performance. I pegged it as much more irrelevant. And like Dan and everyone else, I have noticed the "player stats" flash up on the screen during this World Series (which is actually everything I have asked for as a baseball fan; I love it), which tells me very little about players I don't know. Several solutions were proposed in yesterday's thread as broadcast replacements for AVG/HR/RBI, and Dan left it with AVG/OBP/SLG, which are comforting, warm and fuzzy to me, and almost as good as more advanced metrics. I know those numbers. I can work with those numbers, and I feel that the average baseball fan could warm up to them as well.

But if you want to know just a little bit more, yesterday Dan and iglew provided the links to weighted on-base average, or wOBA, which is more accurate than OPS, and as Dan put it: The great thing about wOBA is that it's essentially as close to perfect as we can get. It describes total offensive performance in a single number that's both context-neutral and comprehensive.

Here are two links that make sense of this stat:

The Book

SB Nation's Bless You Boys

In a nutshell:

To begin, we should note wOBA is on the same scale as On-Base Percentage, which has become 'mainstream' enough of a statistic that most people are aware that around .335 is league average, .370 is very good and above .400 is elite. Conversely, below .320 is bad and if you're below .300 you're probably employed by the Kansas City Royals.

In not-so-simplistic terms, wOBA measures the total run value of all the singles, doubles, triples, homers, non-intentional walks, hit-by-pitches and the times a player reaches base on errors accumulated by a player.

You don't have to calculate it (and that's a good thing); you can find it at FanGraphs (there's even a built-in calculator for all of your stat-y needs), and right now, that stat probably wins you the argument on AN if the numbers are in your favor. Seriously, take a look. It's not scary; it's kind of fun.


Don't take away my homeruns.

Chicks dig the longball. Homeruns are sexy. And despite Major League trying to sell you on the excitement of the game-winning bunt, there is nothing, nothing more exciting to a baseball crowd than the homerun. I make no judgment call on whether or not Player A is better than Player B from the number of homeruns they hit (hello park difference, league pitchers, skewed divisions, injury time, etc), but damn it all if I don't want to know exactly how many homeruns every player has at all times. Weeks, 2; Sweeney 1, Willingham 29; Matsui, 12; Crisp, 8; Suzuki, 14, Sizemore, 11. I could go on. You want a stat at the top of my head at all times? That's the one.

In this World Series alone, gauge the reactions from fans when Nelson Cruz or Albert Pujols strides to the plate and hits it out to change the game. Absolutely nothing changes a game faster than a homerun. The homerun can take a game that is out of reach and turn it around. I think that homeruns exist not to provide a statistic, but for something entirely different; perhaps bragging rights, entrance to a secret club, or competing with ghosts of players past, and I for one, would sorely miss it if it wasn't a common stat broadcast in every game. You want exciting seasons? Have your players hit 35 or more homeruns. In 2006? Two A's players did. It's been a long five years since. With the homerun in your repertoire, you haven't yet lost a game if you're down 3-0. Bring back the stat; and while you're at it, can you conjure up two more 35 homerun players for the 2012 A's? True, it doesn't lend much credence to a sabermetric argument, but the homerun is sexy. Here's a vote for AVG/OBP/SLG/HR.

Today's exciting game 6 will take place at 5:05PM as the series shifts back to St. Louis. The Cardinals will need all of their fans; they are facing elimination.