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CultureReporter\'s Pick
Attempting a Deeper Analysis into Baseball: Sabermetrics
Kim Min-sok  |  phil98@cau.ac.kr
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승인 2017.11.04  00:46:13
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           There is a famous saying, “Baseball is all about records.”. Naturally, players who hit a lot of home-runs, pitch many strikes and show strong defense are spotlighted by both teams and fans. And such “giants” of classic stats were commonly known as excellent baseball players from the past. But contrary to Korea, America’s Major League Baseball (MLB) has taken a more analytical approach towards the sport. MLB supplemented for the limitations of traditional classic stats by actively utilizing “Sabermetrics,” which delves deeper into baseball. Sabermetricians, who study sabermetrics, invented the system in an attempt to dig up the fundaments of baseball, assessing the values of players in a more creative and accurate way. It would not be an exaggeration to express sabermetricians as those who disassemble baseball into molecular units.
What is Sabermetrics, Really?
           The term sabermetrics is a combination of SABER (The Society for American Baseball Research) and metrics, referring to an academic approach towards baseball through statistics theory and mathematical methodology. Its pioneer would be none other than Bill James. Until the 1970s, MLB only analyzed classic stats in games, while other stats were not much of a special interest. Although the Brooklyn Dodgers (now LA Dodgers) first “tried” analytic approaches to baseball, the person who solidified this mere interest into a brand-new system called sabermetrics is Bill James himself. Nowadays, OPS (also famous to KBO fans), WAR, FIP, BABIP and all the other “saber stats” are dealt with much importance, even more than the classic stats in MLB. The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) has relatively recently started to apply sabermetrics for baseball analysis, and portal sites like NAVER are even providing several saber stats such as WAR and BB/9 on its Sports sections.
Delving into Sabermetrics
Depending Less on Classic Stats!
           Home runs and strikeouts would all be useless if the team loses, at least in the team’s and fans’ perspectives. This is because for every baseball team, the fundamental goal is to clench victory in the games. And thus it is most important to lose points to a minimum and earn points to a maximum in order to win. The more each player is successful in these tasks, the more he contributes to a team’s victory and thus his value as a baseball player increases. Sabermetrics bases various measurements of a player’s “contribution to victory” to numerically express how valuable each of them are.
           For example, RBIs (Runs Batted In) were usually deemed crucial. Although sabermetrics has not turned RBIs into perfectly useless indexes, still it has started to emphasize the abilities of preceding batters over that of the batter who produces lots of RBIs. If a clean-up man recorded 130 RBIs in one season, fans would first have to praise the team’s table setters who have paved the stepping stones to RBI production. Table setters are directly “contributing” by helping turn ordinary singles into a valuable point for the team.
Allowing Fair Comparison between Players
           Classic stats cannot fully reflect the countless number of cases inside every baseball game. Since two perfectly different players may record similar batting averages or ERAs (Earned Run Average), sabermetrics, through the calibration of statistics, allows for fairer comparison of their records. In other words, sabermetrics has made it possible to evaluate players’ values in an objective manner by taking into account all the specific deviations that exist among different seasons and stadiums. Wouldn’t it be unfair for an excellent pitcher to stay underrated just because he usually started in a batter-friendly stadium or struggled in an extremely “high hit” season, and his record for the season was poor? This could be better explained by how it is a must for pitchers of the past “Era of Steroids” to receive generous assessments on their abilities even if their records were relatively poor.
Various Sabermetrics Indexes
           Sabermetrics proudly presents a huge variety of specific indexes to help you better understand baseball. But since we are running out of paper, only a few famous saber stats await introduction.
Common Area
           There are saber stats for both pitchers and batters. The most important stat would of course be the WAR (Wins Above Placement), which calculates how many wins a specific player can bring to his team in one season in comparison to the league’s average player. If one recorded a WAR of 4.73, therefore, he can earn 4.73 more wins for his team than an ordinary substitute of his position. Commonly, when WAR exceeds 4, that player is a key member of his team, and if WAR is over 6, he is surely a league MVP candidate for the year.
           FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a saber stat devised to make up for the pre-existing ERA of pitcher records. ERA simply estimates the ratio of points lost per nine innings, thus reflecting all the other variables such as lucky hits or errors into the should-be independent data. In contrast, FIP leaves out all variables, calculating only the total points lost by a pitcher’s faults (e.g. given home-runs, hits, or hit-by-pitch situations) to generate accurate pitching statistics. If one records a FIP of about 3.50 (error range 0.50), he is the proud ace pitcher of his team. Clayton Kershaw’s FIP for 2015, who spent a monstrous season striking out more than 300 in a single season, was 1.99.
           RC (Runs Created) is an index demonstrating how many points a batter brought to his team in a single game. But the cumulative feature of RC was criticized by many, for being unable to judge the record of injured or bench players. This led to the birth of RC/27, which refers to the amount of points earned when a single specific player was to hit for the entire nine lineups in a single game. If RC/27 exceeds 10, that batter is absolutely special. In fact, Korea’s proud batting genius Choo Shin-soo once recorded a RC/27 of 10.61 in the year 2013. That season was flawless except for his absence in the All-Star squad.

           Professional and specific: these two words would most accurately depict the world of sabermetrics. But even sabermetrics is not, and cannot be perfect. In fact, most sabermetricians were not former baseball players and are thus often mocked by athletes as doing some kind of sophisticated numbers game. In the end, sabermetrics is still a struggle to analyze baseball, a sport that cannot properly be defined by any academic approach, and a “theory” at best. Therefore, it would not be recommended to trust sabermetrics blindly. But at least, it is an undeniable truth that the statistics are currently the most plausible source of information many teams and scouts use today, and even for fans, sabermetrics could be an intriguing topic of gossip. 

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