The Sports Daily > Burning River Baseball
The Difference Between Stats and Measurements

The statistical revolution in baseball has essentially formed baseball fans and analysts into divergent sides. While most of the younger generation has embraced the increased access to more accurate information, many former players and older writers have drawn a line in the sand. In fact, they drew that line decades ago when people still thought there was real value in the pitcher win, fielding percent and runs batted in.

Much like the political spectrum where proponents of one side will hate an idea just because it was proposed by the other, never bothering to listen to its merits, these old school baseball writers (and announcers and talking heads) will immediately reject anything deemed interesting by the new school. Walks were always a good thing in baseball. The saying “a hit is as good as a walk” is as old as the game itself, but as soon as Moneyball came out and proved their value, the old school league decided they hated OBP and batting average was all that mattered.

More recently, the publication of Statcast information has opened up much more information than has ever been available before. For those who love baseball, it’s a treasure trove. For the bullheaded old schools, it’s inherently evil or unnecessary because the stat heads enjoy it. The point here, however, is that this doesn’t make any sense.

It’s one thing to dislike normalized stats. Normalized stats are ones that have been altered so they can be compared more fairly. This is the difference between wRC and wRC+ and what makes it fair to compare a player’s WAR from 2017 to one from 1917 while it wouldn’t be fair to compare home run totals or batting averages. The calculations for creating these stats are confusing, especially to former players with no college education (or ones who majored in communication and didn’t even bother going to those classes) or old school fans who can barely use a computer. If you don’t like them, it’s fine. You don’t really need normalized stats to compare players from the same season, it just gives a more accurate representation to what happened in real life.

Disliking measurements is completely different. This is essentially like an extreme right winger saying that climate change isn’t real and because of that, it doesn’t matter what the temperature is today. Everyone is free to their own opinion, but if you don’t believe in temperature, you may be slightly uncomfortable if you dressed the same for the Indians game on April 29th (47°) as the one on the 30th (76°).

The direct numbers available from Statcast, particularly launch angle and exit velocity are measurements, not advanced statistics. They are direct recordings taken in a similar fashion to the way pitch velocity is recorded. To say you disagree with exit velocity being used is similar to someone saying that Jensen Lewis is not 190 cm tall because they don’t like the metric system.

The usefulness of this data is immediately apparent. After recording for multiple seasons, Statcast has a full database of numbers and can confidently say that if a ball is hit off a bat at 104 MPH at a 22° angle, it will land for a hit 84% of the time while a ball hit at a similar angle, but at only 99 MPH will land safely just 52% of the time. This probability is based on an extremely large total of results and it’s much more predictive than any normal baseball stat.

Just as obvious is it from a physical stand point that it is harder to hit a fastball at 99 MPH than at 89 MPH, a ball that is hit harder is less likely to be caught. If it’s in the air, the ball will travel further, making it more likely to hit a gap (since baseball fields get wider the further out you go) and if it’s on the ground, it gives the infielders less time to react.

Obviously, this isn’t the only information one should use for analyzing something, but it’s a great tool. It’s great for teams to help players work on their swing angle, speed and timing. When the Indians noticed early in the season that Yandy Diaz was struggling because he was hitting the ball into the ground too much, they realized that he was waiting too long to swing and, while he was hitting the ball hard because he swings fast and is incredibly strong, he was hitting it the opposite way and on the ground. Data like that provided by Statcast can help single out the problem, after which video and good coaching can help alleviate it.

It’s also great for fans looking for actual evidence of things they’ve been saying for centuries. The refrain of “he’s due” has long been used for a player who hits the ball hard, but keeps getting out. “He’s due” can now be literally defined using, among other things, BABIP, exit velocity and launch angle. Not in the effect of predicting exactly when a hit will come, but more accurately predicting who will see better results in the future than they are in the present.

Of course, in the end, the point of this is two fold. One, when something exists, not wanting it to exist will not change anything. Second, just because you disagree with someone (or a group of people) it doesn’t mean that they can’t have any good ideas. This road goes both ways, but in this particular division, it is the old school baseball folk who have built a wall while those in the new school have been much more open minded and often embrace a large manner of statistical information. That’s actually part of the basis for those who are continuing to advance in the study of baseball. The more information, the better as we can learn even more and understand this sport that we all love.