Analytics can unlock true value on the field

By Dave Fultz

Now that the Super Bowl is over, the sports landscape may look pretty barren for most people over the next couple of months, but not for me.

I only need to wait eight more days for my favorite day of the year: Feb. 13 — the day pitchers and catchers will report to Florida and Arizona for spring training.

See, it’s not that I don’t enjoy other sports, but nothing compares to spring baseball.

Spring baseball brings with it the excitement, joy and hope that hundreds of players and millions of fans feel at the start of each new season.

Each spring, the arguments we all know and love to debate over a beer in the bleachers return as well.

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    Almost as certain as the change of the seasons is that you know someone who doesn’t know their stuff.

    And I hate to break it to you, but if you don’t know someone like that and you’re constantly bamboozled by the baseball wisdom of your buddies, you’re probably him.

    But don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

    Whether you are “that guy” or just the average baseball fan that catches a game whenever you can, I’m sure you are just as informed as some of the decision-makers within the game.

    Despite the fact that statistical analysis and the “new baseball knowledge” has become more mainstream in recent years, some managers, general managers and scouts refuse to let even the simplest of things influence their decisions.

    So by now I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “If the guys in charge don’t know this stuff, how am I supposed to know it?”

    The answer to that question is Baseball 101 my friends.

    Every week until the end of May I’ll be using my column – which runs in this spot every Tuesday – to tackle many different subjects that can help turn the average baseball fan into an analytical dynamo.

    Next week I’ll be writing about the importance of on-base percentage, or OBP, slugging, or SLG, and on-base plus slugging, or OPS. Also, I’ll discuss the inaccuracies that come with valuing a player based on the Triple Crown statistics of batting average, home runs and runs batted in, or RBIs.

    In the weeks that follow, I’ll explore a bunch of topics in a way that a typical baseball fan can easily understand. In the time that I have, I hope to start simple and move on to cover topics that will help bridge the gap between the stat geeks and everyone else.

    Here a few of the subjects I’d like to cover:

    OBP/SLG/OPS vs. AVG/HR/RBIs

    How to value pitchers properly using WHIP, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and ERA instead of relying on won-loss records.

    Actual effect (or lack thereof) of stolen bases on a team’s run-scoring ability.

    A history of sabermetrics (the field devoted to a statistical approach to baseball analysis and research) and today’s foremost authorities.

    And then more obscure statistical analysis. Things like VORP, WARP, OPS+, ERA+, Rate2, etc.

    Now, of course, I didn’t come up with these topics. Many people have written about these topics before me and even more will write about them in the future.

    I’m just as much a student of sabermetrics as all of you – I learn something new every day.

    Most of that learning takes place in online baseball forums every day. The guys (and girls) from my favorite of these – the Cubs forum at ProSportsDaily.com – are some of the smartest fans out there, but everyone has room to learn.

    So now I ask you to push your mind to think in new and different ways.

    Determination and hard work are virtues that should be valued in a person, but they don’t make a player with poor stats good.

    Just because a guy can steal 50 bases doesn’t mean he helps a team win. And just because your manager trots the same lineup onto the field every day, doesn’t mean it’s the right one.

    Baseball is a beautiful game because it is what it is. There are three outs in every inning, nine innings in every game and 162 games in every season.

    And at the end of every game there is a box score that can give you everything you are searching for, as long as you know where to look.

    Let me show you.

    Dave Fultz is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].