Moneyball (the movie) introduced the basic concept of advanced statistical analysis to a mainstream audience. Now that we’re talking about advanced stats (short-handed as sabermetrics, thanks to Bill James of the Society for American Baseball Research) and great sites like Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, let’s take a closer look.
OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging)
This is an easy-to-understand offensive metric that provides a huge advance beyond the “basic” stats of RBIs, batting average and home runs. OPS is simply on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (total bases divided by at-bats). It’s essentially a way to look at how a player contributes both in terms of getting on base and hitting for power.
2011 major league OPS leaders: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (1.056); Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (1.033); NL MVP Ryan Braun, Brewers (.994); Matt Kemp, Dodgers (.986).
WAR: Wins Above Replacement
WAR, wins above replacement, is about as close to a “What does this player really mean to my team?” catchall valuation as we’re going to get. Its definition is straightforward: How many more wins does a player add above a replacement-level player?
Baseball-Reference’s key to WAR: 8+ WAR is an MVP candidate, 5+ WAR is All-Star Level, 2+ WAR is a solid starter, 0-2 WAR is a bench player (a 24th/25th man on the roster), while anything below 0 is replacement level.
According to FanGraphs, Jacoby Ellsbury led the majors with an otherworldly WAR of 9.4 in 2011. Kemp followed at 8.7, with Bautista behind him at 8.3 and Braun at 7.8. On the other end of the spectrum, Raul Ibanez registered a minus-1.3 WAR (probably one reason why he’s looking for work right now). On the mound, Halladay led all pitchers with an 8.2 WAR. Verlander had an impressive 7.0 WAR and NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw was 6.8.
FIP: Fielding Independent Pitching
We’re all comfortable with ERA as a basic pitching statistic. But ERA gives us only the average of earned runs per nine innings. It’s simple and straightforward. Low ERA is good. Simple. But what if there was a way to factor out all the things that the pitcher can’t control?
Turns out some really smart guys devised FIP, a formula that includes the things pitchers can control — home runs, walks, hit by pitch and strikeouts — and eliminates everything else (hits, errors, quality of fielders, etc.). FIP does what it says: It looks at pitching independent of fielding and other variables that impact a pitcher’s performance.
FIP is an excellent way to predict a pitcher’s future performance.
Let’s take a look at some notable pitchers to see how their ERA and FIP looked in 2011: Roy Halladay (Phillies): 2.35 ERA, 2.20 FIP; Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 2.28 ERA, 2.47 FIP; Justin Verlander (Tigers): 2.40 ERA, 2.99 FIP.
All three had great years, but you’ll see that except for Halladay, all of them had higher FIP than ERA. Does that mean that a regression is in order?
You should look for pitchers with a higher FIP/ERA differential because that’s where the pitching values can be found. An example would be Toronto starter Brandon Morrow. His ERA was a not-great 4.72 but his FIP was a respectable 3.64. The 1.08 ranked as the third-highest FIP/ERA differential in the majors.