A new generation of baseball gurus is out to render those tobacco-chewing scouts all but useless.
Sabermetrics, developed in the 1970s, relies on objective statistical evidence as opposed to the human eye for player evaluation and team assessment. Today, more and more general mangers in Major League Baseball are using the stat sheet as their No. 1 source.
Sports management student Shawn Hoffman, a Sabermetrics buff, has developed an entire database devoted to these statistics, and in January Hoffman contacted Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney to offer his services.
“I had put together a whole database on everything that had to do with the Big Ten last year,” Hoffman said. “I basically tried to look for angles that he wouldn’t already know.”
Hoffman went to Maloney thinking he would get the proverbial “thanks, but no thanks” response, but the coach’s reaction was quite the contrary.
“I expected him to be a coach who was set in his own ways,” Hoffman said. “The fact that he was receptive to it is a complete credit to him.”
Hoffman now sends Maloney an e-mail every week that uses Sabermetrics to monitor various aspects of the team.
The basic premise of Sabermetrics system seems simple — more runs create more wins. But how runs are created is the tricky part.
Sabermetric formulas such as on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) are frequently found on stat sheets today. But Sabermetrics offers other, far more complicated equations.
“When you see how much stuff goes into these stats, your head spins,” Hoffman said.
For example, Equivalent Average (EqA) aims to express the production of a hitter in a context independent of outside effects, such as league or ballpark. The equation makes the quadratic formula look like third grade arithmetic:
(H + TB + 1.5 (BB + HBP) + SB + SH + SF)/(AB + BB + HBP + SH + SF + CS + SB/3).
“It’s pretty amazing,” Hoffman said. “You can put one player in one park and then put him in another park, do the adjustments, and his stats are pretty much the same.”
The stadium factor is one that intrigued Maloney.
“One of the things (Shawn) got me thinking about is the park we play in, since it’s not a home run park,” Maloney said. “But Shawn analyzed our park and thought it was more neutral than defensive. I don’t entirely agree with that statistic because I believe this is one of the greatest pitching parks in America because the wind is usually blowing in.”
The stadium feature on Hoffman’s database contains an equation that measures each collegiate baseball park’s susceptibility to scoring. If a stadium received a score of 100 — approximately the score of Ray Fisher Stadium — then it’s neutral.
Illinois, Michigan’s opponent next weekend, plays in the Big Ten’s best hitting venue — a “Park Factor” of 126. Such information is valuable to Maloney, who might want to reconsider his “small ball” approach to manufacture runs.
“The other area that we looked at was scoring more runs,” Maloney said. “So we looked at the number of sacrifice bunts. If we do use a sacrifice bunt, you only get one run, if that. But you really want the big inning.”
Hoffman looked at the 2004 season and calculated the run production in an inning that a bunt was executed. Of the 40 innings that Michigan bunted in, only once did it end up producing more than three runs. That’s critical for a team that was 23-11 in games in which three or more runs were scored in a single inning.
“One thing that has changed is that earlier in the game, I might have bunted,” Maloney said. “But I don’t do that anymore until later in the game because I really want to get the big inning.”
One thing that can’t be viewed in Hoffman’s database is the luck factor.
“People think that the good teams are those who win close games,” Hoffman said. “That’s wrong. It’s the teams that win blowouts. Close games are just a matter of luck.”
Maloney is all too familiar with that notion — the Wolverines lost three games to Iowa this weekend by a combined margin of four runs.
“You can’t account for luck, which ended up being against us this weekend against Iowa,” Maloney said. “When you get 10 straight hits, there’s a margin of luck.”