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Sabermetrics are the new measurements for productivity in sports. While they have been around for many years now, they are just now becoming commonplace among owners, managers, scouts, and coaches in sports. Baseball is more prolific in the realm of Sabermetrics because it was the first sport to incorporate such measurements.
It was made famous by Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, who needed more scientific understandings of the game in order to combat a smaller budget than the Yankees and other large-market teams in baseball who have open checkbooks. Sabermetrics creates new ways of looking at a player’s value to the team, and where they fit. They go beyond statistics like home runs and pitching wins to see what they truly bring to the game.
Despite its growing popularity, many fans are still in the dark about the more popular metrics used today. Here is the first in a series of the more crucial terms in baseball’s Sabermetrics, with an explanation and the current best players under said metric.
BABIP stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play, which further details the batting average for a player. It removes home runs, walks, and strikeouts, which are all plays not impacted by defense. Higher BABIP typically means luck is on the side of the player. While the metric is measured for offensive players, it can be used more prominently for pitchers who put balls in play. If their BABIP is low, it means they are giving up easy ground balls instead of homers and fly balls in the gaps.
The five pitchers with the lowest BABIP currently are the Mariners’ Chris Young (.240), the Reds’ Johnny Cueto (.241), Atlanta’s Shelby Miller (.259), Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez (.260), and L.A. Angels’ Garrett Richards (.264).
Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, is similar to a pitcher’s ERA, but it is simplified. It measures a pitcher’s strikeout rate per outing, his home run rate, and his walk rate. It serves as the opposite of BABIP, as it focuses on the plays where the defense is not impacted by the play. Thus, it hones in on a pitcher’s effectiveness sharper than an ERA, where errors and baserunning can skew a pitcher’s effectiveness. A pitcher could have a higher ERA, but if their FIP is lower, it means they are more effective regarding the plays they control.
The five pitchers with the lowest FIP in the majors are the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (1.99), Indians’ Corey Kluber (2.38), Chris Sale of the White Sox (2.61), again Felix Hernandez (2.62), and again Garrett Richards (2.65).
OPS is one of the older metrics being used these days, and it combines two older measurements. It is a combination of a batter’s On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. This metric simply measures a batter’s effectiveness by looking at plate appearances and looking at the slugging percentage (power), along with the amount of times the player gets on base in any way (walks, etc.). OPS allows these two older metrics to be rated evenly, as they both have the same effect on the game.
The five hitters in the game with the best OPS as of last year were the Tigers’ Victor Martinez (.974), White Sox Jose Abreu (.964), Angels’ Mike Trout (.939), Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista (.928), and fellow Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion (.901).
Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is quickly becoming one of the more important Sabermetrics in baseball. This is an all-inclusive measurement for players, taking into account their offensive and defensive efficiency. The formula and the metric measure how many wins a certain player is worth if they play, instead of a backup player or “replacement-level” player. 0.0 WAR indicates the player is replacement-level, and 2.0 is average for a Major League starter. Nearing an 8.0 would be an MVP candidate.
The five players with the highest WAR currently in the MLB are the Angels’ Mike Trout (7.87), Clayton Kershaw (7.54), The Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson (7.42), Cleveland’s Corey Kluber (7.39), and the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre (7.01).
It is apparent in today’s game that a pitcher’s win/loss record is not nearly as important as a handful of other metrics, as the wins and losses have too many external factors. WHIP is a more accurate measurement of pitching, as it measures Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched. It is a sharper ERA in a sense, as it basically measures base runners (aside from errors). A WHIP below 1 is elite.
The pitchers with the lowest WHIP in the majors at the end of 2014 include, once again, Clayton Kershaw (0.86), Johnny Cueto from the Reds (0.96), the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright (1.03), Nationals’ Jordan Zimmerman (1.07) and Doug Fister (1.08).
wOBA takes On Base Percentage and adds another layer to concentrate on how a player gets on, not just that they get on. Weighted On Base Average adds higher value to base hits than walks, extra-base hits higher than base hits, etc. The league average fluctuates around the lower .300s.
The overall teams with the highest wOBA in 2014 were the Los Angeles Dodgers, the L.A. Angels, the Baltimore Orioles, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Washington Nationals. All five of those teams made the playoffs.