The new school/old school argument of which statistics we should use when evaluating at baseball is nothing new. It comes as no surprise when someone like MLB Network’s Brian Kenny makes it a personal crusade to “kill the win” as a statistic to measure pitchers. When it’s a former player writing eloquently while admitting he and his peers knew little about the tools general managers and front office personnel adopted in recent years to measure players, it’s worth noting.
Former MLB oufielder Gabe Kapler, last seen with the Rays in 2010, wrote a very intelligent piece on the WEEI baseball blog last month, outlining in no uncertain terms how in the dark many baseball players are when it comes to stats. (Kapler has since been hired as an analyst by Fox Sports 1) Kapler frames his piece around how many of his peers were rooted in the traditional counting stats, namely batting average and RBIs. Instead of leaving it at that, Kapler illustrates how obsessing over these numbers, which were developed in some cases in the late 1800s, can adversely affect performance.
Kapler offers this ancedote about former teammate Rusty Greer freaking out over his lack of RBIs:
"What consistently makes my senses tingle is the relationship players have with their statistics, and the fact that they are focused on the wrong ones. I can recall a conversation with a stressed-out Rusty Greer, who had gone a few weeks without driving in a run. What he didn’t consider was a) his lack of opportunity, b) the defensive impact on his ability to get hits with runners on base, c) the plate appearances in which he walked, d) the times he did have an opportunity, got a hit and the runner still failed to score for myriad reasons. Perhaps the most important element that he overlooked was the possibility that he wasn’t being evaluated on this statistic. The reason he didn’t know is because nobody informed him. Rusty can’t be blamed for this."
What makes this piece worthwhile, is we can all talk about which stats are valid. We can get wrapped up in WAR or WAR+ or any number of tools that have been invented to help derive the worth of a player. Realistically, other than trying to get an edge in fantasy, a job in an MLB front office, trying to write for Baseball Prospectus or making arguments on Internet boards, the numbers don’t directly impact a fan following the sport.
Players, however, are the ones fishing for new contracts or the ones going into arbitrator trying to eke out more money. There is a direct cause and effect relationship toward their education or ignorance toward the newer, in vogue stats. Kapler keeps his mind open:
"Teaching baseball players about new performance metrics is not the lesson here. Instead, the lesson is embracing education. Thinking that, because we play or played the game, we know the game best is a dangerous proposition."
Again, it’s a thoughtful take from somebody who played the game for parts of 12 seasons. Whether or not active players when they step into the box are thinking about their wOBA or wRC+ when a 90+ mph fastball is coming towards them is very debatable.