Those Crazy Stats You Hear on TV: What Do They Mean?

QS. FIP. BABIP. Here’s an armchair guide to get you through today’s broadcasts.

In the past few years, baseball announcers and writers have included more “advanced metrics” in their reporting. It has progressed to the point where stats like “OBP” and “WHIP” are not necessarily considered “advanced” anymore.

But they’re most certainly advanced to the everyday fan, even those who know the game well.
These stats measure far more than the classic ERA and batting average statistics (BA, RBI, HR). And they’re certainly NOT self-explanatory.

What do they all mean?
Here are some stats that you might hear on the Game of Week, sports talk shows or read about in articles or blogs:

OBP—On-Base Percentage: Whereas batting average does not include walks, OBP includes them so as to accurately show how often a batter reaches base. It should be noted that a walk does not count as an at-bat (AB). Thus, the number of times a batter is at the plate is referred to as a “plate appearance” (PA). The math for OBP is calculated as the number of times a player reaches base via walk or hit divided by plate appearances. While a batting average of .300 is considered great, it is a low OBP. Batters with a great eye at the plate are more likely to have an OBP of .350 or higher.

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto was the league leader in 2017, with an OBP of .454.

SLG—Slugging Percentage: This takes total bases into account. A player who hits more doubles (two total bases) or homers (four total bases) will have a higher slugging percentage than a singles hitter. The math is total bases divided by at bats. If a player’s SLG hovers around .500, he is most likely a good power hitter.

2017’s league leader was Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, with a .631 slugging percentage.

OPS—On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage: Adding the two aforementioned stats together, a great hitter will have an OPS of .850 or higher.

Mike Trout led the way in 2017. His OBP of .442 plus his SLG of .629 brought his OPS to 1.071.

Three True Outcomes: While it has no popular abbreviation, this phrase has caught on recently as a popular depiction of what is truly controlled by the hitter: A plate appearance can result in a walk, a strikeout or a home run without any assistance or interference from the outfield or infield defense (excluding inside-the-park home runs).

BABIP—Batting Average on Balls in Play: Basically, this stat accounts for the percentage of times a hitter reaches base anytime he puts the ball in play. It should be noted that this stat does not include the “three true outcomes.” This is also a stat that can be affected by the quality of the opposing team’s defense. A weak team’s defense may yield more baserunners, which would result in a higher BABIP (against the pitcher).

WHIP—Walks and Hits Over Innings Pitched: Essentially, this stat represents how many baserunners a pitcher will allow during an inning. Daniel Okrent, one of the founders of rotisserie (fantasy) baseball, is credited with creating this stat in the early 1980s. A WHIP of 1.00 is considered elite, as the pitcher is giving up only one baserunner per inning pitched.

Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians had the lowest WHIP in 2017, with 0.87.

FIP—Fielding-Independent Pitching: Arguably, this is a clearer picture of a pitcher’s ability to limit runs, as it removes all instances of the ball being put into play and handled by the defense (and thus, out of the pitcher’s control). FIP includes only what is entirely in a pitcher’s control (strikeouts, walks, HBPs and home runs).

QS—Quality Start: Some would argue that this is a better depiction of a pitcher’s greatness than wins are, as wins can often be affected by the bullpen, or by team offense not scoring enough to ensure a win. A quality start is six innings pitched or more while giving up only three runs or fewer. It should be noted that if a pitcher pitched a game of six innings and gave up three runs, his ERA would be 4.50, which is below average.

Even though Justin Verlander had a record of 15-8 in 2017, he led the league in quality starts, with 23.

K/9—Strikeouts per Nine Innings: Strikeouts by themselves are a “counting stat,” where a pitcher can simply rack them up. The K/9 ratio shows how dominant a pitcher is at striking out an opposing batter. “Strikeout rate” is another stat used to measure a pitcher’s dominance, as it divides the number of strikeouts by the number of batters faced.

Chris Sale struck out a league-leading 12.93 batters per nine innings in 2017.

Now, time for an amazing story.
Here’s a close look at why these stats start to have real meaning, not only for the sabermetrics crowd, but for the regular fan, to see a player’s output in an astounding new light.

Here’s a look at two of Barry Bond’s seasons:

In 2001, Barry Bonds broke the single-season home run record, with 73. His OPS that year was an astounding 1.379, which was comprised of a .515 OBP and an .863 SLG.

Essentially, that year, Bonds reached base more than 50% of the time, and every time he got a hit, it would average out to at least three total bases.

However…

In 2004, Barry Bonds hit far fewer home runs, with 45. Sounds like an off-year, right?

Yet he still had a league-leading OPS of 1.422, which still stands as the highest in baseball history.

While he had a stellar batting average (.362), the advanced metric of OBP tells more about how feared Bonds was as a hitter:

• Bonds had an OBP of .609, also the highest in baseball history for a single season.
• Part of this was due to his record-setting 232 walks, 120 of which were intentional!
• His .362 BA came only as a result of recording 135 hits in 373 at-bats (surprisingly, Bonds never had more than 200 hits in any season).

Yet…pitchers were so afraid of throwing something over the plate to Bonds that they put him on base 232 times without the benefit of a hit or a hit-by-pitch. The number of plate appearances is more important than at-bats here, as Bonds recorded those 373 official at-bats only as a result of how often he was walked, hit by a pitch, or he hit a sacrifice fly or bunt.

In fact, Bonds had 617 plate appearances.

If you were to divide the total number of walks (232) by the number of plate appearances (617), you get .377.

This means that Barry Bonds had an OBP of .377, without even getting a hit.

Without a doubt, those aren’t your grandfather’s stats.

Photo Credit URLs:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joey_Votto
http://articles.scoutables.com/2016/08/05/the-not-so-reinvented-justin-verlander/
http://keepingscore.blogs.time.com/2007/07/05/the-evolution-of-barry-bonds/slide/2003-2/