FB401: Sabermetric Principles

05/20/2007 10:18 PM - 

FantasyBaseball.com University Series
Contributed By: Bryan P. Douglass

When is the last time you were sitting on the barstool watching the game and overheard someone say, “Can you believe Pujols’ OPS?” Do you have any idea what folks are talking about when they refer to “Win shares” or “Peripheral ERA”? Do you sit and wonder, “How do the A’s do it and why is everyone calling Billy Beane a ‘genius’?” If this is you, welcome to the new-age of baseball analysis. It’s called Sabermetrics, and while many label it as the new ‘fad’ of baseball, it has become an undeniable trend that shows no signs of retreating to the shadows of baseball history.

In Lesson FB401 of FantasyBaseball.com’s Fantasy University, we will offer you a comprehensive look at the world of Sabermetrics. We will take a brief jog through the origins and history of this analytical view of the baseball world, we will look at the statistical categories and objectives of this analysis, and we will see how this statistical structure is changing the shape of fantasy baseball while offering the enthusiast of the game a different view of the sport.

History & Overview

Sabermetrics is a general term used to define an alternative method of the analysis of baseball statistics. The term was coined by a man now famous as the pioneer of this form of analysis, Bill James. James was nothing more than a baseball enthusiast with time. He worked nights as a security guard and spent much of that time pondering the game of baseball and, more importantly, the way the statistics of baseball are gained, derived, and employed. As a result, James formed many opinions refuting the traditional views of the game, and he began to document these views in print. James started to write about his thoughts and offered these writings to the public through his own self-made publish establishment. It didn’t take long for some to notice James’ non-traditional views, and for many it not only made sense, it offered a more objective means of determining the true values and skills of the baseball player.

James derived the term “sabermetrics” from the acronym SABR, an abbreviation for an organization known as the Society for American Baseball Research. The now infamous James defined sabermetrics as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” It is an attempt to achieve an objective analysis of the game through the use of statistics and tools aimed at removing the subjective judgments that often permeate the traditional evaluations and ingredients of the game of baseball. For instance, the baseball traditionalist often views batting average as the most common means of determining a player’s value. A sabermetrician considers batting average to be a statistic of limited worth as, when viewed objectively, it offers a limited view of the player’s ability to produce runs. A fan of sabermetrics will often argue a player with a high walk rate is much more valuable (especially in a long-term view) than a player with a high batting average, as those players put themselves in a position to produce runs in a fashion that is more easily sustained over time. It is this kind of thinking, and the questioning of traditional baseball values, that has brought the sabermetric approach of statistical analysis to the forefront of baseball.

This brand of thinking has become a hot topic of debate and has found supportive voices from all walks of baseball professionals. James originally voiced his views in a book titled Baseball Abstracts in 1977, as James pushed the questions he often felt needed to presented. As his work and support continued to grow, James would continue to write and would publish updated versions of Abstracts until 1988. Not long after this time, all of the versions of these publications were offered as one large collection, title Historical Baseball Abstracts, and James also produced another book titled Win Shares dedicated to the art of statistical evaluations for pitching. His sabermetric vision has been formulated over the last 25 years, and volume of the voices of support for his vision has grown immensely in that time. The most famous account of sabermetric employment has been the novel Moneyball, authored by Michael Lewis. Lewis spent the 2002 season following the work of the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane. Beane is has been an adamant supporter of the views put forth by James, and is the first man in a high-ranking position in Major League Baseball (that we know of) to put those analysis to work at the professional level. His managerial efforts have been heavily rooted in sabermetric principles, and his team has enjoyed substantial success as a result despite their financial shortcomings and their small-market location.

Statistical Categories and Definitions

For this particular piece, we will discuss the basic statistical categories employed in leagues using a sabermetric scoring system. While many of these categories have been accepted as valid indicators of a player’s value by the majority of the baseball world, they are not the typical selections or combinations used for scoring in most fantasy leagues. We will take a look at the advanced theories and categories of sabermetrics in Lesson FB501: Advanced Sabermetrics.


Total Runs: Often abbreviated as “R,” runs are defined as the number of times the player has crossed the plate. Much like the RBI category, this statistic is largely influenced by the situation as well as several other factors not directly attributable to the particular player.

Total Runs Batted In: Often abbreviated as “RBI,” a run batted in is collected by a batter when that player’s batted ball results in another player crossing the plate and producing a run. MLB rules state the hitter is also rewarded with a RBI when he hits a home run as he has advanced himself around the bases and will result in a run produced as he crosses the plate. It is important to note RBIs are a solid statistical measure of a hitter’s abilities, but it is also a statistical category largely based on the situation of the moment and, thus, is often not considered as valuable as a hit or a home run.

On-Base Percentage: Often abbreviated “OBP,” a hitter’s on-base percentage is achieved by utilizing a formula devised to incorporate every method with which a hitter can safely reach base. The results of this formula produce a measure of how often the hitter reaches base either by a hit, a walk, or a hit-by-pitch. OBP is calculated by adding the player’s hit, walk, and hit-by-pitch totals, then dividing this number by a second number achieved by adding the total of his at-bats, his walks, his hit-by-pitch total, and his sacrifice flies.

Slugging Percentage: Often abbreviated “SLG,” a hitter’s slugging percentage is a statistical measure of a hitter’s success in manufacturing extra-base hits. In this formula, a single is worth one base, a double is worth two bases, a triple is worth three bases, and a home run is worth four. The slugging percentage is attained by dividing a player’s total bases by his total at-bats.


Total Wins: A starting pitcher is credited with a win if, and only if, he has pitched at least 5 complete innings, leaves the game with this team in the lead, and is his team holds that lead for the remainder of the game. Relief pitchers may also earn a win if his team is able to acquire the lead and maintain that lead for the remainder of the game while said relief pitcher remains in the game. Only one win can be credited per game.

Total Saves: A save is awarded to any pitcher who protects a lead in relief of another pitcher while said relief pitcher completes the game in one of three ways. 1) The relief pitcher enters the game with the lead of no more than 3 runs and completes at least one inning. 2) The relief pitcher enters the game with his team in the lead (regardless of the ball-strike count of the hitter when said pitcher enters the game) with the potential tying run either at bat, on base, or on deck, and maintains this same lead until the completion of the game. 3) The relief pitcher successfully pitches at least 3 innings with maintaining a lead of any size until the game is completed. Only one save can be awarded per game.

Composite Earned Run Average: Often abbreviated “ERA,” earned-run average is a mathematical measure of the efficiency of a pitcher achieved by multiplying the earned runs gained by the opposing team facing said pitcher by the number 9, then dividing this result by the number of innings said pitcher has pitched.

Walks plus Hits per Inning: Often referred to as “Composite Ratio” and abbreviated “WHIP,” the Walks plus Hits per Inning statistic is a ratio used to determine the average number of hits and walks allowed per inning by a pitcher. To calculate this ratio, add the total number of hits allowed by said pitcher to the total number of walks allowed by said pitcher, then divide this number by the total number of innings pitched by said pitcher. This is a statistic aimed at determining how effective a pitcher is at keeping hitters off base.

Fantasy Baseball Perspective

While there are several web sites and organizations offering sabermetric fantasy leagues, and there is more than enough interest to help these leagues flourish, it is still a distant competitor to the traditional forms of the game. The obscurity of some of the statistics used to achieve the data necessary to score such a league may be an issue. You don’t typically find box scores in your local newspaper providing slugging percentages or WHIP, yet more and more statistic providers are beginning to open the doors to many of these theories and the numbers involved in running this type of league.

Considering the lack of history behind these theories and perspectives, it is easy to see why the number of sabermetric leagues is fairly small when compared to the more traditional options of playing fantasy baseball. The game of baseball has a long and storied past, and the numbers utilized throughout this history have become widely accepted as the “normal” way of achieving the value of a baseball player. Sabermetrics is essentially an infant in comparison to the grandfather of traditional baseball statistics.

However, these new theories and perceptions of player evaluation have gained serious support in the baseball community. Respected baseball minds, from fans to reporters to professional baseball employees and managers, have furthered the cause of sabermetrics by proving success can be achieved through the use of such tools. As the popularity of these movements grow and as the masses filling the fantasy leagues of the world begin to accept these objective views of baseball, the number of sabermetric leagues will boom.

Get on bandwagon before it fills up.

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