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Thursday, September 28, 2006

How About This for a Baseball Statistic?

I'm reading Baseball Prospectus's book "Baseball Between the Numbers", and I'm getting dizzy with all of the fact and figures that are out there surrounding baseball. Given bio-engineering and performance enhancing drugs (read: Victor Conte meets "The Six Million Dollar Man"), I wonder if we're about a century away from some type of pseudo-droid whose performance will be relatively predictable if he gets the right type of medical devices, legalized medicine and macrobiotic food. That's why I always liked the Jim Leyritz's of the world, guys who come up big in the clutch but whom you wouldn't recognize in the Saturday morning line at your local post office. To me, there's some element of the game that refuses to let the numbers guys predict everything. Chris Coste of the Phillies is proof of that.

Still, the numbers in baseball are more compelling than in any other sport, and baseball fans live for them. Most still focus on batting average, home runs and RBIs, as well as runs scored and total hits. Look at the Sunday papers, and they'll give you the cumulative hitting stats by league, where players are ranked by batting average and then you also see their home runs and RBIs. Forget about on-base percentage, forget about slugging percentage, and forget about OPS, which adds the former two. They don't appear in Sunday papers, and they don't even appear in my fantasy league (which really makes it a true fantasy league).

So, while we're at talking numbers, here's a stat that I think is a measure of a hitter's productivity (an analogous one could be calculated for pitchers, but I haven't gotten there yet). Let's called it TBP -- Total Bases Produced, and it's a ratio whose numerator is total bases plus walks plus hit-by-pitches plus net steals (steals minus the number of times caught stealing) over total plate appearances (at-bats plus walks plus hit-by-pitches). To me, unless I am missing something, this talks about how many bases a batter produces per at-bat.

Follow me so far?

If you go to ESPN's statistics for each team, they provide enough detail that you can calculate this yourself. I did it three days ago for four Phillies and four Mets -- Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell for the Phillies and David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado for the Mets. Please bear with me here, because unfortunately the time that I have to write doesn't coincide with the time I have to hunt for my back-of-the-envelope calculations (which I misplaced), so I'm writing from memory here. Going into Tuesday night's games, Messrs. Rollins, Utley and Burrell had TBP's ranging from about .565 to .585. Messrs. Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Delgado had TBP's ranging from about .570 to about .605 (I confess that Beltran's might be a bit higher).

Ryan Howard?

A TBP of about 0.72.

Albert Pujols is in the same rarified air, slightly higher than 0.72.

Okay, so most baseball watchers had already narrowed down the MVP race to Pujols and Howard.

This number tells you why. These guys produce more bases per plate appearance than any other players.

And that's probably enough to win the MVP race.

A week ago I would have said that the MVP race was Howard's, hands down. This morning I'm not so sure. If the Cardinals blow the NL Central, then Howard will win the MVP award. However, if the Phillies don't win the Wild Card and if the Cardinals preserve their lead and Pujols plays a key role (his 3-run shot last night won the game for the Redbirds), then he will win the honor.

Total Bases Per Plate Appearance -- Get your calculators out today!


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