clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mid-Season Refresher: Statistics and the Question "Why?"

We love statistics here at DRaysBay, but we know how confusing they can be. Everyone is familiar with the old adage: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." History isn't clear on who first coined the phrase - although Mark Twain popularized it in his autobiography - but that's beside the point anyway; the most important thing about the phrase is that...well, it's true. Statistics are darn tricky things that can mislead, misinform, confound, and confuse even the most rational, knowledgeable people. If you have an opinion, you can most undoubtedly find statistics somewhere to back it up. And because of this, many people choose to ignore statistics or are skeptical of arguments that use them.

And you know what? That's good! People misuse statistics all the time and so it's great if you don't automatically believe everything you hear. But once you start to question statistics, then you're left with a big problem: what do I believe? Should I believe that Carl Crawford is our team MVP this season, or should I believe it's Rafael Soriano? Should I believe that Jason Bartlett is still a valuable player on this team and has gotten unlucky this year, or should I believe he's washed up? The world isn't as black-and-white as many people want you to believe, and the truth can normally be found if you take both sides of a coin and pick a spot somewhere in the middle. If you want to answer these questions for yourself, though, it's helpful to know how to use statistics correctly.

When used improperly, there's nothing more confusing than statistics; when used properly, though, there's nothing more enlightening. Imagine that somewhere out there, behind all the uncertainty and confusion of life, there's a golden "Truth". Every player has a True Talent Level, and every question has a True Answer. Statistics attempt to find that Truth: measuring things, stripping away the biases in our perceptions, and leaving us with small little pieces of the Truth. No one statistic will ever show you the Truth; heck, the best statistics can do is give us brief glimpses of the Truth. It's like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle with each statistic providing one little piece. Life is uncertain and ever changing, so you never have all the pieces and you never finish the puzzle. But, if you put enough pieces together and look at the puzzle from the right angle, sometimes you can almost see the answer. Almost.

That's so important, it's worth stating again: no one statistic will ever show you the truth. Not ERA, not BA, not FIP, not wOBA, not WAR. Every statistic shows you one important piece of information; it's a matter of knowing what exactly that statistic is telling you and what it's not telling you. And so, every statistic - even the traditional ones like ERA, Wins, and BA - has its purpose. Great analysis starts with a statistic and the question "Why?" James Shields has a 4.93 ERA - why is that? Is he letting up more hits? Striking out less batters? Giving up too many homeruns? Is he pitching poorly or getting unlucky? Why?

And so, to help reduce confusion and increase understanding, over the next couple of days we'll be doing a brief refresher course on some of the statistics we use frequently on the site. Please ask questions along the way. We don't want people to be turned off by our analysis or to be confused by the numbers we're using, which is why we created The Sabermetric Library and link to it on a daily basis. Newfangled baseball stats may seem confusing, but the theory behind them is as easy to understand as the traditional statistics. Every statistic has its use, and the more you understand, the better you'll be able to tell if an argument is putting the puzzle pieces together correctly or not.