I have been dancing around a topic that inflames the passions of all baseball fans during the nearly-year that I have been writing this blog. I learned the game the old-fashioned way. I played organized baseball until I decided to focus solely on basketball my sophomore year in high school. Then, after giving up the game, I sat at the knee of smart old guys (all of whom had stubby, unlit cigars — that may be an exaggeration for dramatic effect but, some of them really did) and listened while they espoused the rules of the game.
Those old guys, and most “traditional” baseball fans, believe in the basic, time-tested measures of player performance: batting average, home runs, RBI, pitcher wins-loss record, ERA. If it was good enough for Connie Mack and Grantland Rice, it is good enough today. Learning the game the way I learned the game taught me a natural distaste for “advanced metrics” or “SABRmetrics” because I didn’t understand them and, because they seemed sort of bossy.
But, when I was formulating the style of this blog, I recognized that I couldn’t simply ignore those new-fangled stats anymore. Partly, because The Sweet Spot network, at the time, was being run by Rob Neyer, partly because I recognized that the internet has been an incubator for advanced metrics and a large portion of the readers would likely be believers (unfortunately, I cannot figure out how to set up Google Analytics to tell me what percentage of the readers are basement stat nerds and what percentage are old guys with cigar stubs), and partly because it is silly to just fear something you don’t understand.
Why do I bring all this up? Because yesterday’s St. Pete Times had this item in the notebook story about David Price’s performance in 2011:
King David: Twelve starts into last season, LHP David Price was 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA on his way to a 19-win season and a second place finish in the Cy Young voting.
He makes his 13th start of this season tonight with a 6-5 record and 3.52 ERA and a strong feeling that he is pitching better.
“I feel like I’m hands-down a better pitcher than I was last year even though my numbers probably don’t say that,” he said.
Actually, some do, as strikeouts are up (from 57 in 802/3 IP last year to 76 in 841/3) and walks are down (from 32 to 17). Just not the bottom line numbers such as wins, losses and ERA.
Price said the difference is out of his control: “Last year I was pretty lucky, and this year I haven’t been so lucky.”
No one is going to argue that strikeouts and walks are “advanced metrics,” but I think this item crystallizes the problem I had been willingly ignoring. Is it even possible to argue that 2010 David Price is better than 2011 David Price? Marc Topkin sets this item up perfectly because it looks like he intends to make that very argument (or at least leave it open to debate over coffee). But, the numbers that actually measure Price’s individual performance are unequivocal.
This is all the impetus any baseball fan should need to find the real indicators of performance in this game. No more dipping my big toe in the SABR pool. I am all in now. In fact, just to prove my commitment, I am taking the day off to go clear myself some living space in my parents’ basement. (Please note, I live in Tampa and so do my parents, they obviously don’t have a basement, so some local SABR-ite needs to tell me what the Tampa equivalent of living in the basement is and quick.)