SI Vault
Roy Blount Jr.
April 15, 1991
Baseball has percentages, ratios and averages in numbing abundance, but, the author asks, where are the stats when you really need them?
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April 15, 1991


Baseball has percentages, ratios and averages in numbing abundance, but, the author asks, where are the stats when you really need them?

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Trouble is, no one has figured out how to quantify spectacular stops, incredible throws and circus catches. In this day and age!

Let's see. If you let g stand for ground covered, adjusted by p (position differential); and s for percentage of snow-cone effect (how much of the ball is still visible outside the glove at the moment the fielder gains control); and d for distance between fielder's toes and spot at which they left the ground (this applies to either a leap or a dive); and t for distance of throw, if any (again adjusted by p); and a for angle of body to ground at moment of release (which pretty well covers off-balancedness of throw)—well, I don't see why we couldn't come up with something like this: gp+s+d+a(tp)=GP. GP standing for Greatness of Play.

Romanticists, of course, argue that this day and age is one in which baseball has become sadly saturated with statistics. They are the kind of people who go around muttering, "You can't measure heart."

Hey, we used to think we couldn't transplant one. Surely the formula for heart would comprise a player's injury factor (team trainers could supply data as to exactly how hurt he played), his frequency of rally-involvement, his SPOPIFK (slugging percentage on pitches immediately following knockdowns), and the number of times he beats a throw by a half step as opposed to the number of times a throw beats him by a half step ( Casey Stengel once said of Frank Robinson, "If you watch him, he is called safe a lot").

There's nothing in baseball that a determined number-cruncher can't demystify. "He does things that don't show up in the box score," you hear nonstatisticians say. "For instance, he's a good guy in the clubhouse."

To be sure, clubhouse goodness is a factor that is too seldom considered in personnel decisions. You let a .240-hitting third baseman take his act somewhere else, and you spend big for a low-ERA lefthander, only to realize that you've lost the only guy who could do good impressions of all the Simpsons and that you've gained an individual who gets belligerent when anybody tries to play anything other than this one Metallica tape he wants to listen to over and over. The resultant decline in team morale is more than enough to explain your slide from second place to fifth.

Do you know why clubhouse bonhomie is so rarely given any weight when a general manager is trying to put together a winning combination? Because where are the stats? Yet, what do we call esprit de corps in baseball? We call it team chemistry. What should be more formulaic than chemistry? We could require every player to rate each of his teammates on a scale of 1 to 5 as follows:

1. The worst human being I have ever met.
2. A pain.
3. A good guy.
4. A prince.
5. The heart and soul of the locker room.

Give a player one point for a 1 rating, two for a 2, and so on, and divide the total by the number of teammates voting to determine a player's CGA (Clubhouse Goodness Average). A clubhouse full of straight 3's would be blah, but the complexities of team chemistry being what they are, a player's CGA could work out to 3.0 if half his teammates rated him a 2 and half a 4, or half a 1 and half a 5.

Now, how do we measure "a money player"? Not a player who makes a lot of money (those stats we can leave to the lawyers and accountants), but a player who does things to win games in which championship money is on the line.

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