My Favorite Advanced Stats (and Why I Like Them)
OK, so for the last couple of years, numerous brilliant readers have asked if I would do a little primer on advanced stats. I don’t think I have the math chops to go all the way on this — if you really want to go in-depth, please check out my friend Anthony Castrovince’s book, A Fan’s Guide to Baseball Analytics — but I did think of a way that might be fun and useful.
I’ll tell you about a few of my favorite advanced stats and why I like them.
There will not be much math involved here. I know that a lot of people really enjoy the math involved in advanced stats — I like tinkering around with it myself — but I also think that sometimes the math gets in the way of enjoying a really cool statistic. For instance, as you will see, I love looking at how many “barrels” a player hits. There’s a lot of math when it comes to barrels, launch angle numbers, exit velocity numbers. But you really don’t need to know any of that stuff to get something out of the stat.
So, let’s look at a few of my go-to advanced metrics. I will tell you right up front that I will probably get quite a bit wrong in my explanations … there’s a good chance that you will know more about this stuff than I do. But let’s give it a shot.
And let’s start with the hottest stat of the last decade or so: WAR.
WAR for position players (bWAR and fWAR)
There are two versions of WAR that are especially popular — the one on Baseball-Reference (bWAR) and the one on FanGraphs (fWAR). They are quite similar when it comes to position players and completely different when it comes to pitchers. I’ll get into the pitchers’ in a moment.
Again, I’m not going to go into the math. It’s complicated and, honestly, a bit controversial. You will find plenty of outspoken critics of WAR from traditionalists to Bill James. But I think it’s a cool and useful statistic when used in moderation.
Basically, WAR — Wins Above Replacement — is meant to give you a sort of one-stop-shopping number about a player’s overall value to his team. For position players, it adds up the value of a players’ batting, baserunning, defense and defensive position and compares that to a fictional replacement player. You can think of a replacement player in a literal sense — the typical level of a player you would bring up from the bench or the minor leagues to replace a starter — or in a more general sense, the way I do.
See, I think of replacement level as essentially ground zero. I try not to overthink it. A team filled with replacement-level players would be the worst to ever play in the big leagues. Here’s a look at some of those worst teams in baseball history and their bWAR: