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Thursday, October 21, 2004

A Victory for Sabermetrics?

David Pinto over at Baseball Musings writes about the sabermetric tide in baseball given the success of the Red Sox. One of the commentors to that post asked:

"doesn't the spread of sabermetric ideas mean that the market inefficiencies of the past will be competed away soon and there will be no more possibilities for progress? Or are there a host of new sabermetric discoveries to be made?"

Well, this season the Red Sox and A's, rather than progress through new sabermetric insights, tried instead to exploit the undervaluing of defense as the value of on base percentage and OPS begins to be understood as pointed out by Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal. Billy Beane also pointed this out in a recent interview.

However, as I've said before I think the inherent structure of the game of baseball ultimately limits the possibilities for progress. Using the Batting Runs formula, for example, the value of a homerun or a stolen base or a walk has changed only slightly since 1900. From the offensive perspective it isn't like someone will suddenly learn that stolen bases indeed are more valuable than power hitting. And even in the big picture sabermetricians pretty well understand the relative values of offense and defense (split into pitching and fielding). As a result sabermetrics will become more specialized and so I wouldn't look for "a host" of new sabermetric breakthroughs. In addition, taking advantage of what is currently undervalued can only get you so far if what is undervalued is not as valuable in an absolute sense. Right now we're in a time when some teams can and do exploit the market but with the spread of sabermetrics this advantage will be lessened.

To me, one of the last big frontiers is valuing defense more precisely. There's alot of disagreement as to how many runs a really good shortstop saves over an average one. Getting a defensive run measure to the same visibility as OPS and deprecating fielding percentage would be a big win for sabermetrics and for baseball in general.

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