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Friday, July 01, 2005

Getting Rid of Batting Average

Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski had a column in Thursday's paper called "Believe it: It’s time to retire batting average". Since the column requires registration I'll report that he, with the help of Bill James, makes a humerous case for why batting average is so misleading by comparing it to rating a novel by the number of words per page and rating doctors by the number of patients they see per day among others.

He also uses the much more serious example of Ken Harvey, a guy whose entire value is tied up in his batting average and the contra-example of Jimmy Wynn to illustrate that batting average does not tell much of the story. He goes on to say,

"There are a lot of players like Wynn who never were appreciated enough because of relatively low batting averages — Bobby Grich, John Mayberry, Bob Allison, Darrell Evans, Boog Powell, Toby Harrah and Roy White, to name a few. They got on base. They hit for power. Those things matter. Batting average doesn’t.

It’s time. I’m not sure which statistic we should use in its place. The trendy statistic now is OPS — on-base percentage plus slugging percentage — but that has its own flaws. There is “secondary average,” which takes into account total bases, walks, stolen bases. There is plain old on-base percentage, which I like. There are plenty of options."

I have seen OPS appear in a television broadcast, I just can't remember where. As a single number I'd prefer it because of its simplicity, comparative ability, and correlative value. It does a much better job of conveying the run producing ability of a player than any of its three component parts (AVG, SLUG, and OBP) do and could be used effectively in shorthand venues such as television screens. That said, I'd rather see more stats on the top and bottom portions of the screen instead of out of town scores and miscellaneous sports news. Then we could see the standard AVG/OBP/SLUG format that conveys even more information than OPS.

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