A Guide to Sabermetric Research

We're often asked, "I'd like to know more about sabermetrics, but where do I begin?"

Longtime SABR member Phil Birnbaum has authored a Guide to Sabermetric Research to help answer your questions. We're pleased to publish it at SABR.org/sabermetrics.

Birnbaum is the editor of the SABR Statistical Analysis Committee newsletter, "By the Numbers", and he can be found writing on various topics at his blog, Sabermetric Research.

First, let's go over some basics:

  • What is sabermetrics? As originally defined by Bill James in 1980, sabermetrics is "the search for objective knowledge about baseball". James coined the phrase in part to honor the Society for American Baseball Research. 
  • Who invented sabermetrics? Statistical analysis has been around as long as baseball has been played competitively. Long before Moneyball became a worldwide phenomenon in the 21st century and before Bill James' baseball writings gained mainstream popularity in the 1980s, Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver was using index cards to fine-tune his platooning system and pitching changes with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1960s, while Branch Rickey hired statistician Allan Roth in the 1940s to evaluate player performance with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A generation before that, Baseball Magazine editor F.C. Lane was creating new statistical methods to measure offensive production, culminating in his classic book of essays, Batting. In the mid-19th century, Henry Chadwick is credited with developing the box score and his tabulation of hits, home runs and total bases led to the formulation of metrics such as batting average and slugging percentage.
  • SABR or sabermetrics? With more than 6,000 members around the world, SABR is a membership organization comprised of passionate and knowledgeable baseball fans with a variety of interests — one of them being statistical analysis. SABR members Bill James, Pete Palmer and Dick Cramer co-founded SABR's Statistical Analysis Committee in 1974 and helped popularize the study of sabermetrics. The phrase "sabermetrics" itself is in the public domain and is generally used to describe any mathematical or statistical study of baseball.

Sabermetric researchers often use statistical analysis to question traditional measures of baseball evaluation such as batting average and pitcher wins. Early on, James' theories were largely mocked (or ignored) by the baseball establishment, but as Joe Posnanski wrote in "The Ballad of Bill James", over time his work started to be recognized. Time Magazine once named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. The Boston Red Sox hired him in 2003 and subsequently won two World Series. James is still asking relevant questions today at billjamesonline.com, and so are legions of his disciples such as author and editor Rob Neyer; Birnbaum; and all the great writers at Baseball Prospectus, Beyond the Box Score, FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and other sites.

Want a primer on sabermetrics? Check out the FanGraphs Library for down-to-earth explanations of advanced metrics such as wOBA (weighted on-base average), FIP (fielding-independent pitching) and WAR (wins above replacement), written by Steve Slowinski. SABR members can also read cutting-edge articles on statistical analysis in every issue of the Baseball Research Journal, such as "The Many Flavors of DIPS: A History and Overview", by Dan Basco and Michael Davies. We've got a full list of resources on our Related Links page at the end of this section.

Be sure to check out the annual SABR Analytics Conference, where we bring together the top minds of the baseball analytic community under one roof to discuss, debate and share insightful ways to analyze and examine the great game of baseball.

We also have a lot more online tools available for SABR members on our Research Resources page, including Matt Dennewitz's Saber Archive, an online repository of sabermetric articles.

Whether you're just starting out or you'd like a refresher course, whether you're a numbers wizard or you consider yourself math-phobic, we hope you'll find Phil Birnbaum's Guide to Sabermetric Research informative and interesting.

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