Parker: What we mean by ‘worthless’ stats

From SABR member Bill Parker at Baseball Prospectus on October 3, 2012:

You know what the big debate going on right now is—and, no worries, this post won’t actually touch on that whole thing at all—and you can imagine that certain issues are coming up a lot. Things like the value of RBI and batting average. Elsewhere—in discussing David Price vs. Justin Verlander for the Cy Young Award, for instance—pitcher wins come up quite a bit.

The most common words statheads use when those types of statistics come up all end in “less”: meaningless, useless, worthless. I’ve used them. It’s easy. And in a way, I think it’s totally right.

It’s also terribly confusing to the uninitiated, though, and seems to create an extra barrier that really doesn’t need to be there. The natural response to that sort of language, of course, is defensive and incredulous: “You’re telling me a guy who drove in 120 runs didn’t have a great season? Scoring runs is the whole point!” “When’s the last time a bad pitcher won 20 games?” And that’s understandable. It’s not as though these stats don’t tell you anything; if you see that a hitter has 100 RBI, odds are he’s probably pretty good. The same is true for a pitcher with 17 or 18 wins. Besides, no one wants to hear that the things they’ve grown up paying attention to and caring about are “meaningless.” The average fan, hearing that language, shuts down. Wants to fight back. I would, too, probably.

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Originally published: October 3, 2012. Last Updated: October 3, 2012.