Baseball Stats That Matter Most

By Ben Smith:

In baseball, we have statistics for everything. The most talked about of these is probably batting average and ERA (earned run average). But it’s much more in depth than that. We have stats for what batters are hitting in every count, what pitchers are doing ahead in the count versus behind, and stats that will show you which lineup is the most productive. There’s even a stat called WAR (wins above replacement) that measures a player’s value in all facets of the game. I’m not real sure how its calculated, but it gives sports fanatics the opportunity to compare players from today’s game to guys that played 50 years ago. WHIP, slugging percentage, on base percentage, fielding percentage…stats galore!

As important as statistics are, I don’t think they always tell the entire story. While we just about have a statistic for everything, there are a couple of things that we don’t always measure accurately. For instance, say you have a hitter with a batting average of .300. That’s a great average for a baseball player, but who did he get all of his hits off of? Did he get his hits when it mattered most, or when the game was already in check? Did he get his hits off of the best teams on the schedule, or against inferior talent?

I’ve always been a believer in looking deeper than just the stat sheet when evaluating a player. We’ve had guys over the years that were hitting .350 but got all of their hits when we played bad teams. We’ve also had guys that hit .275, but always seemed to get the big hit against good teams when we needed it. So which guy would you rather have? Some guys handle the big moment better than others.

At the time of this writing, the World Baseball Classic is being played out in Miami. The final game is between the United States and Japan. Undoubtedly, these are some of the best baseball players in the world. It’s been said that this game will likely be the most watched baseball game in the entire history of the sport. Both teams have rosters full of players in Major League Baseball. For Japan, the most notable player is Shohei Ohtani. During his short career in the MLB (5 seasons) he’s been regarded as one of the best players in the game…possibly one of the greatest to ever play the game. The most notable player for the United States is none other than Mike Trout. Trout is one of the highest paid players in the league and has long been regarded as the best player in baseball. I’ve even heard it said that he is the next Mickey Mantle.

I had the opportunity to watch Trout play in Anaheim back in 2016. He was even more impressive in real life than he was on television. Everything he did seemed to come so easy…even robbing a home run that night. From what I see on television and hear other people say, Ohtani is just as impressive. But wait, there’s more! These two guys play on the same team during the season. That has to be the best team in baseball, right? Wrong. You have to go all the way back to 2015 to find the Angels’ last winning season. During that year, Trout hit 41 home runs, drove in 90 runs, and sported a .299 batting average. Not too shabby. However, his best season was arguably the 2019 season where he hit 45 home runs, knocked in 104, and batted .291. Guess what the Angels’ record that season was…72-90.

I’m not trying to take anything away from Mike Trout. He’s a great player, one of the greatest to ever put on a uniform. But…going back to my argument earlier about statistics, what’s he done on the biggest stage? Given the recent lack of success for the Angels, he hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to have success in big games. That itself provides my next argument for who may be the most valuable player for Team USA. Take Trea Turner and Mookie Betts for example. They’ve both been on teams that have had a lot of playoff success, even winning World Series Championships. I’m of the opinion that these two guys will be as valuable, if not more, than Trout due to their experience playing in big games. That’s a statistic that you can’t look up on the Baseball Almanac.

The good thing about this entire column is that we are talking about baseball. The sport has taken so much flack lately with all of the stupid rule changes (i.e., time clock, base size, and shift bans). I’ve been convinced that for some odd reason that the commissioner has been trying to kill the game entirely for the last few years. At least he’s been killing it for me. But the WBC has breathed life back into the game. Every game has been played like Game 7 of the World Series. People are watching all over the world. It’s been fun again. Let’s keep the fun rolling by not getting too caught up in the paper stat sheet and by counting what really matters most…winning.

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