“Worse than worthless.” – F.C. Lane, describing the value of batting average as a statistic – in 1916.
Put a pin in that, we’ll come back to it.
For the sake of brevity, we won’t re-hash a discussion that’s been going on for well over 100 years, as F.C. Lane was not the first person to try to come up with better statistics to evaluate players on field contributions. What I’m going to do today is simply use Aaron Hicks to crystallize the point I routinely make here, as many others have before me – in most cases, unsuccessfully, as we see every time we watch a broadcast of a baseball game.
Aaron Hicks is a very good offensive player. His OPS+ currently stands at 118 (OPS+ is set that 100 is league average, so 118 is 18% better than league average), and his OPS+ over the past four seasons is 120 – second best among center fielders over that stretch.
His batting average is .215. Not that I need to tell you that a .215 BA is very bad, but that comes in at 63rd among 79 qualifiers for the American League batting title.
So what’s wrong? Batting average is worse than worthless when it comes to measuring a batter’s contribution to team runs. There are two big reasons for this:
One: In 2020 Hicks has been walked 37 times and hit by a pitch once. That’s 38 times he increased his team’s chances of scoring, and BA gives him no credit for it – it’s treated as if it never happened. He’s played in 45 games, so almost once per game he does something good for his team that BA doesn’t credit.
Two: Batting average treats all hits as singles. Singles, doubles, triples and home runs are all weighted equally. Re-read that sentence and try not to laugh. That’s absurd, and no one would argue otherwise. F.C. Lane pointed out that logic was like seeing a stack of cash and counting how many bills you had to measure your financial worth without seeing how many $1 bills, $20 bills, $50 bills, etc. you had.
On 14 occasions – 8 doubles, 1 triple and 5 home runs – Hicks has helped his team with something significantly better than a single, but batting average valued those extra base hits as singles. Again, this is ridiculous logic.
If you want to stick with batting average for nostalgic reasons, that’s cool, but as a tool to evaluate a player’s contribution it’s garbage.
Stick with OPS+ (NOT OPS! That’s different, and not quite as silly as BA but it has its own issues). OPS+ takes on base percentage and slugging percentage, weighs OBP slightly more because it’s more important than SLG, weighs park factors and the run scoring environment league wide, and sets league average to 100. It’s about as good as it gets in terms of measuring a player’s contribution to his team when he’s in the batter’s box. (Also, because parks and run scoring change from season to season, it’s also a great way to compare players and seasons from different eras).
Some random final thoughts:
wRC+ and DRC+ are essentially the same as OPS+, they’re just from different sources/outlets. I usually go with OPS+ because it’s the easiest for me to access most of the time.
F.C. Lane was a biologist who decided to change careers and become a baseball analyst. Just a reminder every time you hear a knuckle-dragging flat-earther say something like “durrr…made up stats from nerds…durrr…” – every stat was created by a writer or statistician. Every one. If you listen to today’s mouth breathing fans you’d think Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were sitting in a saloon in 1920 debating who was better among them so they came up with batting average and RBI.
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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