Sometimes it’s Not About Stats in Baseball

More than any other sport, statistics mean a great deal in baseball.  People know that Drew Brees just broke Dan Marino’s record for all time passing yardage, but few know what the new standard is.  People knowledgeable in sports know that Cy Young won 511 games, though.

Emmitt Smith is pro football’s leading rusher.  How many yards did he compile?  Rarely would you find someone who has a clue, but how many sports fans are aware that Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all time leading scorer, but bet you don’t know how many points he scored?  Mention 755 though, and most casual followers of baseball know that’s how many home runs Hank Aaron hit in his career.

Bill James changed the way baseball fans looked at the game.  He emphasized different statistics than the three triple crown categories to point out that some players were more valuable to winning teams than we thought.  Mostly, he showed the on base percentage and slugging percentage should be valued more.

Much of what he wrote makes total sense, and has those numbers have been taken very seriously by those who manage, run, and talk about the game of baseball.

However, it seems now that it has gone the other way, and the “stat people” are acting like politicians.  That is to say, their opinion on players is right, and you dare not have any other thought.

In the weeks leading up to the Hall of Fame selection vote being announced, there was much debate on whether or not certain players belonged in Cooperstown.  Most notably, Jack Morris.

Morris’ critics point out that he had a high ERA and never won a Cy Young Award.  There was even an article written that said former Twins’ pitcher Brad Radke (148-139, 4.22 ERA, and one 20 win season) was actually a better pitcher than Morris.

Morris, who pitched his last game for the Indians, won 254 games in an 18 year career that saw him win 20 games three times, and finished in the top five of the Cy Young Award voting five times. 

He was also a top starter on three teams (’84 Tigers, “91 Twins, “92 Blue Jays) that won the World Series.  He was 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in seven Series starts, including the epic game 7 in 1991 when he shut out the Braves for 10 innings.

Yet, there are many “stat-based” people who believe it would be a travesty for Morris to be inducted into the Hall.

Yet, they love Edgar Martinez, who was basically a DH, and was a lifetime .312 hitter with 309 career homers, despite spending most of his big league time in a hitters’ haven, The Kingdome.  He wound up with 2247 hits (200 less than Kenny Lofton) and a little over 1200 RBI’s.  He finished in the top five in the MVP vote just once.

Why the love for Martinez?  He had a .418 on base percentage and .515 slugging percentage.

One the darlings of the statistics crowd in White Sox’ DH Adam Dunn, because he has a very good .374 on base percentage and an excellent .503 slugging percentage. 

However, Dunn has had seven seasons where he has hit more than 35 HR’s, yet has never knocked in more than 106 runs in a season.  Back before these stats were in vogue, it seemed odd that a player that hit 40 homers and had just a little over 100 RBI’s.

For example, Frank Robinson had four seasons where he hit more than 35 dingers and drove in more than 120 runs.  Mickey Mantle and Jim Thome did it twice, Harmon Killebrew did it three times, and Manny Ramirez had seven seasons with those numbers.

The reason Dunn doesn’t drive home more runs is he strikes out excessively, something that doesn’t bother the stat people.  That’s a reason they like Alfonso Soriano too.

The Cubs’ OF became a darling because of his four “30-30” campaigns, compiling over 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases.  Incredibly, Soriano once had a season (2006 with the Nationals) where he hit 46 HR’s and only had 95 RBI’s. 

Despite a .274 lifetime batting average and 340 career home runs, Soriano isn’t a primary player on a contender.  And at age 36 and a bloated contract, the Cubs would love to give him away. 

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, particularly in sports.  It’s the reason for the proliferation of sports talk radio stations.  However, many of the statistic people have gotten high and mighty, believing there is no room for debate, and if you aren’t siding with them, you are wrong. 

Sometimes, watching the way players play the sport is more important.  That seems to be lost among many of the statistic guys now covering the sport.



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