Stats Geek at Bat

Number crunching: Can a "sabermetrics" guru help the sorry Red Sox?

by Courtesy Brita Meng Outzen/mlb.com

Todd Walker

This season the Boston Red Sox, baseball’s most humbled franchise, is gambling on sabermetrics-or what many insiders call geek science-to win its first World Series in 85 years.

Sabermetrics is the ultimate mathematical and statistical analysis of baseball player performance. Created in the early 1970s by Bill James, the Red Sox’s new adviser, it ignores individual statistics like batting averages and RBIs to assess a player’s value. It relies instead on hundreds of formulas that combine those numbers with less prominent stats like hits, walks and outs. Although sabermetricians aren’t new in the majors (the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays use them as well), James’ role is by far the most conspicuous. His job calls for him to advise the team management on whom to trade, sign or cut. “I believe in making decisions based on fact,” James says, “and the facts are often stated in numbers.”

The Sox’s first saber-driven moves: Trade for the affordable second baseman Todd Walker and let pricey All-Star Cliff Floyd flee for the New York Mets. Walker’s sabermetrics outplay Floyd’s, but his power numbers don’t. So the picks have drawn criticism. “Floyd’s a home run hitter,” laments Howard Bryant, sportswriter for the Boston Herald. “Walker’s a very nice player, but he won’t fill that gap.”

PICKING PLAYERS WITH “SABERMETRICS”

How much does a player contribute? Calculate his yearly “win shares” metric:

1. [(Hits + Walks) x Total Bases]/(At Bats + Walks) = Runs Created (RC)

2. Divide hitter’s outs by 12, then subtract from RC.

3. Divide total by 3 to calculate a player’s total hitting “win shares.”

4. Add another point to player’s win shares for playing a certain number of games (based on position: catcher, 24 games; first base, 76; second base, 28; third base, 38; shortstop, 25; outfield, 48).

TODD WALKER, second baseman

Traditional stats (2002)

Batting average: .299

Home runs: 11

RBI: 64

Sabermetrics
2002 win shares: 24

Career average: 18

CLIFF FLOYD, right fielder

Traditional stats (2002)

Batting average: .288

Home runs: 28

RBI: 79

Sabermetrics
2002 win shares: 26

Career average: 13