News: AAAS 2008 Annual Meeting News Blog
So You Think You Know Baseball? New Ways to Use Statistics
Speakers at a 16 February press briefing at the AAAS Annual Meeting weren't sure when we would see laptops in baseball dugouts, but explained teams are increasingly relying on advanced statistics to evaluate player performance.
While the use of advanced statistics in baseball--also known as sabrmetrics--is not new, the panel said teams will soon be using them to evaluate overall defensive talent, fielding range, and managerial strategies.
“Fielding is a very important part of a player's performance, but it poses challenges if you want to statistically compare or model players,” said Shane Jensen, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “The defensive statistics are just not as apparent as counting home runs, hits, or runs.”
Using data that records the location of every ball hit into the field as well as the outcome of that play, Jensen has built a model for evaluating different fielders according to the league average.
Jensen says that, according to his model, the Yankees have the American league's best shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, playing third base, and the league's worst shortstop, Derek Jeter, playing shortstop.
“The [Yankees] have the best shortstop playing out of position, and the worst playing in position,” Jensen said.
Steve Wang, a statistician at Swarthmore College, has created multi-dimensional graphs to study managerial strategies. With the graphs, Wang said, people can determine which managers are most aggressive on base paths by telling their players to steal bases, which use their pitch bullpens in unorthodox ways, and which play “small ball” more often.
The speakers said their applied research has both economic and statistical importance.
“A lot of money is spent on baseball players for their performance,” said David Pinto, an online writer for Baseball Musings, who cited skyrocketing player salaries. Pinto said he was contacted by a baseball team to serve as an advisor, but declined to offer any additional details.