“If Bill James had a 90-mph fastball, he’d be me,” said Royals’ hurler Brian Bannister. If that phrase doesn’t mean anything to you, let me explain.
Bill James is “the father” of Sabermetrics, a term that he himself coined. A former nobody who had degrees in English and economics, James thought it way that was different than others in terms of how he felt the game of baseball should be analyzed. Starting the late 1970′s he began the task of literally inventing new ways to look at the game. In the process he created such measures as Runs Created and Win Shares, which you can read about more fully in my review entitled Sabermetric Primer – Scoring Concepts. Along the way James also invented the term “sabermetrics,” otherwise known as the search for objective knowledge about baseball. Sabermetrics, derived from the acronym SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research). Back to Bannister.
Why would Bannister say what he said? Well, Mr. Bannister is not only one of the few major leaguers who could tell you what SABR stands for, he is actually one of an even smaller cadre that actually use sabermetric principles/analysis to aid him in his craft. “It got me intrigued into how different things affect my future success in this game,” Bannister says. “It’s been a process, because nobody is out there using sabermetrics as a tool in player development.” Players may not be using it but we, and by “we” I mean those of us who are often derided in the mainstream press as “fantasy guys,” have long used innovative statistical analysis as a main part of what we do on a daily basis.
As a quick aside, I posit the following.
If you took the top-10 baseball beat writers and lined them up against the top-10 fantasy writers, would you care to wager which group would have a more thorough understanding of the game, players values, and the use of analytical tools to deduce who are and aren’t effective at their craft? Trust me, you’ll want to lay your loot on the fantasy guys if this situation every plays itself out, even though the mainstream guys tend brand us as loons of goobers with spreadsheets.
So what has Bannister, who has the 13th best ERA in the AL at 3.59 through 20 starts, been focusing on this season? Try Pitch fx technology. What is Pitch fx and what does it do?
Pitch fx is a series of high speed cameras that allow events on the field to be followed in slow motion.
Pitch fx records three numbers on each pitch.
2- The location of where the pitch ended up vs. where it would have ended up if the ball had been thrown in a straight line with no spin.
3- The “break” of the ball or how much movement the pitch exhibited versus where it would have ended up if it had been thrown straight.
Why is that important?
“It’s the actual vertical rise or sink on the ball as it’s getting to that location in the strike zone, and that’s exactly what Pitch f/x shows… I think now I’ve really come to some good conclusions regarding the data. I’m top five in the American League in ground-ball percentage now, which is just proof that the system works.”
Bannister also pays close attention to Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP, something I write about each week (my most recent piece can be found at BABIP: Skill vs. Luck). This measure records a player’s batting average on all batted balls that are put in play, minus home runs since they technically aren’t in play (they go over the fence and therefore can’t be said to technically be “in play”), and it tends to normalize over the course of a season. Valuable yes, even if everyone doesn’t realize it yet.
“I think people universally agree — in the sabermetric community and the fan community and in the media community — that sabermetrics are effective at identifying successful baseball players and ways to win this game,” Bannister says.
Well Mr. Bannister I would agree with your contention that many of us see the value of sabermetric analysis though I’m still dubious that those old time baseball people who cover the game for the major publications and on television would agree.
If you care to read the entire interview, click on the link to The Secret is in the Numbers.
By Ray Flowers