The Numbers Game

New-School Baseball Stats From A to Z

Late and Close: Clutch hitting used to be baseball's equivalent of the Loch Ness monster—often talked about but rarely seen. "And if you look, really look at the 'evidence' of clutch hitting as a true ability rather than happenstance," writes's Rob Neyer, "you find out that, at best, it's a bunch of blurry photos, in the form of poorly constructed studies presented by people who desperately want to believe." More convincing evidence came in the form of large-sample stats like "late and close," which shows a player's batting average after the seventh inning in a situation in which the potential tying run is at least on deck. Sabrefact: A 1989 Elias Sports Bureau study pegged Tim Raines as the best clutch hitter in baseball. He was followed by Jeff Newman, Garth Iorg, Glenn Hoffman, Thad Bosley, and Larry Milbourne.

Moreno, Omar: The sabremetric Antichrist. The Pirate outfielder looked good in a uniform, but he had no power, drew no walks, and was overrated as fielder and base runner—imagine Rey Ordoñez playing the outfield. "There can be no excuse for writing his name on a lineup card," James wrote. Sabrefact: His .343 slugging percentage is only 20 points higher than that of Pirate pitcher Rick Rhoden.

Negro Leagues: Arguably the baseball analyst's toughest call. Just how good were Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, or Oscar Charleston? Without reliable stats, analysts must weigh anecdotal opinion, like Johnny Mize's assessment of Martin Dihigo: "I thought I was having a pretty good year, down there, but they were walking him to pitch to me." Sabrefact: Bill James puts Negro Leaguers Charleston (4), Gibson (9) and Paige (17) in the top 20 in the New Historical Baseball Abstract.

Illustration by Dusan Petricic

On-Base Percentage: Originally created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth in the 1950s, and declared an official stat in 1984, on-base percentage (hits, walks, and hit-by-pitches, divided by plate appearances) is the most important offensive statistic because the benchmark of an efficient offense is the ability to get players on base. Sabrefact: The career leader in on-base percentage is Ted Williams, with an astonishing .481 mark.

Pitch Count: You would have thought it would have been intuitive—that as they throw more pitches, pitchers are less effective and more prone to injuries. But until pitch counts became public knowledge, pitching coaches would leave young starters like Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela out there to throw 140 pitches on chilly April afternoons and wonder why they blew out their arms. Sabrefact: According to Rany Jazayerli of Baseball Prospectus, Oakland's Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson each had only one first-half start last season in which he threw more than 120 pitches.

Quisenberry, Dan: The Royal reliever ranks third in the Index of Self Destructive Acts, a "garbage" stat in which Bill James combines wild pitches, hit batters, balks, and errors, behind only Robin Roberts and Pete Alexander. The highest ISDA among top pitchers? David Cone. Sabrefact: Quiz threw only four wild pitches in his career.

Range Factor: Chuck Knoblauch notwithstanding, most major leaguers can hang on to a routine pop-up or avoid throwing the ball into the stands, so fielding percentage doesn't give a true picture of a player's defensive abilities. A much better yardstick is "range factor," which shows how many chances a player makes per game. Sabrefact: Cal Ripken's career fielding percentage is better than Ozzie Smith's (.979 to .978), but Smith's range factor (5.02, compared with Ripken's 4.62) means that over the course of a season, Smith would make 65 additional plays.

Secondary Average: Whereas players were once rated almost solely on the basis of their batting averages, this James-created stat—total bases plus walks and stolen bases, minus hits and times caught stealing, the whole thing divided by at-bats—summarizes how well a player does those things that don't show up in batting average. Sabrefact: In 2001, Barry Bonds led the majors with a record .929 secondary average, while Cal Ripken (.175) and Rey Ordoñez (.165) were among the trailers.

Total Baseball: Originally the sabremetric alternative to the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, adding stats like on-base percentage and caught stealing, it was one of the bellwethers of the acceptance of new-school stats when TB superceded the Big Mac as baseball's official record book. Sabrefact: Total Baseball adjusted Ty Cobb's hit total from 4192 to 4189, which means that neither Pete Rose nor his real record-breaking balls are enshrined in Cooperstown.

Urbina, Ugueth: The Montreal Expos' closer is an example of the way relief pitching has changed in the past 20 years. Now a closer like Urbina is brought in only for a "save" situation, and almost never for more than six outs, a clear case in which a statistical definition is driving a managerial decision, and, not coincidentally, protecting the manager from a second-guess. Sabrefact: In Game One of the 1974 World Series, Rollie Fingers was brought in the fifth inning and pitched four and a third innings in an Oakland loss.

Vaughn, Arky: One of the by-products of new-school baseball analysts is that overlooked old-timers get their due. According to James's new Abstract, Vaughn is the second-best shortstop of all time, behind Honus Wagner. Sabrefact: Between 1936 and 1936, Vaughn hit .351 and led the National League in walks all three years.

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