Welcome to Random Cardinal Stats
What to Expect:
Obviously, anyone who knows the rules can go to a baseball game and completely enjoy the game even in a state of absolute ignorance of any of the context surrounding it. They don’t need to know the relative positions of the two teams in the standings or how much of the season is left. They don’t need to know of any history between the teams, nor do they need to possess any knowledge at all of the individual players. And they certainly don’t need to know any of the battery of statistics that attach themselves to teams and to players. Any random fan can walk into any random stadium and watch any random teams compete and have a satisfying baseball experience.
But – and there is no gentle way to put this – if you are going to follow a team, you need to have some awareness of all of these things. In fact, a baseball season simply can’t even be comprehended without the numbers to frame and clarify it. It can’t be talked about, written about, explained, absorbed, dissected or analyzed without the confirmation of some set of numbers.
So here we are largely about the numbers and all about the Cardinals. After the baseball season is over we can talk a little football, but from April through October it will be our objective to paint the story of the season with the most revealing numbers I can cobble together.
The grandeur of a baseball season frequently makes quantification a challenge. Sample sizes can be too small and sometimes too large. With at least 162 games, no single game has a significant statistical impact on the season – no matter what happens in that game. And each of those games will have several hundred data points so that any single at bat – no matter what happens in that at bat – is virtually meaningless from an analytic standpoint. Of course, as at bat adds on to at bat, patterns emerge for both players and teams, and in these trends – the good and the bad – the story of the season is told.
The challenge here is two-fold. All too common in baseball discussion is the issue of a small sample size (drawing conclusions from too few games, innings or at bats). But there is also a challenge on the other end as well. When players get too many at bats or innings behind them, the individual hot and cold streaks all meld together and the story becomes indistinct. For example, two players may both be hitting .320 on July 4th, but one may have hit .450 in April and just .180 since; while the other may have hit .220 through the end of May but .385 in June – two completely different narratives. Here I will try to walk the line between the two extremes.
What Not to Expect (and what to expect instead):
I’m not a big fan of the new statistics – VORP, WAR, etc. I don’t have anything against them, they just don’t fit in with what I’m doing here. I am trying to find understanding (and, to a lesser degree, descriptive qualities) that WAR can’t provide. WAR (Wins Above Replacement) attempts to quantify individual contribution. If a player’s WAR is 12, that means his team won 12 more games than it would have with an average player in his place. The number delves only superficially into how those extra games were won. Its primary purpose is to establish that this particular player was more valuable to you than a teammate whose WAR is only 8, but less valuable than some other player whose WAR is 16.
Now, this may well be true. It doesn’t, however, “mean” anything in particular, the way a batting average “means” something.
Here, you will see mostly traditional statistics. We’ll have batting averages and slugging percentages and ERAs (Earned Run Averages). I’m somewhat fond of the Game Winning RBI (defined as the RBI that gives your team the lead it never relinquishes) and the Late, Game-Changing RBI (defined as any RBI from the seventh-inning onward that either ties the game or gives your team the lead). You’ll see these from time to time if they tell a particular story.
Situational statistics help with understanding. Platoon splits, Home/Road splits, hitting and pitching with runners in scoring position – numbers that are commonly had, to be sure, but not frequently looked at in terms of 8 or 9 game subsections of the season. I also keep track of performance in 1-run games and games after a loss. Performance in these kind of games speaks – at least a little bit – to leadership.
I also collect numbers that I think of as “descriptive.” Who swings at the first pitch, who is always in two-strike counts, which pitchers have the highest and lowest swing-and-miss rates. I’ll even do team won-lost records broken out by individual positions in the batting order and by starters at the various defensive positions and much more.
There really are countless stories that are buried inside the overwhelming mound of numbers produced during a baseball season. My purpose is to try to uncover a few of them to add, perhaps, a little more richness to the context of the season.
The one number that I will track differently than the official record keepers is the pitcher’s quality start. It’s a stat that I rather like, but not the way they keep it. Officially, a quality start is at least six innings allowing no more than three earned runs. The concept is that such a performance “keeps his team in the game.” I mostly agree, but only if you raise the standard to three runs, period – whether they are earned runs or not.
A pitcher who serves up three earned runs and three more unearned runs, hasn’t really kept his team in the game, has he? Most of the time, the pitcher is going to have the opportunity to pitch around the error. I don’t think this is an unreasonable expectation, that a pitcher throwing a quality start make a pitch when he needs to to work around an error and get his team into the dugout.
I will make exceptions if warranted, but for the most part a pitcher will have to make it through his six innings holding the opposition to three runs.
A Word About Our Discussions:
You are invited to toss in numbers of your own, and, on those occasions where I venture a guess as to what a particular number might mean, you are perfectly within bounds to question my assumption. But let’s keep all discussions civil, shall we? Let’s keep the language clean as well. Baseball is a family game, and I’d like to keep the blog similarly family friendly.
About the Ads
I have a couple adds along the right-hand column, and may add more as we go. Frankly, I decided to go the blog route with this hobby because every time my wife walked by the office and saw me crunching these numbers she would make that soft, Marge Simpson-throat growl. So it occurred to me that if I cast this hobby into a situation that might bring in a little income, it might soften her stance on the whole thing. To this point, it’s worked well.
So this is a little experiment. If the thing makes a little money, I’ll get to keep doing it.
If anyone wants to engage me privately, my email is [email protected] I’d love to hear from you.
Publishing Schedule & Notifications
During baseball season, the plan will be to publish six days a week (no Sundays). On days that they play an afternoon game, I will try to have my entry up by 10 am. Otherwise, Tuesday through Friday I will shoot for noon – maybe 1:00 (these are all Central time). Monday and Saturday mornings are more chaotic around here, so the posting may happen a little later in the day.
If you want to be notified about the new postings, send me an email and let me know. I will send notifications by email and/or text as soon as the post is up. I am also contemplating the twitter thing.
– Joe –