JC Bradbury Asks for Better Stats on TV

Classes start this week at Cal-State Bakersfield.  So I should have spent my day working on preparing either The Economics of Religion or Intermediate Macroeconomics (the two courses I teach this quarter).  But I would rather comment on three items I saw on three of my favorite blogs.

These comments will be presented in three separate entries, with this entry focusing on a post from JC Bradbury — of Sabernomics and The Baseball Economist.

Last week Bradbury made the following observation:

“Triple Crown Stats on TV: Why are these the only stats listed for hitters when I watch a baseball game? Is it too much to include OBP and SLG? They contain more important information than the typical statistics. Even more annoying is when announcers refer to hitters as being good and bad based just on AVG. Just last night, I heard Joe Simpson refer to Brayan Pena- a .300 hitter in the minor leagues whose AVG ≈ OBP ≈ SLG-as a good hitter with poor defense. It’s inexcusable. You don’t have to be a stat-head to get this either.”

Let me try and offer an answer to Bradbury’s questions.

The statistically inclined sports fan is familiar with OPS, DIPS, and other sabermetric measures in baseball.  In basketball we have NBA Efficiency, PERs, adjusted plus-minus, Win Score, and Wins Produced.  For football there are the metrics of Football Outsider as well as QB Score.  None of these, including the many measures I did not mention, are routinely mentioned in the media.  Why?

Let’s divide sports fans into two groups: Those that are statistically inclined and the casual fan that is not aware – or does not care – about “advanced” (or even less advanced) statistical metrics. 

Which group is bigger? My guess is that the number of casual fans far out-numbers the stat-heads.  And given that the media is trying to reach the largest audience possible, we are not likely to see broadcasts of games reference any of the measures – and this includes Win Score and QB Score — we see around the Internet.

The disparity in population sizes, I think, explains why we still see baseball players evaluated in terms of batting average.  And basketball players evaluated with points scored per game.  It’s these simple stats the casual fan is most likely to know about and understand.

The lone exception to the focus on simple measures is the NFL’s QB Rating. As noted in The Wages of Wins, this is the most complicated measure commonly cited by the media.  I think this exception exists because a) this measure was created by the NFL (specifically Don Smith, an executive with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, created this in 1971), b) it’s relatively old (again, it goes back more than 30 years), c) and there historically has not been any other metric that people have used to describe a quarterback’s performance.  Consequently the NFL Quarterback Rating was introduced in a vacuum (a vacuum that led to its creation in the first place).

Perhaps this suggests that in time more complicated measures will be used in other sports.  My sense, though, is that the circumstances that allowed the QB Rating to be adopted will not be repeated in baseball or basketball.  And consequently, those few fans who hope that “better” measures will someday be the norm will probably continue to be frustrated. 

– DJ

Here are the other two entries in this three-part series:

Darren Rovell Shows us that Michigan is a Winner

Stephen Dubner Notes the Power of Disgusting Advertising

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