Batting average can be an overrated stat.
What does it matter if someone hits .285, but refuses to take walks and can only put up an on-base percentage of .300 because of a lack of plate discipline?
Northern Illinois baseball coach Ed Mathey is an on-base percentage guy. To him, the real value of a hitter comes with on-base plus slugging (OPS), which takes a hitter’s ability to get on base and power into equation. This past season, Jeff Zimmerman, who was drafted by the Seattle Mariners last week, led the Huskies with an OPS of .807.
“I actually prefer on-base percentage over batting average,” Mathey said. “And for me, when you add the slugging percentage into that equation, it gives you an idea about how dangerous a hitter can be.”
When it comes to studying his pitchers’ effectiveness, Mathey prefers WHIP – walks plus hits per inning pitched over the standard earned run average. With WHIP, you get the idea of how many baserunners a pitcher gives up, while ERA involves factors a pitcher can’t control, like errors.
“I think that’s a direct reflection of a pitcher’s performance more so than earned run average,” he said. “I think that’s more important for how your pitcher’s throwing the baseball, than I think earned run average is.”
The past few years, the new-school approach in baseball has been with sabermetrics and advanced statistics. Major League teams employ people just to study and create advanced statistics.
Other new-age stats include BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which studies what percentage of a hitter’s (or pitcher’s) batted balls (not including home runs) go for hits. It can determine how lucky a hitter or pitcher may be. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), studies a pitcher’s ability independent from defense. It deals with walks, strikeouts and home runs, the only things a pitcher completely controls.
Of course, teams at the collegiate and prep levels can’t afford to employ a person just to study stats.
Sycamore High coach Jason Cavanaugh and DeKalb’s Jake Howells still study opponent statistics from the previous season before a Northern Illinois Big 12 East series, and throughout the three-game set.
“Within our conference when you see them so much, you really should be able to make adjustments game to game, at-bat to at-bat depending how guys have swung the bat throughout the year,” Howells said.
Two things they like to keep track of are what pitches they can get opposing hitters out on, and spray charts. Knowing where a pitcher has a tendency to hit the ball is extremely valuable.
“I want to know what they hit, I want to know where they hit it,” Cavanaugh said. “I want to know if they strike out or walk a lot. Those are the things I want to know as a coach.”
One thing that has helped the advancement of statistics is technology. NIU uses a program called EDGE to do things like chart pitches and see where the ball is hit, and Mathey can get the info and percentages right after the game.
Sycamore has been using an iPad to track stats the past two seasons. Now, Cavanaugh just has to plug it into a computer and it loads right away, saving him a half hour after each game.
“I can analyze the data a lot better,” he said. “It automatically does hit charts for hitters. I can say this is where you hit the ball all the time. I think it’s helpful for our kids to see that, too.”