College Baseball Player Metrics – Part 1

(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thank to Bob Haarmans)

If you are a regular reader of this site, you may recall earlier in the season we ran a series of articles that talked about improving the metrics available to compare college teams. There were rudimentary metrics available, like winning percentage, or even RPI, which have been around for decades, and don’t really bring the advanced analytical aspects that we are used to seeing in baseball, at least on the professional side. But we tried our hand at creating a ranking metric that would act as a holistic, all-inclusive measurement of a team’s true talent. We are proud of it, and if you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, you should.

But while that was truly a worthwhile endeavor, it is not in the spirit of what this website, this organization is all about. This website is not about teams. This website is about players. It is about the measurement of players’ abilities and trying to convey a player’s on-field value. One of the ways we do that is through traditional scouting, the analysis of a player’s skill through observation, examination, and notation. This is the way that baseball players have been judged for well over a century, and it has incredible value. Seeing a player on the field, in person, provides information that no statistical analysis could ever capture. In fact, even in today’s data-charged world, a good ol’ scouting report by a trained professional is probably the best judge of a player’s ability and potential. But traditional scouting does have its drawbacks.

If you are a scout and you go to a baseball game, you will see about 25 or so players take the field. Of those 25, you can maybe focus on one, two, maybe three at a time. You get a great feel for the guys, can see the stars, can weed out the rest, and go home that night knowing that you know more about that group of guys than just about anyone else out there. But during that same time, I could have run a statistical analysis on every player at every level of college baseball, and professional baseball for that matter, and had time to watch some Netflix while I do it. Traditional scouting can provide an unparalleled depth of knowledge, but there is no match for the breadth that data analysis provides. A blend of the two styles is when you truly maximize knowledge.

But really, I am probably preaching to the choir here. If you are taking the time to read an article about the advancement of analytical models and metrics in collegiate baseball, this probably isn’t news. So let’s get to the new stuff. Let me pose a question: what is the newest, most advanced college baseball player metric that is widely and publicly available? Have you thought about it? What did you come up with? Well, by my count, it is OPS (On-base Plus Slugging). That metric was popularized by John Thorn and Pete Palmer in their 1984 book The Hidden Game of Baseball. So allow me to pose another question: why is the college game stuck in the 80’s? We think that is wrong, and so we are going to try to fix it.

Over the next several weeks, we will be posting a multi-part series in which we will catch the game up to modern day standards (data availability permitting). We will advance college baseball statistics through the 1990’s and the 2000’s with things like weighted offensive statistics, defense-independent pitching, and WAR-like measurements, and we will do it while keeping in mind the one thing that really separates the college game from the professional one: the diverse levels of talent. All of our metrics will take into account the level of competition the player is participating in, as while it is true that no two opponents are created equal in the Majors, this fact is multiplied ten-fold in college baseball, if not more so.

Now that I have said my piece, some of you readers may be feeling a little ripped off, as you worked through this whole article, and you didn’t get anything out of it. So to make up for it, I would like to give you, the humble reader, a monumental power: you get to pick what I, the almighty columnist, will write next. In our poll found on our Twitter page, choose which path you would like this series to take, and whichever gets the highest number of votes, that will be the first target. Happy polling!

Option 1: Let’s create a baseline of standardized offensive stats. Sounds reasonable right?

Option 2: Forget that, pitching wins championships! Give me those pitching metrics!

Option 3: WAR is everything! Give me WAR or give me death… (we can figure out the rest later)

Option 4: On second thought, can you just talk about the 80’s some more?

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