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February 17, 2004

Baseball Prospectus Basics


by Baseball Prospectus

If you're not familiar with Baseball Prospectus, here's what we're all about: understanding the game better, and innovating in order to do it. Everyone at BP loves the game of baseball with a passion that most people just don't understand. We feel that this greatest of games is so compelling that we want to know everything about it. We always want to improve our understanding of the game; each player, each play, each pitch, each throw, each hit--what does it really mean? Those arguments that take place in bars about the relative merits of different players? We really want to know the definitive answer to those questions. But we don't want to kill the joy of the game while we're looking.

To help better understand what we're all about, we're launching a series of articles, entitled "Baseball Prospectus Basics." This series seeks to make our work more accessible to new readers, and to remind those familiar with our work of the underlying concepts. As Keith Woolner's recently published "Hilbert Questions" article noted, there is much work still to be done.

We want to be able to compare players on an apples-to-apples level. Most every baseball fan understands, at least on some level, that it's easier to hit .300 in Coors Field than Dodger Stadium. We calculate how much easier it is, and allow you to see the players' performances without the distortion of park and league effects. It's not a very complicated idea, but it can be kind of daunting at first. As part of the Baseball Prospectus Basics series, BP's Clay Davenport will take you through the steps we take to adjust for ballpark effects, as well as the effects of hitting and pitching in different eras of major league history.

There's more. What's wrong with traditional stats like wins? Are there better ways to look at a pitcher's performance? BP's Michael Wolverton will take a closer look. Why not use the Triple Crown stats we all grew up with to compare hitters to each other? Is there a better way? We'll look at Baseball Prospectus statistics such as Keith Woolner's Value Over Replacement Player to find out.

What can managers do to make better use of their bullpens? Is there a better way to evaluate defense? Does clutch hitting really exist? We're always asking these types of questions, and over the next few weeks, we'll look at possible answers with you.

To a great extent, Major League Baseball has been insulated from many of the competitive pressures that other businesses face every day. Modern management techniques have been slow to arrive in MLB front offices. The intense pressure that drove millions of businesses to invest and focus on improvement has been absent, or at least barely noticeable in baseball circles.

Not anymore. The information revolution has finally arrived in baseball. Teams are learning better, more efficient ways to build winning rosters. They're asking many of the questions we'll be asking in Baseball Prospectus Basics, plus many more. By questioning conventional wisdom and looking for new solutions, we hope you'll develop an even greater love and appreciation for the game of baseball. As the game progresses, your favorite team will acquire a player or make a move that may not be popular in many circles; meanwhile, you'll nod your head knowingly and smile.

Will the search for new answers damage the game? Will its poetry be lost in a blizzard of derived numbers? Not in the slightest. The game is going to be better than ever before. Because better players will be playing. As defense is evaluated more and more effectively, teams will value it more highly, and you'll see better defense on the field. Teams will pass on the rickety veteran with the brand name in favor of the unknown independent league slugger, and you'll see better hitting on the field. As we learn better ways to manage pitchers, teams will experience fewer injuries and greater success, and you'll see greater pitching on the field.

And that's the way it should be. Life's supposed to get better, not worse. We want the same for baseball.

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