It’s the point in the season where avid baseball fans will start declaring which player is the best hitter. Most of the time, the claim will end up being completely subjective but it becomes easier to back up your claim with all the ‘new’ statistical information made available to baseball geeks.
I, a novice, am still assessing the value in many of these stats but it certainly makes for interesting research. WAR (wins above replacement) has a formula for wrapping several advanced stats into one and giving overall value to a player. This could be the end-all of proving who is better than whom, but it seems to be relative to the team the guy plays for.
Another questionable aspect of sabermetrics is the variables used to calculate statistics. Take my current favorite- wOBA (weighted On Base Average). Different institutions use different variables and place more importance on particular feats than others. Using wOBA as an example, baseball author Tom Tango values unintentional walks and hit by pitches higher than, say, FanGraphs.com. However, hits such as doubles and triples are valued less according to “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball.” Additionally, fangraphs.com makes up a bit of that difference by giving value to stolen bases as well as deducting value for caught stealing.
To me, FanGraphs.com has it right due to the fact that it applies more value to the action of each at bat and the likeliness of a run being produced as a result. I must also mention that since it is what as known as a ‘weighted stat’ so values fluctuate year to year but not by much.
Some could argue that OPS (on base percentage plus slugging) is the better stat to assess player value. It does tell you a lot about performance and is easy for the everyday fan to calculate. What I don’t like about OPS is how on-base percentage does not factor extra base hits and slugging percentage weighs a double, for example, twice as much as a single. While a double is definitely better, I don’t believe its THAT much better. The combining of the two stats is a good measure of plate appearance results, but at the same time (according to fangraphs.com) the ratio of percentage points for OBP to SLG should be about 1.8. So you could say that OPS is a bit skewed for those looking for something a little closer to the mark.
Lastly, batting average is the stat almost everyone loves to tout. Batting average is important to consider when evaluating a player, but not as important as you are made to think it is. According to batting average, all hits are created equal. While these stats and some others can carry their own weight in certain aspects, they all need to be looked at together, but there needs to be some sort of starting point to begin your assessment. That is why I start with wOBA.
Now, for those of you that haven’t fallen asleep or haven’t started your own argument with me in your head, I’m going to tell you why I believe Andrew McCutchen is the best hitter in baseball and the guy I’d most want to have on my team. McCutchen leads the league in wOBA (.447) but Mike Trout and the recently injured Joey Votto of the Reds are behind by mere thousandths of a percentage.
Trout leads the league in the aforementioned WAR category at 5.8 with the Mets David Wright barely behind at 5.7. The Cutch has a 5.5.
For those of you that pleadge allegance to OPS, McCutchen leads the league in OPS by .001 percent over Votto. McCutchen’s ISO, or isolated power, is not as high as say Mark Trumbo of the Angels (.314) or Josh Hamilton of the Rangers (.305) or even old man David Ortiz of the Red Sox (.294).
In comparison to his major statistical competitors, he is much better than Trout, a bit better than Votto, and sizeably better than Wright. His .270 ISO is good for 10th in the league. McCutchen and Trout are nearly identical when it comes to K/BB rate (both just slightly better than 2/1). Trout has swiped twice as many bases but McCutchen has seven more home runs.
Another factor in McCutchen’s favor is his better wRAA or weighted runs above average (40.7 vs 35.5). Then there is the famous batting average that, for me, pushes The Cutch over Trouty. McCutchen is hitting an incredible .372 while Trout is hitting (for a rookie) a tremendously impressive .357.
You could argue that Trouty could have better numbers if he had the roughly 50 extra plate appearances the other hitters have. True, but that also leaves much more room for error. And while we have history to determine if McCutchen will regress to his mean, we don’t have a basis for comparison on Trout. Is he simply a white-hot hitter or is this a sign of things to come from someone who once stood in the shadow of ‘The Natural’ Bryce Harper? Anyway, for now, my money is on McCutchen.