Felix Hernandez won the American League Cy Young award yesterday in what is being touted as a harbinger of a new age of baseball. In this new age, statistical complexity trumps conventional wisdom, and in some ways, the ability to believe what we see. One of the many charms of baseball is the ability to create much of individual games through the standard box score. At bats, runs, hits, RBI. Many baseball fans can get 95% of a game’s flow correct from those four stats in a box score. Any game! We can also determine the success level of players based on those box scores. For some, box scores have been an obsession because they indicate so much about baseball. (Tim Kurkjian writes about this beautifully.)
What sabermetric statistical analysis has done is to de-value what we see in our box scores. Those cherished box scores are only a portion of what indicates a player’s success. Discovering that the baseball writers who vote on Cy Young and other awards are willing to look beyond the box scores and the conventional measures of success really does seem to be an indication of how thoroughly this sabermetric revolution has taken hold.
There are two near certain next steps. One, virtually all baseball television coverage will soon show stat lines that shift during an at-bat. We’ll still see Batting Average, Runs Batted In and Home Runs. Then the scroll will shift to include On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage and On-Base + Slugging Percentage. Then the scroll will shift again to include RC27 (Runs Created per 27 Innings), SECA (Secondary Average), ISOP (Isolated Power) and TB (Total Bases). By 2020, every kid discovering baseball will know those terms as naturally as I do ERA. And when that happens, the second next step will occur. Every computer will have ‘sabermetric’ in its spellcheck.