Wednesday, October 29, 2008

At Bats and Sacrifices: The Mistakes of Latter-Day Baseball

Self-Sacrifice - sacrifice of one's interests, desires, etc., as for duty or the good of another.

Sacrifice - the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.

At bats were created in an attempt to uncouple all of the hitter's options from those of the manager and pitcher. Meaning, everything that the batter has control over(hits, strikeouts) is isolated from everything he doesn't have control over. This was unsuccessful in the eyes of many. There are huge flaws in this concept and it's problems have been well spread through books and blogs.  Therefore in this article I'm going to try and say something a little different from what people usually say.  

The at-bat perceives that the batter has more control over the plate appearance than the pitcher does.  While the at-bat also implies that the pitcher dictates the at-bat.  This is the reason walks aren't included in the at-bat equation.  Thus at-bats aren't an appropriate measuring stick for at-bats imply that the batter dictates the outcome of the at-bats yet it still subtracts all of the "non decisions" of the batter from the equation, like walks.  This makes no sense at all.  If you say that the batter controls the game then it has to mean he chose to walk and not that the pitcher chose to walk him.  This proves that at-bats not only have a glitch but also contradicts itself.  The at-bat doesn't include walks or sacrifices.  Why not?  Because the pitcher issues the walk and the managers call for the sacrifices, therefore these two integral factors of a plate appearance and a batter's decision are removed from this so called vital/original hence irreplaceable stat. 

Nowadays we know that the batter, and the pitcher, and the baserunners all have a certain effect on causing a walk, so we can now focus on sacrifices.  This is because at bats are clearly problematic and are therefore not worth dealing with.  

There are two types of sacrifices: sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flies.  Sac bunts are usually called for by the manager so I could understand why they'd be removed from this equation.  Even though there is no point of removing them.  No matter what the manager tells the batter, it's the batter's decision once he steps into the batter's box.  Therefore, even sac bunts should be included in your at-bats/plate appearance stat.  Sac flies are a different story. What's hard for me to understand is why this play is even attributed as a sacrifice.  As you can see at the top of the article, a sacrifice bunt fits the criteria of self-sacrifice but sacrifice flies do not.  The reason for this is that even if the manager tells player x to hit the ball to the outfield(spot y) chances are he'll hit the ball to the outfield at the same rate as he usually does(z% of the time). Showing that even if a batter gets a sacrifice fly it was more of random variance than anything else.  If a batter was able to hit the ball to the outfield every plate appearance they would.  For the simple reason of more fly balls means more home-runs and the three-run homer is the best play in baseball.  

If batters could choose where they wanted to hit the ball, batters wouldn't be batting .300 they would be batting .700.  This proves that batters have less control over a plate appearance and the pitchers have more control.  What business would pay a guy $20MM a year for doing his task at a lower than 50% efficiency rate? This is essentially what baseball does with its hitters. This shows us that batters have very little control over the events that occur every at-bat and have little influence on hit ball placement.  Now you know that sacrifice flies are not sacrifices because the batter cannot choose whether to strikeout, hit the ball to the outfield or hit a homerun it simply depends on his usual tendencies(and the pitch/pitcher).  I hope you've now realized the shortcomings of the at-bats and what we call "sacrifices".  And will now try to use plate appearances and OBA(on-base average) more than AVG and SLA(slugging average).  OBA uses plate appearances as its denominator while AVG and SLA use at-bats as theirs.