Watch the Game
I like numbers. Especially baseball numbers, how they can be
to come up with all sorts of insightful and surprising results.
But the more games I see, the more I realize that they
the end-all, be-all of fantasy baseball analysis. In fact, unless
watch a good number of games and understand how the numbers are being
they can be a path to fantasy baseball failure.
I would never suggest to anyone to ignore the numbers or that the
aren't very meaningful. For far too long, the numbers, or at
the ones that had the most meaning, have been ignored by fans and
people alike. However, it seems that over the last several years,
pendulum is swinging way too far in the other direction where there is
over-emphasis on the numbers. This is as big a mistake as
them. To define players solely by their numbers will not result
an accurate picture of their contributions. And there are several
The first is that the recording of the game is not accurate. At
the SABR convention in Milwaukee a few years ago where he first
introduced his Win Shares, Bill James suggested that it may be time to
develop a more event-specific
criteria for scoring games, a sentiment I agree with completely and
stated as much on this website. Official scorers aren't
the rules are nebulous enough on many details that it's fairly routine
get questionable rulings on a plays. Through no fault of their
an official scorer can register a play as one thing, but the complete
opinion might be the more accurate interpretation of what just
For example, an outfielder breaks in on a line drive, realizes
mistake, doubles back and has just enough speed to make an attempt on
ball. However, he comes up short and the batter ends up on third.
that a three base error or a triple? Under rule 10.13 in the
Rulebook it states, "Mental mistakes and misjudgments are not
be scored as errors unless specifically covered by the rules."
the "correct" ruling is that it's a triple, but everyone who sees the
thinks, "that guy made an error." These kind of plays happen
frequently - a game without at least one is a rarity - so why in the
should we completely trust the statistical results of things we know
at least part of the time are inaccurate interpretations of what
Secondly, even the numbers without questionable judgment can be
Take a batter who strikes out a lot. What does that tell
about him as a hitter? Well, not really a whole lot. Almost
(39.2% to be exact) of all non-hit strikes are foul balls.* So
if a hitter makes good
but is simply a bad guesser or has a bad mental approach to his at
he could have a very high strikeout total; he fouls off strike
and two and looks for the wrong pitch on strike three. Likewise,
hitter who simply swings and misses a lot will have a high strikeout
as well. In both cases, a low walk total could also be the
The difference is that one guy (the former) is a candidate for
improvement because with a good hitting coach or with more experience
pitchers in his league, he could develop a better strategy to take
of his skills. The latter player can not; no matter how
much work he does, he will continue to swing and miss. But how
that just by looking at the numbers? The fact is, you can't.
Does a pitcher with mediocre strikeout numbers have mediocre stuff?
does he have great stuff but catches too much of the plate so hitters
foul off his best offerings? Or does he not hide his pitches well
or does he frequently make poor pitch selections? Without knowing
this information, it's unlikely you would have looked to Esteban Loaiza
or Sidney Ponson as potentially good break-out candidates this
year. Are a pitcher's high walk totals because
wild or because he nibbles at the outside of the strikezone? How
you know by only looking at the numbers? The wild pitcher with
great stuff has a much better chance to show dramatic improvement over
nibbler. He's also more likely to maintain a high value
the season and in subsequent seasons. And the nibbler is much
more likely to endure a completely awful season.
The only way to really understand what the statisitics really mean is
a visual context in which to place them. And the only way to get
that context is to watch games. Just as making decisions without
looking at the numbers is dangerous, making decisions based solely on
the numbers can be just as damaging to your fantasy baseball
hopes. Watch the games, read the numbers, win your league.
* - thanks to
Inc for providing that information.