The uniformed men gathered at Dodger Stadium looked like great baseball players. They walked like great players, talked like great players and wore their jerseys like great players. And in this case, it is was All great baseball players, as they gathered for Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star Game. However, how do we really know? It wasn’t his body, it wasn’t his batting practice or bullpen session. At the highest levels of play, we need the stats accumulated over the season to separate the cream of the crop.
The difference between a pristine .300 batting average and a dazzling .200 batting average is less than three hits a week. And that’s batting average, an easily calculated number in baseball lore. In games where the statistics that influence decisions differ from those shown on TV, there are many ways to measure success.
Fans have their preferences. Broadcasters and writers and front office also do. But what about the players themselves, who are putting up those numbers at the major-league level? When they pull their own numbers, which column do they gravitate toward?
We asked the 2022 All-Stars what stats they use to measure their own performance.
Most All-Stars love advance stats
On July 1, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corbin Burns pitched a hitless sixth inning against the Pirates. He finished the day with 6 innings, 5 Ks, 4 walks and 1 run. The Brewers went 19-2, and when Burns looked back at his numbers, he saw his worst performance of the season.
The defending NL Cy Young winner has a 2.14 ERA this season. Since the start of the 2020 season, he leads all qualified MLB starters with a 2.27 ERA. He is second only to Gerrit Cole with 466 strikeouts during that span. A decree of the Aces.
And while he’s sure he’s doing well, he doesn’t look at any of those numbers.
“So I’m not looking at any big numbers,” Burns said. “I judge my performance based on how well I execute the pitches.”
The high standards and low margin for error at the MLB level lead to the ever-increasing prominence of analytical thinking in sports. Burns is a shining example of how this can manifest in the best of circumstances. Sure, everything went well for him in that start against the Pirates, but in order to maintain his dominance, Burns made sure he adjusted his arsenal over the next four days.
He didn’t name any specific status, which means he’s probably using ownership numbers you won’t find on Baseball-Reference.
“So it’s basically, you know, if I’m throwing a cutter, I want to make sure I’m in the area I’m trying to throw the cutter,” he said. “So for me it’s not really a statement based on ERA or strikeouts or WHIP — I feel like I can evaluate my performance.”
That level of thinking nods to the reality of 2020 baseball: We can measure so much about a game that you can go beyond runs and hits, to see how fast the ball was hit, how efficiently the pitch was moving, how many feet were broken on the way to the plate. The difference between All-Stars and Triple-A players is usually found in those numbers first before appearing on the big leaderboards.
Reliever Devin Williams, Burnes’ Brewers teammate, makes sure to look deeper than ERA. He said he looks at batting average on balls in play, a metric that usually hovers around .300, to see when a pitcher or hitter gets lucky or unlucky. He checks a hitter’s average exit velocity against his, and in general, to find out what’s really going on.
“It’s a crazy game,” Burns said. “You can take your best stuff and go out and give up eight runs and take your worst stuff and throw a no-hitter.”
Brewers hurlers aren’t alone in going deeper than the box score. San Diego Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth said WAR — the all-encompassing value metric that dominates the analytics conversation but turns off some fans because of its complex formula — will be the stat of choice for measuring his performance. Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ was focused on his on-base percentage.
New York Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton — Statcast’s king of the exit velocity metric — said he checks his barrel rate, which measures how often a hitter achieves a high exit velocity at the optimal launch angle to hit homers and collect extra bases.
San Francisco Giants starter Carlos Rodon begins his look at opposing hitters with OPS — which stands for on-base plus slugging and has become a more common sight on TV broadcasts because it includes walks and power where batting average isn’t, a step ahead of what teams actually see. are He will look at FIP — fielding independent pitching — for pitchers. And he looks at war.
“A lot of things are really surface level, right? But it’s funny, I talked to someone yesterday and they’re like, ‘What are the results? We only care about the result.’ Yes, it makes sense. Like, it’s true,” Roden said. “But if we dive into the other numbers, we get an idea of who’s really good at this game.”
‘I love whatever is on the back of baseball cards’
Don’t worry, there are some conservatives left. New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso, who has made it clear how much he loves home runs, takes a skeptical look at the new metrics.
“To be honest, I don’t really look at those advanced stats because they can be manipulated,” he said, echoing his unsubstantiated notion that MLB intentionally changes baseballs based on games. “For me, I love the bubble gum stats. I love whatever is behind the baseball card.”
Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley has a more grounded reason to care about simple counting statistics.
“I think RBI is a big deal,” he said. “I mean, you have RBIs, you’re helping the team win, and at the end of the day, all that matters is trying to help your team win. So I pay a lot of attention and I put a lot of pressure on myself in the game on things like that – getting the kids in. I get paid to score and I think that’s very important.”
Others have priorities that shine through in their game. Seattle Mariners first baseman Ty France, who played for Tony Gwynn in college, cited the batting average. This season? It is cardiac.308. Young Toronto Blue Jays star Alec Manoh, an advocate of starters going deep into games, cited both ERAs. And innings played Atlanta Braves S Max Fried admitted that he might be “a little old-fashioned” with his preference for ERA, but still carries the day.
“You go out there and your job as a pitcher is to try to give up the least amount of runs to give your team the best chance to win,” Fried said.
And the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole said the team’s wins and losses are his guiding light. But he couldn’t help but reveal some ways to turn 26 players into a winning team.
“I mean, we have internal metrics. We are always looking for objectivity. And so we have, you know, good pitch, good ball, hitter puts a good swing on it. You ask yourself, was that the right pitch? We just try to find the most objective way to evaluate those kinds of things,” he said, adding that factors such as pitching quality and ranking can be quantified by ticking off team elements of the game.
He called it “self-care monitoring”. Making sure he plays his part.
“And then really, the rest is just winning honestly,” Cole said of the Yankees sitting on 64 of those baseballs. “Like, that’s it.”