New Ways to Measure Offensive Efficiency

Aaron Judge won the Home Run Derby last night and, in the process, established himself as the new face of baseball. At a lot of people locally compared Judge’s performance to that of Josh Hamilton in the 2008 Home Run Derby. It seems that everybody digs the long ball, except maybe me.

As a kid, the Home Run Derby was my favorite part of the All Star festivities (I probably still have a few VHS copies somewhere). I also enjoyed watching the reruns of the 1960’s television series on ESPN. My friends and I would often play our own improvised version of Home Run Derby in backyards across our neighborhood (often with tennis balls to pad our stats).

In short, I was obsessed with the long ball as a kid.

Indeed, 755 was probably the most meaningful number to 9-year old Josh and I dreamed of the day a player would again break the 50 home run barrier. My favorite player, Andre Dawson, hit 49 in 1987, along with a red-headed rooking in the Bay Area.  When Albert Belle hit 51 home runs for Cleveland in 1991, it was the first time the 50 home run plateau had been broken in my lifetime (George Foster hit 52 for the Reds in 1977, the summer before my birth) and it was one of the most magical moments of my sports lifetime. In 1998, I watched every night to see if Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa would end up with the record for most home runs in a single season, but after that, I lost interest in the long ball and, temporarily, in baseball.

Somewhere in my baseball dark period, I started watching old VHS tapes of games from my childhood, watching the players I grew up idolizing–Dawson, Pete Rose, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount, Rickey Henderson. Of the bunch, Dawson was the only one really regarded as a power hitter and he’s not even a member of the 500 home run club. Each of them had a unique plate approach and were efficient offensively in their own unique way.

After watching these old tapes, I decided to give baseball another chance. The steroid era had ended and baseball had entered the “dead ball” era, so the timing was a bit fortuitous, but overt the past few seasons, baseball has reverted back to the home run and today, at least some nights, the great game has been reduced to home runs and strikeouts.

Personally, I blame the advanced stats crowd who revile batting average and, instead, champion numbers such as OPS (on base + slugging %), launch angle, and exit velocity. I don’t care how hard or how high you hit it; I just want you to hit it “where they ain’t.”

The Rangers this season feature several batters hitting below .250, but who boast high OPS and can hit the ball a mile, so the advance stats wing of Rangers fandom, like some evil genius, tries to convince us these players add value to the roster.

I decided to develop my own system of measuring offensive efficiency to combat this baseball nonsense.

I began by breaking down the potential results of an at-bat and assigning them points. I admit, the home run is the best possible outcome of an at bat, so it should be graded as a premium.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are three really bad things that can happen during an at-bat: a double-play that fails to advance a runner, a foul out (worse than a fly out because it is not in play and presents only a very slim chance of advancing a runner), and strikeout. To me, the strikeout is the absolute worst result of an at-bat. This is where I really veer from the advance stats crow, who will try to sell you on the idea that strikeouts really aren’t that bad.

Ground outs and fly outs are bad, but they still present an opportunity to advance the runner or drive in runs. Reaching base, no matter how it’s done, is a positive.

If you drive in runs, that’s really good also.

So I developed a way to score each plate appearance.

I recognized there had to be some way to account for what happens if and when the ball is put in play and what happens once a player reaches base, so came up with the following:

At the end of the game, you add up the points to get a players score for the game. For example, on Friday night, against the Angels, Adrian Beltre had 4 plate appearances. In his first plate appearance, Beltre singled, which advanced Nomar Mazara to second. He would later score on a Rougie Odor single. Beltre would get three points for this plate appearance.

Beltre’s second plate appearance resulted in a 3-run home run. Beltre gets 9 points for the the 3 runs he drives in, plus 4 points for the home run, totaling 13 points for his second plate appearance.

Beltre then flies out in his next two at-bats, resulting in zero points, so Beltre finishes the game with 16 points. Nomar Mazara was the game’s high scorer with 18 points.

I’ve tracked the last month’s worth of Rangers game and established that 2.5 average per game or .5 per plate appearance is the Mendoza Line, so to speak: