Sunday, March 3, 2013

Open Letter to Bill James... because I don't have his address and need to know a number

Dear Mr. James,

As a fan and a player fifty years past his prime, I'm looking for a stat I haven't seen before.

I understand the problems with Runs-Batted-In as a measure of a hitter. The arbitrariness of it is obvious, especially if you are blessed with a home team that doesn't get on base a lot, doesn't advance runners, doesn't steal bases consistently, doesn't hit and run and frequently stumbles rounding the bag at third.

As a player, I'm always looking for ways to keep track of value to the team. When you get to my age, you worry about just taking up space.

When I come to the plate and see a couple of fifty-five year old runners on base, I feel an innate duty to get a hit.

So, what I want to know about a player is what proportion of the time he contributes a hit in that situation.

This seems like a better way to get at the value earlier generations sought in runs-batted-in. And, it seems like an essential test of a hitter. We know the negative value of an out in this circumstance. The outcome statistics seem to capture that. And, we know the positive value of a hit.

So, I'm looking for individual values related to this. Phrased as questions: What is the correlation between batting average and hits with runners on? If the two correlate -- which my guess is they should -- are some players more likely than their batting averages suggest to get a hit with runners on base? And, are some less likely? It seems to me this is something good to know and for an individual player to track.

Along with on-base-percentage, how often a player contributes a hit with runners on base seems like a good measure of value to wins while eliminating the complicating factor of how clumsy those runners are. And, since hits contribute slightly more than walks, this seems like a better measure of value.

I put my friend, sabremagician Kevin Scobee, on it. He said go to, but be aware you might never come out. I know what he means because I heard a Fangraphs guy talk at a conference put on by I-70 Baseball's Bill Ivy once and my head was spinning for days.

But, I thought, why not just go to the well. So, I am.


By the way: I played tabletop baseball at The Ballpark on Iowa Street in Lawrence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. You were probably there one of those long afternoons, right?

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