bRAA versus xRR Equals What the……?

I was sitting there in my favorite sports bar the other day when it came to my mind that in the last few years there have been a multitude of adaptations and abbreviations transformed and formulated to even decipher the amount of chew spits a player makes during a plate appearance. It was at this time that I had a brainstorm thought about the Tampa Bay Rays and decided to pull out the old laptop and try and do some fast research while he went to did some business.

I jotted down a few fast pages of statistics from the bevy of sites like www.Fangraphs.com, who have developed a whole new language within baseball and speak about phrases and even notations that most sports fans have not even heard of before. I mean,  until I ventured online looking for their explanation I could not tell you what  bRAA, or even Tra stood for in baseball statistics talk. So let me try and decipher the first two here for you then get back to my conversation. BRAA is actually an abbreviation for batting runs above average. It is computed by taking a hitters RV/PA ( Runs valued per Pitches attempted above average) and multiplying the number of plate appearances  he has had that season.

Okay now that I have you maybe totally confused, or I am talking Esperanto to you, let me use the first research abbreviation noted above with the American League MVP, Dustin Pedroia, and the 2008 American League Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria.  So using the formula of  bRAA, I have calculated that Pedroia’s was 24.1 in 2008. 

If you consider that his bRAA has risen from -7.8 in 2006, to a respectable 10.1 last season during his own ROY season, you can see the progression of this young hitting star. If you take the current ROY, Longoria, this is his first true season in the big leagues, so he doesn’t have even 1 at bat to put into account to show the fast progression of his hitting in the AL. But then again, when you come into the league for the first time, and have a projection of 16.4, the sky is the limit.

So unlike Pedroia, Longoria is showing immediate plus plate appearances and making his presence know in the M L B. That bodes well for the league and for his team in the coming seasons as his bRAA will increase a bit, and might spark another strong run at the playoffs for the young Rays. So as you can see, the S A B R guys have taken a huge hold of baseball, and that is not a bad thing. As Kevin Costner said in the movie, “For the Love of the Game”  when asked if baseball counts everything, he said ” We count everything, it is what we do.”

Odd stats and projections have become the backbone of fantasy leagues and professional betters and has been absorbed into everyday life now. 5 years ago, who would have known what OPS stood for, and what offensive production number were accumulated in that statistic. Now it is a commonly used graphic on most every ballpark in America when a hitter comes to bat. 

I know there have been a few time this past season that I took out my laptop at games and tried to update a certain stat, or even produce a stat to supplement a comment I was making to a seat mate or even another fan in the section. It is almost as if very soon there will be a second language spoken only by statistics mongrels and the cyber republic to express our actions and reactions in abbreviations and commas. But that is not always a bad thing.

Since baseball is a game where statistics are law, and the amount of statistical firepower can make a drunk fan sit down and ponder even a simple fact, it is the reality of baseball in the modern days. I know my Dad used to say the only stats that matter are the ones under the “H”, “R” and “E” spots on the scoreboard. Now that is not to mean he did not know the batting averages or a the pitching selections of his favorite players’, but the love of the game was more physical to them.

Today, the game is taking on more power beyond just the batted ball or the nice 12-6 break on a curve ball. It is becoming a game where science and logic and even that math class we all hated in college statistics is coming to the forefront of information. I mean who was the top pitcher in 2008?

Was it C C Sabathia, or even Derek Lowe?  Or could someone like Randy Johnson or Ervin Santana sneak into the Top 10 without us even noticing it. To be totally truthful here, Sabathia was listed twice in the Top 10 performances of 2008. He was the top selection and also the 10th for his time with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Cleveland Indians. And how did Lee sneak all the way up to number 3 without anyone noticing him until late in the season, and during the playoffs. Sometimes the statistics as a whole show better productivity and more stable references to a players’ true nature at the plate or on the mound in baseball.

Okay, let’s head the other direction, who was the best in the batter’s box in 2008, was it the MVP’s of both leagues, Dustin Pedroia, or Albert Pujols?  Or did someone else have a banner year and got lost in the shuffle?  If you guessed Pujols, you win a huge prize. He had the best season of anyone is baseball at the plate in 2008. But if you picked Pedroia, you might be disappointed to know he did not even rank in the top 20 in offense in 2008.

He did have an amazing post season, but the season only produced him a slot at number 23, and that was not even the best showing on the Boston Red Sox. That slot went to Kevin Youkilis, who came in at number 9. And Pedroia did not come even second on his own team. So you to wonder, just how great a season did he have if he was ranked 4th on his own squad in total offensive numbers in 2008.

Well, if you consider the fact that Youkilis probably had his best season as a professional this season, his selection at number 9 might be realistic for him. But the two guys in front of Pedroia also had injury concerns in 2008, but when they were able to hit the plate, they were effective for their team. Both J D Drew ( 13) and Pre-Trade Deadline Manny Ramirez (12) had better statistics than the American League Most Valuable Player.

So since I am a Rays fan, I also took the liberty of seeing how my guys did on both lists.  Well, even though we did have an amazing run towards that beautiful trophy in October, we missed out and will have to repeat to have another shot to hoist that beauty in the air. I scanned over the sheets and saw that pitching wise, we did not fare really bad on the list.

James Shields actually coming out  18th in the top 20 of the 2008 listing.  Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir came in at 54th and 61st respectfully, and that is a great showing that the Rays had 3 guys in the top 60-ish of baseball.  The one guy who really got me excited was the fact that number 4 starter, Andy Sonnanstine blew past Garza and Kazmir and came out a impressive 31st on the final list. He had some great statistics behind the front numbers and has shown some remarkable consistent numbers in 2008. 

So the next time you want to wonder why Sonnanstine is still here and Jackson is gone, you can look at the 2008 numbers and they tell a very clear story. Jackson was listed at 114th best in baseball, while Sonnanstine was in the 31st slot. Consistency wins ball games, and with the Rays being a truly statistic friendly team, you know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon sees the potential of Sonnanstine even growing in 2009 for the team.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Rays did have a few guys who did better at the plate then imagined early on in the season. The team actually placed 3 guys in the top 100 hitters in 2008. As you might expect, Carlos Pena was the highest Rays with a ranking of 29th for the year. That was followed by a 55th spot by Longoria, and a 92nd slot for center fielder B J Upton.

On the surface, people thought the Upton was having a down season, which he actually was due to a shoulder injury, but with him adjusting his swing and even placing into the top 100, the sky is the limit when he is fit and healthy in 2009. And with Longoria placing so high as a rookie, it also sets a high expectation level for him in 2009. Hopefully the sophomore jinx will not hit him and he can remain in pace to become a new star at third base for the M L B.

But the category that really had my eyes popping was in the relief pitching listings. The Rays were consistently being praised for their upgrades in their Bullpen, and with the huge developments in their relievers, but just how great was this change for the team?  The squad actually placed two guys high on the list.

Considering the guy who came in at number 10 on the list was not even on the Rays Opening Day roster is a amazement in itself, but he did not get any reputation, or even recognition until he came back with a fire in his belly to prove the world wrong about him. Grant Balfour came back to St. Petersburg, Florida to fulfill a potential of being a top 10 reliever in the M L B, not just the AL. If I took the top 10 and split them by leagues, Balfour would rank 7th in the American League. 

But as great as the story is on the emergence of Balfour, the productivity of  J P Howell can not be measured by just the statistics. During the season I saw the guy who used to slunk by the Bullpen area come alive this season and become a fan favorite for his personality and his spunk. As Howell gained strength and great numbers, he also opened up to the fans and showed that great inner champion to him. Howell just missed the top 50 in baseball by 2 slots, but he is a top guy based on his upswing in 2008.

So as we can see, the basic statistics in baseball sites and on leader boards can not always show you the total package of a player. Be it a MVP winner who is not even the 4th best player on his team, or a 5th starter who is actually statistically better than 3 other starting pitchers on his squad, the number can be deceiving at time.  But we already knew that didn’t we?

 

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