Round Rock Express players using advanced stats to measure success

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Drew Stubbs thinks batting average is the most overrated statistic in baseball. 

Everybody can see who has the best batting average on the team and which player blasts the most home runs and drives in runs at a high clip. But there is another, deeper level that many players key in on.

“Batting average is still important, but at the same time, you learn there are other stats that teams can dig into,” Stubbs said. “If you’re going to value a player based on production, to me the most valuable stat you can have is on-base percentage plus slugging. It’s basically taking an inventory of how much you get on base and how much damage you do.” 

In 2012, Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the first player to win the Triple Crown — leading the league in average, RBIs, and home runs — since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ Mike Trout had a great season in his own right, boasting 10 WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, an advanced metric measuring a player’s total contribution to the team but offensively and defensively.

Cabrera blew Trout away when it came to the offensive categories like slugging and RBIs, but Trout stole 45 more bases, had a better on-base percentage, and saved more runs in the field than Cabrera.

It was an old-school versus new-school debate. Cabrera ended up winning the award, but since then, every honor based on statistics is up for even more debate than before.

“I was playing in Cleveland the year (Cabrera) did that and seeing him live, he was the best hitter in baseball,” Stubbs said. “You hit the most homers and drive in the most runs, you’re the MVP. Trout had a great year, but when you’re grading guys based on vague interpretations, it’s kind of imperfect science.”

Will Middlebrooks is the active leader for the Express with 18 home runs and 42 RBIs. All-Star catcher Brett Nicholas is the leader in average with .321.

While Stubbs’ numbers are solid (.303 average, 37 runs, eight home runs, 31 RBIs), the number that sticks out to him is .891, his OPS, a measure of how often you reach base and the regularity with which you hit for power. He ranks second on the team in that category.

“You can only control so much with batting average,” Stubbs said. “You kind of learn your identity as a player. Once you figure out where you fit in, then those are the stats you should focus on.”

Stubbs said he got his appreciation for more advanced statistics from former Reds teammate Joey Votto. Votto is a five-time All-Star and former NL MVP that ranks 18th on the all-time MLB on-base plus slugging list.

Express manager Jason Wood remembers when you were lucky to walk in a clubhouse and see a sheet of paper from the previous night with stats on it. And when you were looking at it, you didn’t want any other players to catch you looking at it.

It’s a slow process to use advanced statistics to help manage a club. Like Stubbs, Wood mostly looks at OPS and has some help to get into the deeper numbers when it comes to applying shifts against certain batters.

“I tend to sway right to the statistics that I’m comfortable with,” he said. “Those kind of intrigue my eye more than others. I have people help me out with the analytical side of things. As far as the WAR, I have gotten into it, but not a ton.”

The seemingly never ending list of acronyms that encompass advanced statistics like ISO, OPS+, wOBA, BABIP, FIP, and UZR can be a lot to try and comprehend. And they still have a long way to go to enter the everyday baseball lexicon.

But as baseball continues to grow and evolve, so must its statistics. Advanced stats don’t mean to end all disagreements when it comes to the game, but nearly enhance it and entice another type of fan.

“What it comes down to is getting in the box, putting in good at-bats and good statistics will come,” Wood said. “The minute you start worrying about it, you’re going to cause problems and come out your element."

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