It has been said that baseball has nothing to do prehistoric tigers, nor with laser swords in Very Important films. I cannot argue with this. That said, sabermetrics refers to an approach to baseball that involves statistical analysis of often big ole sets of data. It’s not that new, but only recently have these ideas peaked their way in to the mainstream.
Bill James coined the term sabermetrics, naming it after the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). While he was not solely responsible for pioneering sabermetrics, James is the most prominent name in its history. He began his influential baseball writing in the late ’70s, featuring his then-progressive ideas about how to use numbers to better understand what was becoming a more and more modern pastime (see what I did there?). As was dramatized in the film Money Ball, there was much resistance and doubt cast on sabermetrical ideas from the old guard early on. As time went on though, James’ and others’ ideas became more and more popular until they gained a foothold in major league front offices. Fast forward to today and we see many front office executives and some managers using advanced statistics to make decisions and inform on-field strategy. Complex projection systems help execs target trades and acquisitions, and ever-more technical scouting reports help managers employ defensive shifts tailored to different hitters. It’s a Brave New World out there.
Still, sabermetrical concepts are met with friction and skepticism from old school fans. Sabermetrical views towards certain strategies (e.g. bunting), the value of certain outcomes (e.g. on-base percentage vs. batting average), the usefulness of certain statistics (e.g. RBIs and Pitcher Wins) and the role of certain factors (e.g. luck) don’t sit well with all baseball fans. There is much room for dialogue between the sabermetrical approach and the old school approach, but the gap often seems enormous. This glossary and website in general aim to exist in that gap, embracing both the modern progress of numbers in baseball and the human element of the grueling 162 game season. We believe the real story is somewhere in the middle.
Further reading from…
Baseball Prospectus: some interesting history
Beyond the Boxscore: effects on the modern game
The Hardball Times: the gap between traditional and saber fans
Sweet sabertooth tiger image from The Indiana Geological Survey