RESEARCH: Findings from the Cheater's Bookmark

In October and November, most of the effort expended at relates to the production of the Baseball Forecaster. From literally the last out of the regular season, right up until nearly Thanksgiving, we grind away at compiling all of the content for the Forecaster, in a mad rush to get it into your hands by mid-December.

As we go through the production frenzy, er, process, every year there are eye-catchers scattered throughout the volumes of data. This year, one thing that already caught my eye is the Cheater's Bookmark. For those who don't know, the Bookmark is one of the project's most under-appreciated gems, a cut-and-save item buried on the back page that level-sets all of our key statistics and skills indicators against league averages and establishes high/low thresholds to target and avoid at the draft table.

After seeing the data in this year's Bookmark, I decided to compile tables comparing this year's benchmarks against the past three years.

First, the batter data:

         BA      OBP      SLG      OPS    bb%   ct%      Eye      SBO%     BPV
       AL|NL    AL|NL    AL|NL    AL|NL   A|N  AL|NL    AL|NL     AL|NL   AL|NL
      =======  =======  =======  =======  ===  =====  =========   =====   =====
'10   260|255  327|324  406|399  733|723  9|9  80|78  0.48|0.44   10|9    46|46
'11   258|253  319|315  408|391  727|706  8|8  80|79  0.45|0.42   11|10   48|43
'12   256|261  317|323  412|414  729|737  8|8  79|79  0.42|0.43   10|11   43|43
'13   256|258  318|318  406|401  724|719  8|8  78|79  0.41|0.42    9|9    41|44 

And the pitcher data:

         ERA       WHIP       BABIP      Ctl       Dom       Cmd     hr/f     BPV
        AL|NL      AL|NL      AL|NL     AL|NL     AL|NL     AL|NL     A|N    AL|NL
      =========  =========   =======   =======   =======   =======   =====  ======
'10   4.14|4.02  1.35|1.35   299|305   3.2|3.3   6.8|7.4   2.1|2.2    9|9    54|62
'11   4.08|3.81  1.33|1.31   299|300   3.1|3.1   7.0|7.3   2.2|2.3   10|10   64|70
'12   4.09|3.95  1.31|1.31   296|303   3.0|3.1   7.4|7.7   2.5|2.5   12|11   74|79
'13   3.99|3.74  1.32|1.28   296|292   3.1|3.0   7.7|7.5   2.5|2.5   11|10   76|78  

Lots to digest:

  • The easiest direct lines to draw are in the first few columns of the pitcher table: league ERAs have been trimmed significantly in the past four years, with the NL taking a major leap forward this year. Those same gains track in the WHIP column, and the BABIP column offers the best explanation for 2013's NL gains. Ctl/Dom/Cmd gains have generally leveled off in the past couple of years after gains dating back in the late-2000s.
  • While pitching and defense have gotten better at preventing singles and walks (see BABIP and Ctl gains), they have not been able to make a dent in extra-base power, as reflected in batter Slg and pitcher hr/f. This is consistent with the idea that the BABIP gains made by defenses may be related to better defensive positioning and greater shifting, which may mean those gains may be sustainable rather than just a data blip that we would expect to regress.
  • Despite the lowered run-scoring environment, managers do not seem to have altered their strategies to play small-ball more often. After a mild uptick in SBO% over the past couple of years, stolen-base attempts actually dropped in 2013 even as run-scoring tailed off.
  • When assessing hitters, we need to adjust our tolerances for walk and strikeout numbers. In particular, a 0.50 Eye used to be a convenient shorthand for average or competent control of the strike zone. As the actual average has drifted toward 0.40, we need to not only remember that the average itself has moved, but the pool of players who have somewhat below-average plate skills, but aren't ruined by those skills, has shifted too. A 0.25 or 0.30 Eye isn't the tragic flaw in a skill set.
  • BPV is always useful for comparing the skills of a hitter to other hitters, or a pitcher to other pitchers. But pitcher-to-hitter comparison via BPV, or across years, has never been easy with BPV. (This is the reason we use BPX in the Forecaster—to smooth out these BPV shifts.) But the gap between the BPV of an average hitter and an average pitcher has never been wider. And any axioms relating to BPV (i.e.. a pitcher BPV of 100 reflects elite, closer-worthy skills) need to get adjusted in our minds as well.

If you haven't done so already, take this column as a reminder to order your 2014 Baseball Forecaster. Even though you have now seen the Cheater's Bookmark, there will be plenty of other goodies inside. (Reminder about the two different order options: Standing Orders will renew automatically every year, and have the added benefit of including the ability to download the book in PDF form by Thanksgiving!)

We'll be ramping up our offseason content over the next couple of Fridays. In the meantime, keep in mind that our forums are open 24/7/365, and you can follow our writers on Twitter, where many are offering up their 140-character thoughts on the postseason.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.