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Baseball 101: Let’s get statistical

Baseball: it’s just math, but slower!

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball 101 is an ongoing series from The Good Phight’s Allie Foster that breaks down some of the multifaceted aspects of baseball for those fans who might not be as familiar with the ins and outs of the game. In this second edition, she explains some of the terms and stats that you want to know more about. You can read the first edition about the Phillies’ farm system here.

Q: What’s the difference between a wild pitch and a passed ball?

A wild pitch is when the pitch is too far off the plate for the catcher to field. It could be too high, low or wide of home plate. A passed ball is when the catcher drops the ball. In both instances, baserunners are able to move up a base or score. Basically, it comes down to whose fault it is. If it’s the pitcher’s fault, it’s a wild pitch. If it’s the catcher’s fault, it’s a passed ball.

Q: What’s the difference between strikeout percentage (K%) and strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9)? Which one is better?

K/9 is simply how many strikeouts a pitcher has per nine innings pitched. K% is how many strikeouts a pitcher has per batter faced. K% is a much better statistic because it takes into account a pitcher’s full body of work. For example, one pitcher (Pitcher A) may load the bases and then strike out the next three batters. He faced six batters and struck out three. Another pitcher (Pitcher B) may only face three batters in an inning and strike them all out. They both have the same K/9 for that inning, since they had the same number of strikeouts—three. But Pitcher A’s K% was 50% while Pitcher B’s was 100%. This gives a clearer picture of how the two pitchers fared in comparison.

Q: What is WAR?

WAR stands for wins above replacement. There are a LOT of factors that play into it, but it essentially summarizes a player’s total contributions to their team at a very basic level comparison. The important thing to note with WAR is that it is used to compare a player with a freely available minor leaguer or bench player. So for example, you aren’t comparing Bryce Harper against someone like Mike Trout, you’re comparing Bryce Harper against someone more like Aaron Altherr or Dylan Cozens. A higher WAR means a player is more valuable to their team and therefore harder to replace.

Q: Is there an expected ERA that takes into account all the new stat cast info?

Yes. The problem with using the basic ERA is that it only tells you how many runs were charged to the pitcher. It doesn’t take into account relievers’ work, the ballpark, weather conditions, the defense, etc. A good substitution is DRA, which stands for deserved run average. DRA takes into account everything that goes into a plate appearance and adjusts each plate appearance in context. For example, a ball hit in Citizens Bank Park an a warm July afternoon might be a home run, but the same exact ball hit in Marlins Park on a cold night in April might be a routine fly ball to the outfield. ERA will simply tell you if it was a home run or an out but DRA will take those ballpark and environmental factors into consideration.

Q: What is the Infield Fly Rule?

An infield fly is a fly ball that, determined by the umpire, can be caught easily by an infielder, the pitcher or the catcher. It must be a fair ball and there must be runners on first and second or bases loaded with less than two outs to qualify. The infield fly DOES NOT COUNT with just a runner on first, because there must be a force out at third. When called, the batter is out no matter what happens. The ball is still live, though, and runners may advance at their own risk if it is not caught or if they tag up. This prevents fielders from choosing to drop the ball and double up outs.

Q: What are OPS and OPS+?

OPS stands for on base plus slugging and, as the name suggests, is the sum of a batter’s on base percentage and their slugging percentage. Similar to the way DRA works, OPS+ adjusts for external factors like the ballpark and the weather. An OPS+ score of 100 is the league average and individual scores are based on how far away a player is from that number. For example, in 2018 Rhys Hoskins’ OPS was .850. That was 25 percent higher than the league average, so his OPS+ was 125. On the other hand, Scott Kingery’s OPS was .605. That was 39 percent lower than the league average, so his OPS+ score was 61.

Are there any components to the sport of baseball that you wish you understood more? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter and Allie (@mustang__sallie) may write about it!