Fun with Counting Stats

It is very easy to understand why some people don’t like rate stats. It is even easier to understand why some people really don’t like composite stats. They can be impenetrable and difficult to understand at the best times, often derived from nebulous (ever-changing) formulas, impossible to calculate just by looking at the daily boxscores.

You watch the games, you watch the events unfold, you add up the total of said events, you have a good sense of how well a player performs. This is how the vast, vast majority of fans think about baseball and baseball players. It isn’t wrong, per se, it just leads to a little bit of confusion. Understandable confusion, but confusion none the less.

Colby Rasmus is a fine player putting together a strong comeback season after a stunning end to his time in St. Louis. After a swing change, Rasmus is knocking the cover off the ball. He has good numbers that continue getting better.

If you are into advanced stats, you are aware that Rasmus has 2.4 Wins Above Replacement to his name and a .347 wOBA. Very good numbers indeed. He is slugging the ball and getting on base, which is exactly what the Blue Jays thought he could do when the acquired him.

In terms of counting stats, he has an impressive 16 home runs and 50 Runs Batted In, good and surprising achievements both. Such good numbers that they might, if you squint enough and force yourself to see the trees but not the forest, obscure his actual value.

For fun: examine this list of players, all of whom have fewer home runs and fewer RBI than Colby Rasmus. Which players, among those listed below, can you objectively say is having a worse season than the Jays centerfielder?

  • Joey Votto
  • Mike Trout
  • Carlos Ruiz
  • Melky Cabrera
  • Jason Heyward
  • Aaron Hill
  • Paul Konerko
  • Bryce Harper
  • Joey Votto
  • Mike Trout

Once more, for effect: Colby Rasmus has more home runs and RBI than Joey Votto. And Mike Trout. The home runs are one thing – neither Votto or Trout are known as great home run hitters and Colby has been red hot in that regard for a month. Home runs are never bad, they just aren’t the most…nuanced way to evaluate a hitter. But RBI? How is it possible that Rasmus has more RBI than Joey Votto? Votto basically never gets out, at all! I am confuse.

It is all about context and, well, cherry picking. All the players on this list have either a higher wOBA than Rasmus and, in all but two cases, more fWAR than the resurgent Rasmus. Which is to say, they are having “better” years.

Not to take anything away from anyone but, really, using RBI (in any way) and home runs (in a vacuum) isn’t really the best way to discuss the relative quality of a player’s season. Which you already know, dear reader. We both know this