Statistics in baseball and pesäpallo

One thing I like about baseball is that so many aspects of the game are discrete and thus precisely quantifiable. In baseball a player's statistics tell you a lot more about his performance than in just about any other team sport. The amount of data available is awe-inspiring.

Pesäpallo, alas, isn't nearly as well suited for statistical analysis. Creating runs is more of a team effort. What a player tries to do in his plate appearance is much more specific to the situation. Avoiding outs is simple, if that's all one wants to do, but it doesn't put runs on the board. The plan, then, is to at first advance runners safely only take the risk involved in trying to score runs in opportune situations. Subsequently the batting lines of players hitting second look very different from slugging jokers (designated hitters who can be inserted anywhere in the lineup).

Superpesis, the top league, collates statistics, but they're not very sophisticated. For hitters they offer runs batted in, runs scored, and the sum of runs batted in and scored. The statistics on advancing lead runners are more sophisticated as percentages are recorded in addition to raw numbers. (All pages in Finnish.)

All of these statistics are context-specific. A player who bats behind teammates who are good at getting on-base and moving runners along will get many more opportunities to bat in runs than a player whose teammates stink. A player will score many more runs if the hitters batting after him know what they're doing. The percentages on advancing lead runners are closest to a statistical measurement of the hitter's skill, although even there the speed of the teammates on base matters.

Some improvements would be easy to make. For example, one could measure playing time for hitters in terms of at-bats instead of games, as the official statistics website currently does. The number of outs and wounds (balls caught in flight) on third strike could be recorded. Then we could say, for example, how many runs, bases taken by the lead runner, and outs result from a certain batter's average plate appearance. Some sort of a linear weights system would be neat, if quite difficult to calculate. The record-keeping would become considerably more tiresome, because in pesäpallo you'd have to include runners advanced to get any idea of the value of a plate appearance.

While I'm on the topic, the current scoring system in pesäpallo with its two periods of four innings each is an atrocity that puts artificial excitement over finding out which team is better. Just play nine innings and see who has scored more runs, for goodness' sake.

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