I bet the title of this blog got your interest, even if you don’t like baseball at all. BABE is a new baseball statistic, so far as I can tell, that until today I knew nothing about. The Wall Street Journal (August 3) has a great feature article on this measurement for pitching. BABE stands for bases per batter. A pitcher gets credit for each batter they face and the BABE equals the total number of bases they allow per batter. It is arrived at by dividing the number of total bases (both hits and walks a pitcher gives up) by the number of batters faced. The best BABE in baseball is Chris Young of the San Diego Padres who has a BABE of .330. Tim Hudson, star pitcher for my Atlanta Braves, is third in the MLB with a BABE of .359.
Baseball is a huge statistical game for those fans who carefully follow this game. Pitchers have an ERA (Earned Run Average), a won-loss record and percentage, even a WHIP, the statistic which refers to walks plus hits divided by innings pitched. Many think this last stat, WHIP, is the most accurate and telling of all but it has a major flaw. A single counts as much against a pitcher statistically as a home run in the WHIP number. No way that makes sense at all. And wins and losses are often a matter of plain luck. You can pitch a great game and loose if your team does not score or your bullpen fails you. Plus, the old dependable ERA is determined, to varying degrees, by the fallible decisions of score keepers and the sheer luck of when the errors occur and the runs that score following an error. So BABE interests me a lot since it tells the real story: How many people got on base because of the pitcher’s failure and how much damage did they actually do to the pitcher’s performance?
For hitters another new stat category is BOP, which stands for bases over plate appearances. For those who like the Money Ball concept this number is also huge, along with the OBP, on base percentage. The interesting thing is that offensively the same players often shine in certain categories year-in and year-out, with new stars breaking into the race now and then. With pitchers the variation is much greater from year-to-year.
I am not sure they kept the BABE numbers in the 1990s but I would bet that Greg Maddux in his prime had to be the best BABE pitcher for many seasons. He once went something like 50 or 60 plus innings without a walk. He gave up a lot of singles but very few extra-base hits. He was a genius. He made hitters hit the ball and let his defense work behind him to make the outs. He never threw hard but he consistently out-thought the opposition, the mark of a real baseball pitcher.
Fans love strikeouts and power pitching but BABE may be the most important pitching number to come along in my lifetime. I will watch this stat more often in the future. Frankly, BABE ought to become a prominent component for measuring real pitching success and should show up in baseball stat lists. Now aren’t you glad you read this blog? I would bet you don’t forget the acronynm even if you don’t like baseball.