Entering play on Thursday night, Kyle Seager owned a .274 batting average. Chris Johnson’s average was a nearly identical .273. The two third basemen have played in a similar number of games and have come to the plate close to the same number of times. If you use batting average to evaluate these players’ seasons, you’d come to the conclusion that Seager and Johnson are essentially equivalent players this year.
They’re not. In fact, it’s very clear Seager is substantially better than Johnson. Let me rephrase that: It’s very clear Seager is better than Johnson — but only if you’re well-versed in the language of baseball statistics. If you know how to properly value walks, extra base power, baserunning and defense, the difference between Seager and Johnson is impossible to miss.
At FanGraphs, our writers use statistics and metrics like wOBA, wRC+, FIP and WAR to evaluate baseball players and teams. We provide those tools, and more, so others might conduct evaluations on their own. Want to know Miguel Cabrera’s wOBA against lefties? You can find that on FanGraphs. But what if you don’t know what wOBA means, how it’s calculated or why you should care about it more than batting average?
You can find some of that information on FanGraphs. A well-motivated, self-starter could show up at the site, notice something called wOBA on the leaderboards, go to the glossary and figure out what it means and why it’s important. But it can be intimidating and challenging for people who are just starting out to make sense of everything we offer.
In an effort to make advanced statistics easier, and to understand and to better use the data and features available at FanGraphs, we’re relaunching and promoting the FanGraphs Library. There’s a lot of great information there already, but this revamped library is even better. There’s a steep learning curve, though, so I’ve been tasked with making things a bit simpler.
This is going to be a comprehensive and ongoing project that will feature updates to the glossary entries, blog posts about how to use various stats and the site’s many features, and weekly chats — each Wednesday at 3 pm eastern, starting next week — to answer reader questions. You probably know FanGraphs is a sabermetrically-themed blog, but FanGraphs is also about the dissemination of quality information. The information is already here, but not everyone is up to speed on how to use it.
I’ll be doing everything I can to make learning and using sabermetrics easy. You can comment on posts in the library, ask questions in chats or find me on Twitter (@NeilWeinberg44). If there are things that don’t make sense, or you don’t know how to get your hands on the stats you want, I’d like to help.
If you want to kick back on your sofa and simply enjoy world-class athletes competing against each other, that’s perfectly fine too. No one’s pressuring you to become a stat-person. But if you want to evaluate players, engage in debates with friends, play armchair general manager or squash your fantasy baseball buddies, learning to speak saber is going to help. It doesn’t mean spending your life looking at spreadsheets instead of watching games but it does mean knowing how much a walk is worth compared to a double and why using runs allowed alone to judge a pitcher can be misleading.
There’s a lot of great information available to the public for free. If you want to get the most out of that information, we’re going to be here to help you do that. You probably knew Kyle Seager was having a better year than Chris Johnson without sabermetrics. That doesn’t require a lot of extra information. But not every comparison or analysis is so simple or so clear. Sometimes you need to park-adjust, know exactly how much a triple is worth or whether a defensive play was routine or unlikely.
It’s my hope this project will accomplish two primary goals: First, I want to streamline the process by which a person learns about advanced stats so you can pick up the basic skills in an afternoon and be fluent in a couple of weeks. Second, I want people who are well-versed in sabermetrics to be able to make the most out of the FanGraphs’ features.
Did you know you can create and save a custom leaderboard with any players you want? Did you know that you can look up Alex Gordon’s on base percentage from June 7 to June 28? If there are specific things you want to learn, let me know.
If you want to learn more about the stats we use or the features we offer, stick around. If you have friends who might be interested, send them our way. There’s a lot to learn and plenty of questions to ask, regardless of how much time you spend on the site. All of you — and all of us — are here because we enjoy baseball and we want to uncover more about the game we love. I hope our library is just one more step toward reaching that goal.
Neil Weinberg is the Site Educator at FanGraphs and can be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.