Scott Behson says its because the battle between old school and new school stats has been fought and the sabermetricians won.
Ten years ago, a free-agent pitcher who went 16-3 with a 2.86 E.R.A. would be a hot commodity. Multiple teams would have bid him up until he signed a ridiculous 4 or 5-year deal worth $15M or so per year.
The reason is clear: because what is called sabremetric analysis, or, put more simply, the use of new school stats, has won the battle everywhere the battle counts. Every major league front office now relies heavily on its analytics division for player acquisitions.
Within baseball, there is no more “scouts vs. stats” argument going on. The noise and insults continue, thanks to luddite sportswriters (cough, Murray Chass (scroll all the way to the bottom entry on the page), cough), announcers (cough, Joe Morgan, cough), contrarian bloggers (cough, this troll, cough), and fans (cough, every sports-radio-caller, cough) who compare those who look at advanced analytics to the Tea Party and accuse them of being “geeks living in their mother’s basements” and of “sucking the fun out of the game.”
Today, all teams recognize the value in a “scouts AND stats” approach. All teams focus on the newer wave of baseball statistics that (a) better isolate performance that a player can control while removing outside factors, and (b) focus on the aspects of performance that are most predictive of future performance.
For instance, pitcher wins, once the gold-standard, is a sub-optimal statistic because a starting pitcher controls, at best, 40% of a team’s victory (the team’s offense contributes 50%, and defense and bullpen the rest).
E.R.A. is better than wins, because it looks at the runs a pitcher allows, but it is still problematic and context-dependent. All else being equal, you’ll give up fewer runs in a big ballpark, with better defensive players behind you, and in the National League (as you get to avoid facing designated hitters).
So, back to Kyle Lohse. If Major League Baseball general managers were only old-school, they would jump at 16 wins and a sub-3 E.R.A. But they’d be wrong and regret any deal they offered almost immediately. Fortunately, general managers now know that wins and even ERA don’t tell the whole story.
As for wins, Lohse pitched for the first-place, defending World-Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who scored the second-most runs in the National League. The Cardinals had the highest on-base percentage in baseball—on base percentage being the single most important component of scoring runs—and employed such great hitters as Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Allan Craig and David Freese.
It is no surprise, then, that the Cards scored almost 4.5 runs per game when Lohse pitched, well above the league average. In addition, his bullpen was fantastic and did not blow leads for him after he left the game. In all, the deck was seriously stacked in Lohse’s favor to accumulate wins.
As for E.R.A., Lohse doesn’t strike out many hitters (just 6 per 9 innings), so he is more dependent on his defense and home ballpark than most pitchers. Across baseball, hitters bat about .300 on all balls put in play (this does not include home runs). This is incredibly consistent over time and across pitchers. Last year, hitters batted .262 on balls put in play against Lohse (this translates to about 2 fewer hits per game than one would expect, given the quality of pitching). Some of this can be attributed to the large dimensions of Busch Stadium, his 5 time gold-glove winning catcher, Yadier Molina, and the team’s other defensive players. But the fact is most of the difference is simply due to luck. And luck has a way of evening out over time.
There are some new-school stats on pitching that take out the influence of luck, defense, ballpark and bullpen. What remains is our best current indicator of how good the pitcher is on factors he can control. These stats are also more predictive of future performance than stats like wins or E.R.A.
When you look at Lohse in terms of these stats, such as FIP and xFIP, what you get is a very average pitcher (his xFIP of 4.0 is almost exactly average). Lohse is 34 years old, and 2012 was his best year ever, and even then his wins and E.R.A. likely look better because of context and sheer luck. Old school—4 years, $60Million. New school—yet to be signed.
Though part of the issue is that, due to the new free agent system in baseball, signing Lohse will cost most teams their 1st round draft pick, sabremetrics has also helped demonstrate the relative value of high draft picks compared to aging veterans.
Either way, it’s clear which stats front offices are looking at. The debate between old-school and new-school is over. Sorry, Murray Chass. New-school won.