MLB.com recently polled a bunch of MLB players—35 position players and 35 pitchers—on one of the questions that’s always on the mind of nerdy baseball writers: “When you look at your stats at the end of a given year to evaluate yourself, what number do you gravitate toward and why?” The results were published on Monday, and, friends, they’re even lamer than I expected.
On the offensive side, it’s cool to see players gravitating toward analytics-friendly metrics—OPS and OBP came in first and second, respectively, combining for 16 of the 35 total votes. Some Baseball Knowers, like Brian Dozier and Jed Lowrie filled out the stray votes column with lone submissions for even more obscure stats, including runs created and hard-hit percentage. Five lunks, Stephen Vogt among them, still turn out for RBI. But bleakest of all came from what was excluded outright: not a single vote for the home run.
There are a few reasons why this might be the case. Maybe it’s the same mindset of the twerps who chose “team wins” for their favorite stat—and were promptly disqualified from the poll—thinking that a vote for home runs would put individual priorities over that of the team. Maybe it’s the hushed-tone hand-wringing over What It Means for the sport that last year was a record year for homers. Maybe the steroid era association is still too fresh.
But also fuck that. Dingers rule, and few thrills in any sport can match the sheer glorious bombast of a blast that everyone in the stadium knows is gone. Baseball’s become something of an anti-superstar enterprise, despite home run numbers swelling in recent years. Either it’s commonplace to the point where these guys realize that every team has three dudes who can reach the 30 home run plateau, or they’ve got too much pride to admit how much a robustly mashed tater rules. I guess the most memorable or longest home runs are sometimes harder to quantify in season-long stats.
The pitching side of the poll was a little more reflective of the state of baseball, with “innings and/or appearances” somewhat bleakly clocking in as the number one vote-getter. Of course pitchers understand that they aren’t making it as deep into games, if they’re even healthy enough to pitch in them. This doesn’t make it any less dispiriting that the blessed strikeout, one of the olden stats that’s still pretty predictive of dominance, only received one vote from Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery.
Elsewhere you found starters leaning on ERA, relievers fighting back at starters who fuck up their ERA by voting for inherited runs scored percentage, and one measly vote from the Mets’ Paul Sewald for FIP. Adam Jones best summed up the one constant across both sides of the ball: “I still wish I understood WAR.”