Sandlot sabermetrics: DIPS, BABIP and DAR
Earlier this week, I was on Twitter joking with a few friends bemoaning the quality of play in their respective sons' youth baseball leagues. Megan, the mother of a 10-year-old pitcher named Jack, had just been asked how his first Little League start had gone a few days prior:
That last was my attempt at how she could console her unhappy camper, but for the unfamiliar, DIPS is Defense Independent Pitching Statistics. It's a revolutionary theory that over a decade ago turned the baseball world upside down with its assertion that pitchers have little control of the results on balls in play — even the big league level. On the sandlots? Fuhgeddaboutit.
Anyway, apparently I'm not the only stathead who thinks about Little League in such terms. At Beyond the Box Score, Adam Darowski has an entertaining post about his five-year-old son's Pinto League team, in which players hit off tees for three innings, then face live pitching from their coaches for the other three innings.
In addition to detailing the different rules at this level (two centerfielders, a limit of five runs per inning and so on), Darowski draws a contrast between the major league defensive spectrum, where first base is the easiest position, and the Pinto League one, where first base is the most demanding because it requires kids to catch balls thrown by other kids. He notes how hard it is for the youngsters in the field:
The defensive efficiency at this level can be seen in the team’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Right now, the Angels have 127 hits in 131 balls in play (I’m not calling anything by a five-year old an “error” because I’m not an ass). That’s good for a BABIP of .969. Yes, his team actually has statistics posted… Eight of the kids have a BABIP of 1.000. Opposing teams have only retired the Angels with a defensive play four times."
Lest anyone think Darowski is One of Those Little League Parents, he notes that he's focused on keeping things fun for the kids, and rarely aware of the score until after the fact. He's not the only parent who applies such thinking to even the lowest levels. At Sports on Earth, Mike Tanier recently offered up a glossary in "The Parents' Guide to Tee Ball Sabermetrics," with gems like these:
3 True Outcomes. In tee ball: Hitting a ground ball, whacking the tee with the bat, swinging the bat around and around saying "Whee! I'm a helicopter!"
DAR: Dandelions Above Replacement. The replacement-level tee-baller picks 2.5 dandelions per half-inning. A lower total indicates that a child is either advanced enough to pay attention to the game or afraid of all the bees. Truly advanced tee-ballers pick violets only (VORP).
Reaction time. Time it takes for a tee-baller to stop drawing in the dirt and recognize that a ball has just rolled past him. Measured in paleontological epochs.