Gabe Fisher CM ’21 wants to go to the MLB — just not in the way you might think.
Since the start of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps baseball season in early February, Fisher has spent the majority of his weekends at Bill Arce Field tracking statistics for the Stags.
Fisher is practicing the art of sabermetrics, an approach to baseball based on statistical analysis. The concept was pioneered by statistician Bill James in his 1977 book “Baseball Abstract,” and allows teams to find underrated players who perform well mathematically.
Sabermetrics were later adopted by the Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane in 2002, whose record-breaking season that year inspired the book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis. The book, in turn, was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
For CMS, Fisher tracks four advanced metrics.
“I keep weighted on-base average, batting average on balls in play, home versus away batting average and home versus away [earned run average],” he explained.
The last two stats are standard. The first two, however, tell a slightly more detailed story. WOBA determines how valuable a player’s hits are, and BABIP, as Fisher puts it, shows “how lucky they are getting” when they put the ball in play.
So far, Fisher is fairly confident that his stats are an accurate portrayal of how the season has gone for the Stags, who were 13-8-1 overall and 6-6 in conference play before being suspended this week. He has noticed some team-wide statistical trends.
“I would say that players at home definitely perform better from the plate than they do on the road,” Fisher said. This assertion lines up well with the Stags’ record; they’re 11-3-1 at home but only 2-5 on the road.
The metrics also point to value in individual players. Zach Clarke CM ’20, for instance, the Stags’ most prolific hitter this year, has a weighted on-base percentage of over .500 and a batting average of .405. Both are incredible numbers for a hitter; most players would be happy with hitting over .300. Clarke also has a few teammates who aren’t too far behind.
“The [WOBA] and the BABIP for these players are both really high,” said Fisher, who explained that these types of stats offer insight into the parts of the game less obvious to the naked eye. “I think that’s telling that the Stags are, not getting lucky, but hitting the ball hard and putting it in play and finding holes and getting on base.”
This might explain the Stags’ offensive prowess this season; they’re averaging 6.27 runs per game.
Still, while sabermetrics have taken over the game at its highest level, it’s unclear whether advanced metrics can have a significant impact on Division III baseball.
Fisher said there’s definitely potential, especially in certain categories like weighted on-base average. But as of yet, he hasn’t noticed any hidden value in the Stags’ roster.
“I think the coach has a really good understanding of his players and he might create the batting order based on his intuition or based on what he wants to do on a specific day,” he said.
In short, there’s still room for good, old-fashioned baseball knowledge.
“There’s so much more to baseball besides just the numbers,” Fisher said.
And in DIII, where fewer stats are available and fewer people are there to review them than in the pros, it’s possible that intuition plays a bigger role than anywhere else.
Fisher also said his metrics have limited reach.
“I don’t think what I keep track of tells the whole picture of everything that’s going on,” he said.
Mostly, Fisher said, he can determine how valuable a player is to his team at the plate. But beyond that, there are too many variables for one person to keep track of to realistically implement any more advanced metrics in DIII.
The SCIAC is no stranger to the upside of statistics. The Caltech men’s basketball coach, Oliver Eslinger, made headlines a few years ago in 2015 when he began to use metrics among a few other alternative strategies, to try to end an infamous losing streak; Sports Illustrated published a story about him called “Revenge of the nerds” after these new strategies began to work.
Caltech ended the 2018-19 season 10-15 overall, with four wins in the SCIAC — no small feat for a school whose conference losing streak once stretched to 310 games.
But Fisher isn’t concerned with the headlines; he just wants to be around the game for as long as possible.
“I played golf all four years [of high school] and I still play a lot when I’m home,” he said. “But I love baseball, and in a perfect world, I would land a career in it once I’m done with college.”
He wasn’t sure what that career looked like at first, but hopes that keeping stats for CMS will give him some valuable experience in the meantime.
“Ideally, I’ll be helping to manage a baseball team one day,” he said.