What's in a number? Rays talk important stats

As analytics have greater influence in MLB, players weigh in on their value

May 19th, 2016

TORONTO -- By and large, analytics are now driving Major League Baseball.

Statistics measure virtually everything that can be done on a baseball diamond. Players understand the new order, and they realize that their performances can be quantified to reflect value. Given that element, the fact that so many statistics do exist, and that stats are like beauty -- in the eye of the beholder -- a visit to the Rays' clubhouse seemed in order. What stats do Rays players view as important -- OPS, wins above replacement, walks-to-strikeout ratio?

Team wins was not an option, since every player surveyed would have answered as such when asked what stat or stats mattered most to them.

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Right-hander Jake Odorizzi went with innings pitched, noting, "If you have a lot of innings, you must be doing something right.

"You are more or less keeping your team in every single game. If you can get around the 200-inning mark, all the other peripheral stats kind of fall into place. But innings is the one that you have the biggest control of. It speaks to everything else."

Corey Dickerson acknowledged that while everyone wants to be known as a team player, he must be selfish where individual stats are concerned in order to help the team. And when he hits the ball hard, he feels as though he's best helping the team.

"Individually, the stat I probably pay the most attention to is the velocity off the bat, hard-hit balls," Dickerson said. "Because you know if you're consistently making good, hard contact off the bat, the ball will fall or find a hole sooner or later. So that's more or less what I look at when judging my performance rather than the numbers.

"Players have up-and-down months and weeks. It's about what I'm doing today, tomorrow and the next day, because the past doesn't matter anymore. You can talk about the week, the month, but it doesn't matter anymore. It's what you do today."

Dickerson believes teammates know if a player is a team player or not.

"Like I said, you have to have that selfish performance to help the team," Dickerson said. "But you also have to know the [selfess] situations in the game when they come up. That's where it will stand out if you're a selfish player or not. And when those situations arise, you just have to be able to do a job."

Curt Casali and Evan Longoria went old-school with a selection that would make Hack Wilson proud: RBIs. The power-hitting Cubs fireplug had 191 in 1930, which remains the standard.

"I think RBIs are huge," Casali said. "I think RBIs are a direct representation of how you're affecting a ballgame. Obviously, I'm not going to say that average is the most important thing. I just don't think it's as important anymore. You see a guy with 30 bombs and he's batting .200, he's probably got about 80 RBIs along with that. So he's driving in runs. It's probably spread out the way it needs to be."

Added Longoria: "I just think that if you're producing runs, you're giving your team its best chance to win, bottom line."

RBIs are one category largely dismissed by the modern statheads, who believe it is a derivative of having runners on base. Longoria and Casali justified their reasoning.

"I guess I just kind of turn a blind eye to those who say [RBIs] don't matter much," Longoria said. "Because what could be more important than driving in runs? It's definitely one of the toughest things to do in the game, because the pitcher doesn't want you to get a hit and give up that earned run. For me, I enjoy driving in runs the most. And I probably put the most importance on those situations and being able to produce those numbers."

"It's just different hitting with men on base," Casali said. "You feel the pitcher bearing down. He's going to be more careful with you. You're probably going to see more breaking stuff. And I think it proves that you're a better hitter if you can drive in a lot of runs. Obviously, the name of the game is scoring runs."

Brandon Guyer proved to be more of a forward thinker, narrowing down his selections to on-base percentage and runs scored.

"Because the more you get on base, the more runs you're scoring," Guyer said. "That gives your team a better chance to win the game. So off the top of my head, I go right to those."

Chris Archer threw another interesting stat into the mix.

"I think No. 1 has to be games started, because without starting games, you can't do anything," he said.

Archer did manage to offer another opinion on the dizzying amount of statistics available -- and their overall worth.

"It's almost like you can point at one statistic and say, 'This guy is really good.' And [then you can look at] another and tear them down," he said.