Is “Weighted On-Base Average” Really So Complicated?

by Jason Epstein

No, claims professional baseball and hockey consultant Tom Tango, coauthor of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball. (The Book is an excellent read. Even those not well-versed in statistical analysis will find the material pretty straightforward.)

Blogger says:

The reason that batting average was the predominant statistic in the first hundred years of baseball was that it involved such a simple calculation: it’s easy enough to go back to the dugout after a 2-for-5 day and say, “Hey, I’m batting .400!” On the other hand, could I ever sit in the dugout without pen or calculator and figure out my wOBA?

Instead of “1” for a walk or hit batter, think “0.7”. 

Instead of “1” for a single or reaching on error, think “0.9”.

Instead of “1” for a double or triple, think “1.3”.

Instead of “1” for a HR, think “2.0”.

(Notice how everything revolves around “1”, and the scale of it seems at least reasonable, and easy enough to remember?)

So, say you go 2 for 5, with a HR.  In the dugout, you are thinking “I’m 2 for 5, but with a HR!”.  Well, now you can think you are 2.9 for 5.  Is it really that hard? [emphasis mine]

Interestingly, some of Tango’s sabermetric-phile commenters answer in the affirmative. One asks, “Are you trying to argue that calc’ing 2.3/4 in your head is anywhere nearly as easy as 1/4? Even among the educated, the latter you just know — and this goes for every possible H/AB line in a boxscore except maybe 7s — the former you have to actually stop and compute, which completely affects any fluency you might have in discussing it.”

By the way, wOBA is now receiving mainstream attention: ESPN’s Baseball Tonight program last Sunday evening explained the statistic when discussing Russell Martin’s hot start.