Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger prepares to bat against the Los Angeles Angels during a baseball game Tuesday in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Baseball fans are being inundated with meaningless statistics that are “dumbing down” the game and detracting from their enjoyment of it.

For Red Sox fans, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, who NESN’s Dennis Eckersley calls “Stat Masterson,” and his fellow nerds have never seen a play in baseball they cannot make into a “first in history” or a “new baseball record.” 

Carl Johnson

Are there any baseball fans out there who really care that, for the first time in baseball history, some ballplayer hit a 101.2 mph fastball, with a 64 percent launch angle, with an exit velocity of 102.6 miles per hour, 436 feet, 11 inches, into the left-field stands, breaking the all-time baseball record for balls hit over 100 mph, with an exit velocity between 100 and 103 and a launch angle between 60 and 65 degrees?

We’ve all heard the statistic “WAR” used to measure a player’s value to his team and wondered how that figure was arrived at.  WAR was developed by Sean Smith of BaseballProjections.com, a baseball statistician. Baseball Reference defines WAR, which is short for that fascinating term “Wins Above Replacement,” or, for the more curious among you as: A single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player (Think AA or AAA) would add. Scale for a single season (8+ MVP ability, 5+ All-Star ability, 2+ Starter, 0-2 Replacement, less than 0 Replacement level.)

If you hadn’t noticed, this statistic, which is regularly quoted daily as representing an accurate evaluation of the player’s value, is based on what a hypothetical replacement player, in a hypothetical situation, with his ability reduced to what can only be a hypothetical level, either MVP, All-Star, starter, replacement or less than replacement level, would do against a hypothetical team, in equal situations. 

As any fan who has followed the game at all can tell you, one of the most exciting things about baseball is that no situation is equal, every situation is unique and anything can happen.

I, and I think most baseball fans, don’t care if a player gives the ball an exit velocity of over 100 mph 125 times a year to lead the league. I care about how many of the balls that he hits become base hits because that is what makes him a good or bad hitter. If 100 of those balls with that high exit velocity are caught or fielded and he is thrown out at first, he’s still a .200 hitter. 

Baseball’s management seems to think that by numbing the fans’ minds with meaningless drivel, they will happily pay hundreds of dollars to walk into ballparks and pay $10.75 for a beer. Most of those fans do not have doctorate level degrees in statistics and could care less about their esoteric formulas that create hypothetical values. 

As a result of their tinkering, the game is being quickly replaced with a series of scenarios where a pitcher throws the ball, a batter either hits it out of the park or strikes out, which will eventually eliminate the need for fielders, except the catcher, and the game will be reduced to one big Home Run Derby.

I care about records like Ted Williams’ .406 season, Roger Clemens’ seven Cy Young Awards, Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits, Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hitters and Mariano Rivera’s modern ERA record of 2.21. 

I am interested in those current young stars, right fielders Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger, each with .333 batting averages one day this week, Yelich with 35 homers and 75 RBIs and Bellinger with 34 homers and 77 RBIs. I could care less that Bellinger’s WAR is 6.7 and Yelich’s 5.6. Perhaps the hypothetical player that Yelich was compared with was having a better year than Bellinger’s imaginary player. 

Baseball is a game, played by imperfect humans, who are highly skilled, professional athletes, with many different skill levels, judged by human umpires who have differing skill levels, which is influenced by many external factors to the point that each play is a unique, individual contest that simply cannot be reduced to a complex mathematical formula.

The most amazing thing about baseball is that Abner Doubleday, Alexander Cartwright or whoever actually invented the game, got it right the first time, right down to 90-foot base paths, and the original baseball statisticians, who came up with measuring tools like batting average, runs batted in and earned run average also got it right the first time. The worst thing that ever happened to baseball was the invention of the computer which led to the Stephen Smiths of the world trying to reduce the world, including baseball, to algorithms.

Baseball is a simple, yet complex game. The only objective each team has in a game is to score more runs than the other team. A team scores runs when a player reaches base safely and advances until he crosses home plate. A team does not score runs when the other team’s pitcher and fielders prevent a player from reaching base and advancing until he crosses the plate.

The exit velocity or launch angle of a baseball when it leaves the bat is not the critical factor in creating runs. The critical factor is where the ball ends up. A ball that lands safely in the field, allowing the batter to reach base safely, or in the stands, allowing the runner to score, is a positive factor in the quest to score runs. A ball that is caught or fielded by a fielder in a manner to prevent the runner from reaching base safely is a positive factor in preventing the other team from scoring runs.

A batter’s batting average, the percentage of times an at-bat results in him reaching base safely when he puts the ball in play; his on-base percentage, the percentage  of times he reaches base safely in each plate appearance, including by bases on balls, errors, hit batsmen, etc…, are the true measures of a batter’s effectiveness.

A single is a single, a home run is a home run and an out is an out, no matter how high the ball’s exit velocity or launch angle. Measuring a batter’s value to his team whether by OPS, WAR, Launch Angle or Exit Velo is meaningless when compared to batting average and on-base percentage.  Other easily measurable factors such as the number of home runs or runs batted in a player or team gets in a year directly contribute to the success of the team.

The same is true of the defense. The objective of the pitcher and fielders is to prevent runs. This is done by preventing batters from reaching base safely. No matter how hard a pitcher throws a ball, the objective of he and his fielders is still to keep the other team’s players from crossing the plate.  The more successful they are at that, the more value they have to their team. 

The spin rate of a thrown ball or the distance a player must travel to catch a batted ball are immaterial to the end result which is to prevent players from crossing the plate. The pitcher’s earned run average and the number of runs given up by the team in each game are the true measures of a players’ value. Other easily measured factors such as the number of strikeouts, walks, errors or assists also directly contribute to the success of the team.

The introduction and perpetuation of these meaningless statistics do nothing to improve the game from a fan’s perspective and the fan’s perspective is what drives the game. Let’s get back to the basics.

Carl Johnson is a noted baseball lecturer and author. His books include the popular series “THE BASEBALL BUFF’S BATHROOM BOOKS” and “THE BEST TEAM EVER?” which chronicles the Red Sox 2018 World Series win.

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