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A Dominican priest just made a significant contribution to baseball statistics


Pixabay | Pexels CC0

J-P Mauro - published on 07/24/20

With a slight adjustment to the equation, Fr. Kilanowski opened the door to more accurate stats for collegiate level players.

Baseball has always been a game of statistics, with records that stretch all the way back to the sport’s inception in the 19th century. While stats have always offered fans an outlet to follow the sport between games and in the long months of the off-season, they have become even more pivotal to the game since the Moneyball era, when team managers and owners began to make serious decisions for the futures of their ball clubs based on statistical numbers alone.

According to Quora, there are 85 individual stats by which each MLB player is measured. These range from easy to understand concepts like the number of games played per season and the number of times a player has been at bat to the much more complex OPS (combining the on base percentage with the slugging percentage) or even the dizzying Range Factor (putouts plus assists total divided by number of innings or games played at a particular position).

When it comes to the relationship between the majors and the many levels of minor leagues of the Great American Pastime, the most important stat that teams look at is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. This stat is an amalgam of all the other stats that is meant to determine a player’s overall value, which in turn helps teams to decide whether to keep a player or call up someone from the minor leagues who has been found to have a higher value.

It was precisely this WAR stat that Dominican Father Humbert Kilanowski had in mind when he spent some time with the Cape Cod League in 2019. The Cape Cod league is considered below the minors at the amateur, or “collegiate,” level. A report from Mark Pattison of Catholic News Service explains that after watching the games and examining the stats, the mathematician realized that WAR did not strike a fair comparison between the amateur league players and their counterparts in the majors and minors, because the amateur leagues have shorter seasons and  players with lower levels of skill.

Father Kilanowski was provided with the seasonal data from 2019 by the Cape Cod League statisticians, and he began to modify the equation in order to give a more accurate read on the college level athletes. The resulting numbers were so accurate that he was able to publish his findings in the Baseball Research Journal, the annual publication of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

Saint Joseph | Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Father Humbert Kilanowski.

In an interview with Dominican Friars, Father Kilanowski said of the goals of his work:

There’s a lot of dispute about how player performance should be calculated and how to use it. My idea is to try to get a more accurate measurement by looking at data from a league where all the players are at about the same age and ability level. We’ll study the Cape Cod Baseball League, a top tier league for college players in the summer time.

With the new stat equation circulating the baseball world, there could soon be more accurate statistics than ever in the lower skill levels of the sport. This in turn could give talented young athletes a much better chance of playing meaningful games in higher level ball clubs in the coming years.

Unfortunately, the Cape Cod league’s season was cancelled in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, but the adjusted stats are ready and waiting to be put to use, hopefully in 2021.

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