Math Is Hard, Baseball Doesn't Have To Be

Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn't take an understanding of advanced statistics to understand basic things like that Jordan Schafer isn't very good.

Compared to other true believers of the church of sabermetrics, I consider myself very open minded towards the heretics. A casual fan who just wants to watch baseball after work and doesn’t want to feel like he is studying for the SATs just to understand the difference between Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton has my utmost sympathy. Now I have more of an issue with writers and broadcasters whose entire job is to be able to analyze baseball intelligently, when their fear of math leads them to wholly misinforming their audience. Regardless, if the average fan doesn’t want to take the time understand wRC+ and the concept of linear weights they will suffer no criticism from me. However, one particular issue riled me this weekend and that’s because it requires no grasp of any sort of advanced statistics. That issue is the continued delusion suffered by many Braves fans that Jordan Schafer has a place on the Braves' roster and should, in fact, be playing regularly.

Jordan Schafer is certainly far better than I am at baseball but relative to other major league players, Schafer is quite awful. The numbers are easy to see and they do not require an advanced degree in calculus to understand. In 1,189 at bats as a major league hitter, Schafer has a .224 batting average, has hit 11 home runs and has driven in 67 runs. I use these numbers to make the point that even by the most basic baseball statistics Schafer has been very poor in his career. Yes, that is a .224 career average for a guy touted by some as a prototypical leadoff hitter and the answer to the Braves' offensive woes. Where did the idea that Schafer is any good come from?

The myth that Schafer is a true leadoff hitter languishing on the Braves' bench seems to primarily derive from Schafer’s 2013 season in a Braves uniform. Yes, the season in which Schafer batted .247 has many Braves fans convinced that Schafer is the true leadoff hitter the Braves have lacked since Michael Bourn’s departure. More specifically though, Braves fans are enamored with the batting average Schafer posted in the first half of 2013 when he batted .312 in 125 at bats. Those 125 at bats are where my frustration truly sets in. To Schafer boosters, those 125 at bats in which Schafer was a useful major league hitter are his true talent while the other 1,064 at bats are totally ignored.

Schafer boosters believe that, if given the chance to start every day, Schafer would bat .300, steal bases and play excellent defense in centerfield. Basically in the eyes of some Braves fans Schafer is Michael Bourn being kept down by the stupidity of Fredi Gonzalez and the pigheadedness of that idiot GM who gave BJ Upton that big contract. The contrast with BJ is especially important because in the eyes of Schafer acolytes Schafer is everything BJ is not. Schafer plays hard, puts the ball in play, doesn’t get lazy in centerfield and, most importantly, doesn’t strikeout.

In truth that image of Schafer has as much basis in truth as conspiracies that the moon landing was faked. Schafer has actually struck out in a higher percentage of his career at bats than BJ. Schafer is a worse defensive player than BJ, often taking circuitous routes in centerfield that make Schafer the butt of many a Magellan joke on twitter. Schafer has no power, which is objectively a bad thing, though it’s treated as a positive by the segment of baseball fans who seem to think hitting home runs is a negative and the province of lazy baseball players. Schafer is nothing but a fringe AAAA level baseball player who some frustrated Braves fans have anchored their delusions of the ideal baseball player onto.

What is frustrating is that all of this should be obvious. Schafer has a huge history as a major league baseball player. In 2012 Schafer was given 360 plate appearances by an extremely young Astros team hell bent on developing young talent. The Astros had, in fact, traded for Schafer with Schafer being the centerpiece of the deal in which they shipped their All-Star centerfielder out of town. The Astros were also the worst team in baseball in 2012. In short, the Astros had every reason to be patient with Schafer and were heavily invested in his development. After the 2012 season in which Schafer batted .211 while being given the chance to play every day, the Astros gave up on Schafer completely and cut him.

Braves fans who don’t buy into advanced stats should be aware of this. It doesn’t take a math degree to look up that Schafer batted .242 in 338 plate appearances split between Atlanta and Houston in 2011. You don’t have to understand the difference between fangraphs WAR and baseball-reference WAR to see that Schafer batted .170 in the second half of 2013 in Atlanta or that he has batted .115 this season.

These are the things I wish the folks who tell me to stop ruining baseball with math would understand. I don’t want anyone who has no interest in it to grasp why wOBA is a great stat. I just want these people to be aware of what a player has done in his games besides the ones these fans have personally watched. I want these people to get that a player is usually what his career numbers say he is not what he looked like in that one specific period of time where his numbers matched some made up narrative. Be objective and understand that hitting for power is a good thing. Try to create narratives and perspectives based in facts and the real world not based on stereotypes. Jordan Schafer is not the answer to the Braves' problems and probably should not even be on the roster. You do not need to know what the term linear weights means to understand this.

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