Start naming offensive statistics for baseball. The Triple Crown categories - batting average, home runs and RBIs - are probably the first to come to mind. Runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS may come next.
But none of those stats can be taken in isolation. Batting average tells you how often a batter gets a hit, but completely ignores walks, which are just important. On-base percentage does a better job, but treats a home run and a walk as equal in getting on base. Slugging percentage assumes that a double is twice as a valuable as a single, and a homer is four times as valuable, which is not exactly the case.
RBIs are too team-dependent to be looked at seriously, as are runs scored. An incredible player stuck on a team of scrubs may not have the RBI or runs scored stats that he should deserve because teammates are not getting on base for him to knock in, or knocking him in.
On April 10, House of Sparky looked at a statistic called Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and how it was a better indicator of performance than ERA, both in a traditional sense and in regard to predicting future success or failure.
Offensively, the all-encompassing stat with which it is time to get familiar is Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA). Fangraphs.com does an excellent job of breaking it down, but I'll attempt a quick primer.
On-base percentage does not factor in power, slugging percentage does not accurately depict it, and OPS assumes that one point of on-base percentage is equal to one point of slugging percentage, which it is not. Instead wOBA takes the team-independent outcomes a batter can have at the plate, weights them, then spits out a number.
The formula for wOBA is more complicated than that for FIP, as it takes into consideration 11 different outcomes for a plate appearance. For college baseball stats, intentional walks are not kept, so we will assume all his walks were unintentional. The formula* is:
wOBA = (0.691×uBB + 0.722×HBP + 0.884×1B + 1.257×2B + 1.593×3B + 2.058×HR) / (AB + BB - IBB + SF + HBP)
wOBA is set on a scale similar to that on on-base-percentage, in which .450 is MVP-worthy, .400 is excellent, .320 is average and anything below .300 is poor. For MLB context, Miguel Cabrera led the Major Leagues in 2013 with a .455 wOBA. Using the .400 benchmark, Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto and David Ortiz all had an even .400 wOBA.
So we'll start with Nate Causey. Arizona State's first baseman has had a remarkable junior campaign, and leads the team in batting average (.322), on-base percentage (.426), slugging percentage (.438), hits (47), doubles (11) and total bases (64). His wOBA will give us a number that we can then compare to major leaguers for comparison.
wOBA = (0.691×(26) + 0.722×(2) + 0.884×(34) + 1.257×(11) + 1.593×(0) + 2.058×(2)) / (146 + 26 - 0 + 2 + 2)
wOBA = (17.966 + 1.444 + 30.056 + 13.827 + 0 + 4.116) / (146 + 26 - 0 + 2 + 2)
wOBA = (67.409) / (176)
wOBA = .383
Causey's wOBA numbers support the idea that Arizona State baseball fans already knew: He is quite good with a bat in his hands. For an MLB comparison, in 2013 Matt Holiday and Joe Mauer both posted wOBAs equal to Causey's .383 mark so far this season.
On the other side of the spectrum, redshirt junior outfielder Trever Allen is having a rough season, and his .301 wOBA is proof of that. He does lead the team in home runs, but his overall body of work, according to wOBA, is subaverage.
A surprising name to see as high as it is is freshman catcher Brian Serven. He has a modest .266 batting average, but a closer look reveals an excellent .379 on-base percentage as well as a wOBA of .366, good for second on the team behind Causey. The discrepancy there shows that Serven is making his plate appearances matter, combining the right amount of power and on-base prowess to equal the major league production of Mike Napoli and Brandon Belt.
All Arizona State hitters with at least 100 at-bats sorted by wOBA, with closest MLB comparison from 2013 season in parentheses:
Brian Serven- .366 (Mike Napoli, Brandon Belt)
Drew Stankiewicz- .361 (Yadier Molina, Evan Longoria)
RJ Ybarra- .345 (Billy Butler, Jonathan Lucroy)
Johnny Sewald- .339 (Coco Crisp, James Loney)
Jake Peevyhouse- .336 (Nick Swisher, Howie Kendrick)
Dalton DiNatale- .323 (Nate McLouth, Chris Denorfia)
Christopher Beall- .321 (Justin Morneau, Adam LaRoche)
Trever Allen- .301 (Matt Wieters, Michael Bourn)
*The formula is based off average numbers from MLB in 2012 because those numbers were available from Fangraphs.com. The constants for the college game in 2014 will be slightly different, but close enough to provide an accurate estimation of wOBA.