"Tejada is batting just .350 over the course of the last 10 games, plus he's also posting career highs with a .388 OBP this season. And just looks at all those 107 RBIs and 35 HRs...this guy is seriously raking it!"
"Good point there Chuck, but he is facing Roy Oswalt, who's got a career 10-2 record and 2.01 ERA in the month of August. Righties also only have a .211 OBP against him, so Tejada is going to have a tough shot getting on base."
"Ahh, right you are Bob."
If you happen to know what all of those statistics mean, then good for you! If you don't however, have no fear - that only means that you're probably normal, an unfortunate turn of events that I'm going to do my best to remedy.
To begin with, let's talk about why statistics are used in sports, period. Basically, they provide an objective means of measuring players and determining if one player is better than another. Duh, right? It seems obvious...if a player puts up good numbers, then they're better than someone who doesn't. The trick is, what statistics do you use to determine a player's worth? Also, can a player really be reduced to statistics? That last question is actually the center of a very big controversy in baseball at the moment and it would take way too long to get into, so let's focus on the first question for now: what stats are the most important? Well, here are the basics that every baseball fan worth their salt should know...
Runs (R): the amount of times that player scored a run themselves.
Homeruns (HR): the amount of homeruns the player hit.
Runs Batted In (RBIs): the amount of runs a player hit home.
Stolen Bases (SBs): when a pitcher is throwing the ball, runners on base are allowed to attempt to run and "steal" the next base. They have to be pretty damn fast and good not to get caught, but it is possible.
Batting Average (BA): the amount of hits a player has divided by their total number of at bats. This is normally rounded off at three decimal places.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base, either by getting a hit or drawing a walk. This differs from batting average because OBP includes walks, while a players batting average simply measures hits.
Wins (W): when a pitcher starts a game and leaves the game with his team ahead, he qualifies for a win. If his team wins that game without ever relinquishing that lead or letting the other team tie the game, he gets a win.
Loss (L): However, if a pitcher leaves the game with his team losing, his team never ties the game, and then his team loses, he gets a loss.
Saves (SV): If a pitcher comes in with his team ahead and finishes the game, he can qualify for "saving" the game if he enters the game when his team is up by three runs or less.
Strikeouts (K): However many players a pitcher has struck out. You'll see this number represented by a K or sometimes a backwards K (this is for if a player struck out without swinging at the last pitch).
Earned Run Average (ERA): This statistic represents the number of runs that a pitcher would let up on average if they were to pitch an entire 9 inning game.
Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched (WHIP): The average number of baserunners that a pitcher lets on base per inning.
These are the most basic statistics out there and the most common ones in use by far. For a full list of baseball statistics, if you're curious, just check out this. Be warned, though, prolonged thinking has been known to lead to spontaneous combustion, so watch out how long you puzzle over all of those. If you want to know enough basic information to successfully watch a baseball game, those are the numbers you need to know.
Now, why are these numbers significant? How accurate do they actually predict performace on the field? These answers and more coming up!
Edit by Joe Cook: In order for a starting pitcher to qualify for a win, he must have pitched at least five full innings, leave with the lead, and have his team hold the lead for the remainder of the game. (E.g. Johan Santana pitches 6 innings for the Mets, and leaves with a 3-2 lead. However, in the 8th inning, the Braves tie the game. This disqualifies Johan Santana from the win, even though he is not the pitcher who gives up the lead.)
Also, a relief pitcher receives a win if he recorded the last out prior to the half-inning in which his team takes a lead which they do not then relinquish at any point. (E.g. Aaron Heilman comes in and pitches the top of the 8th inning for the Mets. When he enters the game, the game is tied 3-3. He records the three outs for the inning, and in the bottom of the 8th inning the Mets score to take a 4-3 lead. The Mets hold the lead for the rest of the game, and so Aaron Heilman gets the win.)
The final way in which a pitcher qualifies for a win is in a situation in which the starting pitcher leaves the game before completing 5 innings (for injury or any other reason). In this case, if the pitcher's team is leading when he leaves, and they lead in the score throughout the rest of the game, it is up to the official scorer to determine which subsequent pitcher had the largest impact on the game, and that pitcher receives credit for the win. E.g. Orlando Hernandez starts the game for the Mets. In the 4th inning, with the Mets winning 7-1, Hernandez is injured and leaves the game. Joe Smith enters for the Mets, and pitches 3 innings in relief without giving up a run. Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner each pitch an inning after that to finish the game. The Official Scorer would likely credit Joe Smith for the win in this situation. This is, by far, the most confusing of all scenarios.
Edit #2 by Joe Cook: As I continue to look through this post, my disappointment in Steve is growing (just kidding; I know he tried to make things very simple here). This addition is to the Saves section. Steve gave the most traditional, and most common, definition of how to record a save. However, in a couple of strange technicalities, there are other ways in which pitchers can record a save. For one, the pitcher is not required to pitch all of the 9th inning. However, a pitcher cannot come in with 2 outs in the 9th inning with nobody on base and get a save by recording the final out. If a relief pitcher comes into the game, and finishes the game without relinquishing the lead, he receives credit for a save if his team was leading by 3 runs or less when he came in. If there are already outs in the 9th inning when the pitcher comes into the game, he receives a save only if his team wins by one or two runs, unless runners are on base when he enters the game in the 9th inning creating a situation in which the tying run is on deck when he enters. (See now why Steve tried to keep this so simple?)
A relief pitcher can also record a save if he enters the game to start the 7th inning with his team leading, and finishes the game without giving up the lead. This 3-inning-save rule does not take into account how many runs the team is leading by. E.g. The Mets are winning 16-4 at the end of the 6th inning. Jorge Sosa enters the game as the Mets new pitcher to start the 7th inning. He pitches the remainder of the game, in which the Mets hold on to win 16-14. Jorge Sosa records a save for having successfully pitched the final 3 innings without losing the lead. Confusing, right?