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The VORP Flap

There’s a little controversy in the baseball blogosphere regarding the value of the statistic VORP. VORP is a sabermetric statistic which strives to provide a “single number” answer to the question “How good was this baseball player in this season?”

Prompted by an article in the Washington Post, J.C. Bradbury, whose blog Sabernomics I read and enjoy, doesn’t understand why it’s more useful than other metrics, and questions the need for the concept of “replacement level”. Moreover, he finds VORP to be socially exclusive:

I view VORP as an insider language, and by using it you can signal that you are insider. It’s like speaking Klingon at a Star Trek convention. I can signal to others who speak the language that I am one of you. But, the danger of VORP is that once you bring it up the discussion goes down the wrong path as the uninitiated have reason to feel they are being told they are not as smart as the person making the argument. It’s like constantly bringing up the fact that you only listen to NPR or watch the BBC news at dinner parties. The response is likely going to be the same, “well fuck you too, you pretentious asshole!”

I don’t really understand why he finds this such a big deal, especially since in the very same article he tosses out a couple of similarly-advanced concepts, OPS+ and MRP. OPS+ is a very useful stat, but I’d hazard that most people who know what OPS+ is will also be familiar with VORP. (Conversely, if your casual baseball fan doesn’t know what VORP is, it may be a stretch to expect him to know what OPS is, never mind OPS+.)

Like any stat, you don’t so much need to understand the finer points of VORP as just have a feel for what it represents and what its values mean. The key concept is that a VORP of 0 indicates that a player’s hitting is only minimally valuable at his position, and if it were any lower his team would be better off releasing him and calling up practically anyone from the minors instead.

Others have written some excellent posts in response to Bradbury. I especially liked this one by Tangotiger, but this one by Phil Birnbaum has an excellent perspective by putting VORP in economic terms, which is Bradbury’s stock-in-trade.

Admittedly, VORP and other advanced stats are relatively geeky, in that you’re not likely to care unless you’re pretty seriously interested in baseball research. But then, Bradbury’s blog is all about baseball research, so it seems to me that he ought to be comfortable using the more common advanced stats. I guess we all have our limits of how far down the path we want to go – my own eyes start to lose focus when we get around to WXRL – but picking on VORP seems silly to me, since I think it’s a pretty straightforward and intuitive stat. It has its flaws, but then, they all do.