Discussion

Runs remain the most important stat

OPS and VORP more sophisticated stats, but ultimately don't decide wins and losses

Originally Published: January 25, 2010
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com
Editor's note: Hot Stove U. is a six-week course devoted to higher learning, a series consisting of 30 need-to-know topics for 2010.

The setup

If you love statistics (and what baseball fan doesn't?) this is the golden era. Never before have there been so many stats to reveal so much of what goes on in baseball. OPS, EqA, WHIP, Win Shares, VORP, PECOTA, Pythagorean expectation -- if you want to measure anything in the game, anything at all, there's a stat for it.

Yet as statistics get ever more sophisticated, ever more precise and ever more complicated, I find myself relying more and more on the simplest and most underrated stat of all. The humble run.

You don't need an advanced degree in physics to calculate it. You don't need a membership in SABR to appreciate it. You don't need access to the Elias Sports Bureau to look it up. Often overlooked, the run is right there in front of your eyes, in a big bold number on every scoreboard from Little League to the majors. And yet, you probably can't name who led the league in runs last year. Or who holds the record for most runs in a season.

Heck, you can't even tell by looking at most boxscores how many runs a player has for the season. Most boxscores manage to update each player's season stats, accounting for his batting average as well as his doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and even his errors if he had any in that game. But not his run total. Why are we told how many RBIs a player has for the season but not how many runs? For that matter, why are we told how many triples a player has hit but not how many runs he has scored?

I'll tell you why. Because the run is the most neglected, underrated stat in baseball.

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