Talking Baseball

Steve Gabriel's picture

Last week Major League Baseball (MLB) unveiled its post-season awards. Once again, I found myself drawn to the discussion about who should be named the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP). For the third year in a row, a member of my beloved Detroit Tigers is a finalist. This year it was Victor Martinez, and for the third year in a row the Angel’s Mike Trout was the primary competition for one of my favorite Tigers!

Truth be told, I didn’t care who won. For me, the debate was not about who is the better player. Both are among the best in the game at their respective positions. Both had great season. Both are valuable to their teams. As a Tiger fan, I would love to have Mike Trout on my team. My guess is that many Angels fans wouldn’t mind if their team had Victor Martinez. The true debate was around the measure. What is the best way to determine a player’s value? What are the truly important stats?

Martinez’s supporters – like Miguel Cabrera’s in 2012 and 2013 – tend to be traditionalists. They would argue that he deserves the award because he had the better year based on the statistics we are all familiar with. He had better offensive numbers; more runs batted in (RBI’s), more home runs (HRs) and he hit for a better average (BA). To them, these stats tell the story.

Trout’s supporters are “new school.” They argue that there is more to the story than home runs and batting average. They say that Trout’s “value” cannot be measured by “typical” statistics alone. They say that there are many factors that should be considered when measuring a player’s effectiveness. They cite Sabermetrics, a term coined in 1980 by renowned baseball author and researcher Bill James. James and others created new statistics with which to measure players' productivity other than the traditional batting averages and ERA. In this school of thought “new” statistics such as batting average on balls in play (BABIP); wins above replacement (WAR) and equivalent average (EqA) are just as valuable when it comes to assessing a player (or a team) as the traditional stats.

A similar debate revolves around schools in our state. What is the best way measure the effectiveness or “value” of a school or district? Each summer, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) unveils its “post season awards.” Schools are ranked and labeled. “MVPs” are awarded and lauded. The awards are based on traditional statistics including: Student participation in state assessments, student proficiency on state assessments, graduation or attendance and district reporting on school improvement plans (SIP) and teacher effectiveness. At the high school level the key indicators include: Proficiency on the MME, ACT scores, graduation rates. Improvement or Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in student proficiency is also taken into account.

Unfortunately, the system is flawed. The fact is, schools that demonstrate higher proficiency on the state assessments are rated less effective than schools that demonstrate lower proficiency. Schools that show improvement in their scores are ranked lower than schools that see their scores drop. To have a system that so fundamentally miscommunicates to the public, to parents and to school staff is misleading. Many assume, incorrectly, that schools with yellows are worse than schools with green and that schools within yellow are all the same. Unfortunately many assume this is the whole story. Of course those of us who work in schools know this is not the case.

With this in mind, I wonder what “stats” should be kept for schools each season? What is a true measure of a school or district’s worth? Like those that subscribe to sabermetrics, I would argue that there are many factors that should be considered when measuring the effectiveness of a school. The “traditional statistics” are important; however, they do not tell the whole story. Some districts in Ohio recognize this and have begun publishing their own “Quality Profiles” in conjunction with, or in spite of, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). They provide stats on National Merit Qualifiers, scholarship offers, performing arts awards, etc., in an effort to tell the whole story. Maybe it's time we do the same in Michigan. Maybe we should talk about SIECA’s (students involved in extra curricular activities), or perhaps OFAS (opportunities for advanced studies) when we consider our post- season awards.