Youth baseball season is upon us, and you know what that means: outfielders with runny noses, springtime romps around the base paths in unpredictable directions, parents reenacting scenes from "Bad News Bears," errors, hugs, more errors, hot dogs for the whole team, at least one league-wide email involving batting helmets and head lice, postgame goodgame-goodgame high fives, joy, bonding, hassles and stats.
Yes, stats. Moneyball has become Kiddieball. The number crunchers have turned their attention to the wee ones: Someone warn stat hater/wee one Joe Morgan!
It turns out that sabermetric principles can be applied to tee ball and other low levels of youth baseball. The folks at Tee Ball Outsiders were kind enough to share some of their metrics and analysis with Sports on Earth. Advanced metrics may not be able to provide PECOTA projections for your 5-year-olds, but they can help quantify the experience of fitting a kindergartner into catcher's equipment that was originally purchased for Paul Lo Duca.
Tee Ball Outsiders Glossary of Terms
3 True Outcomes. In tee ball: Hitting a ground ball, whacking the tee with the bat, swinging the bat around and around saying "Whee! I'm a helicopter!"
5-Tool Parent. A parent who: 1) remembers the schedule; 2) shows up on time; 3) lets coaches do their jobs; 4) shouts only positive encouragement to the team but firmly disciplines his or her own child; and 5) brings enough for everyone.
ASO: Actual Singles and Outs. Plays in a tee-ball game that are recognizable as baseball events: line drives through the infield in which the player remembers to run to first and not to grandpa, 4-3 or 1-3 groundouts, and … that's about it. Tee-ball games average 1.333 ASOs per game. Parents are obligated to respond to each ASO by shouting: "Great job, Tyler! That looked like a real baseball play!" This praise tacitly reminds the children that everything they did before and after that moment disappointed their parents, undermining everything the parents hoped to accomplish with youth athletics.
CAI: Chase Assertiveness Index. Multiply the time in seconds it takes a child to chase a ball that has rolled into the outfield by the number of teammates he or she knocks over along the way; then multiply by the time in seconds the child spends telling the other kids in the outfield pileup that he or she "won" by getting the ball first. Finally, divide by the number of parents yelling "throw it in!" Ignore CAI for any child under seven who stops and waits for a cutoff throw; apply immediately for a baseball scholarship instead.
CER: Catcher's Equipment Resources. The time and manpower needed to properly equip a catcher under eight years old. The national CER average is 42.67 coach-minutes. For teams with only one coach, it is best to start putting the catcher's equipment on approximately three minutes before he or she removes it.
DAR: Dandelions Above Replacement. The replacement-level tee-baller picks 2.5 dandelions per half-inning. A lower total indicates that a child is either advanced enough to pay attention to the game or afraid of all the bees. Truly advanced tee-ballers pick violets only (VORP).
GLR: Game Length Relativity. The time it takes to play a youth league game starts at one hour and is adjusted by the following equations: 1) Add five minutes for every degree Fahrenheit above 75 at first pitch. 2) Add 10 minutes for every degree Fahrenheit below 55 at first pitch. 3) Add 20 minutes for every inning left in the game after 7:30 p.m. 4) Add 30 minutes for every coach on either side who still brings up his double in the 1988 tri-county championship game in casual conversation.
Lineup Optimization. The optimal youth league lineup, handed down from coaching generation to generation. 1) Skinny kid. 2) Kid who can actually play. 3) Coach's kid. 4) Lawyer's or mayor's kid. 5) Attractive divorced mom's kid. 6) Chubby kid. 7) Kid who cannot play but will cry if batting last. 8) Brainy kid who will grow into resentful sportswriter. 9) Kid who always shows up late, when the scorecard is already filled out.
OK Computer: A complex algorithm for determining what affect the percentage of "Older Kids" has on any league. As parents realize that their children can excel at sports if they are a year older than the other players, an increasing number of OKs will enter a given league as parents ask for special exceptions. Haphazard enforcement of age limits can result in escalation practices, which result in coach-pitch level players who win county championships but also shave.
Ironically, if the OK Computer reaches 100 percent in any league, a state of equilibrium occurs. Not only are all of the participants roughly the same age, but they actually are developmentally ready for the tasks they are asked to perform. (As opposed to the current situation, with tee-ballers eating infield dirt and nine-year old pitchers trying to reach the strike zone 75 times per game, three games per week.) A powerful force prevents the OK Computer from ever reaching 100 percent, however: the angry screed about the league president on Facebook.
PE/EC: Parental Expectation to Equipment Cost Ratio. Handy for determining which parent will be first to tell the coach that his 5-year-old has a wicked slider: It's the one whose kid is rolling a $219 DingerXL bat bag behind him. Any parent whose child shows up with two $249 Demarini Cf5 bats will demand that base-stealing be included in tee ball.
P -1 Theory: The Inverse Participation Theory. Applies to 7-to-9-year-old leagues, in which score is kept despite the fact that most kids are still watching airplanes pass overhead. The P -1 Theory states that the fewer members of any team's roster participating in a given game, the more likely that team is to win. The P -1 theory works because children who are awful at baseball (and their parents) tend to deprioritize showing up for games regularly; whether this is cause, effect or vicious cycle in not relevant. Since everyone bats at this level, three kids opting for cello practice instead of a game results in nine fewer strikeouts and obligatory infield innings for the shorthanded team.
If you are sitting on the bleachers and a parent tells you something to the effect of, "I am jealous of just how wonderful your child is at playing the cello," you may be raising the next Yo-Yo Ma, but it is more likely that parent is trying to "game" the P -1 Theory.
Reaction time. Time it takes for a tee-baller to stop drawing in the dirt and recognize that a ball has just rolled past him. Measured in paleontological epochs.
SBS%: Swinging Bunt Success Percentage. Applies to under-10 leagues. The SBS% analyzes the inverse relationship between the distance a hit ball travels and the value of the play. A ball that rolls 15 feet in front of the catcher usually results in overthrows at first, second and third base, yielding an inside-the-park home run, while a sharp grounder to the shortstop (the kid who knows what he is doing) is a possible ground out. The higher the SBS%, the more important it is for coaches to limit the number of extra bases runners can take, but they never do.
Total Average. A grand unification equation that normalizes and weighs such variables as childhood delight, lifelong memories, fresh air, skill development and character building against equipment expenses, skinned knees, lost batting gloves, having to volunteer at the snack stand, hurt feelings when Cameron calls Ethan a poopie head for missing a ground ball, and angry shouting matches with Cameron's parents. When total average stays positive, youth baseball is an invaluable bonding experience. When it drops below zero, consider soccer or drama camp instead.
TPar: That Parent. You know the one. Don't be him or her.