ABL: So You Want to Win the Australian Baseball League Championship?

The 2017/18 Australian Baseball League kicks off tomorrow night so we decided to take a look at what it might take to bring home the Claxton Shield

ATTENTION ALL ABL MANAGERS! After hours of painstaking research, I have unlocked the secret formula to winning an ABL Championship. Actually to be honest, it took about 20 minutes of looking at a spreadsheet and confirmed what we’ve known in baseball since, well, probably when Bill James and friends gave birth to baseball analytics some decades ago but hey, it exists so we’re going to talk about it.

The secret formula to winning in the ABL is simple:

  1. Hit for Power
  2. Strike batters out
  3. Don’t walk batters

Yes it may be somewhat old knowledge but baseball has moved away from this at times (like remember when MLB teams thought ground balls were great… good times) but the fact this this has held true over multiple baseball generations and now holds true on the other side of the world, in a league that is perhaps the most unique in organised baseball is kind of cool. The ABL, compared to other organised leagues, has a unique schedule, perhaps one of the largest talent gaps and a group of stadiums all with extreme dimensions.

Stay with us a while:

So so far, I have made a rather strong assertion with no evidence to back it up. Let’s change that:

Slg Rnk Teams K-BB Rnk
1 Brisbane 2
4 Melb 1
1 Brisbane 1
3 Adelaide 5
3 Perth 5
1 Adelaide 2
1 Perth 4
3 Canberra 6
1 Canberra 4
2 Perth 3

The table above shows the the two teams to play in the championship game in each of the last 5 seasons. The winner is listed on the top, the runner up on the bottom. The left column shows each teams slugging percentage rank for that season while the right column shows the K/9 – BB/9 rank for each team in each season. Yes, it probably should be K%-BB% rather than /9, but as ABL stats are basic at best and I didn’t have the Batters Faced for each team handy but it works so let’s just go with it.

Now you can see that it’s not a perfect correlation, nothing in baseball ever is, but there is a fairly clear general pattern between being good in these two categories and reaching the championship game. The 2015 Adelaide, 2014 Perth and 2013 Canberra teams standout as black swans here but the first two both had slugging percentages over .400 (well above average for the league) and the 2013 Canberra squad also led the league in OBP that year, meaning they were still a pretty good offense.

Similarly, Melbourne’s 4th ranked slugging percentage is the lowest of any of the teams to make the championship game in the last 5 years but they also just posted the best K-BB numbers in the history of the league by a decent margin.

The key to winning the ABL is simple, it’s the same as winning in every league, hit for power, strike people out and don’t walk anyone. At the Christmas Break we’ll review this, see which teams are performing best in these categories and make some predictions for the finals. For now however, do with this what you will.

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