One of the things people love about baseball is that the game is both very simple and very complicated all at once. Baseball is simple in that all you’re trying to do is score more runs than the other team during 162 finite, nine inning contests. You are trying to reach base and advance runners and you are trying to prevent the other team from doing the same. How you go about doing those things is where baseball gets complicated. Jeff Sullivan often refers to baseball as being “obnoxiously complicated,” which I find to be a fitting description.
Think of all of the different possible outcomes of every pitch and all of the different pitches and locations from which the pitcher can choose. The complicated part of baseball is what makes baseball interesting, but the simple part of baseball is where you need to start to get your head around sabermetrics and player evaluation. Baseball is about producing and preventing runs.
As a result of that simple reality, the heart of baseball analysis is determining what leads to run scoring and run prevention. Specifically, how many runs is each possible action worth? If a player hits a single, how much has that player just increased his team’s odds of scoring a run? If a fielder makes a nice running catch, how many runs has he prevented? We don’t actually care about hits and walks and double plays, we care about how those finite events contribute to the overall goal.