I keep a tight score book, i.e., reaching on an error is not a hit, and I chart pitches which gives me a robust set of statistics. I started keeping stats because I didn’t trust my observations or instincts and I was afraid I would let personal feelings about a player tint how I saw them. Now I can’t imagine not using them.
Over time, I have settled on a handful to help guide my lineups.
Balls In Play Batting Average (not to be confused with Batting Average on Balls In Play): At the younger ages, if you put the ball in play you have a good chance of getting on base. BIPBA tells me who’s hitting the ball consistently and is especially useful when I have to juggle the lineup. That said, by the end of the season, the 8U players were making more plays so sooner than later BIPBA won’t tell me as much.
Hard Hit Batting Average: I heard Gil Hodges kept a book where he tracked player’s frozen ropes, bombs, lasers, rockets and whatever lingo is in use today to describe a pitch tattooed regardless of whether it resulted in a hit or out. Makes sense to me. If my player is squaring it up consistently, the results will take care of themselves. Without knowing or wanting to know all the history, maybe Hodges was the first sabermatician.
I’ll also look at On-Base Percentage for players with good plate discipline. Another offensive stat I like is Runs Created per Game as a good indicator of overall offensive contribution though its value is somewhat limited to arguments over the season end awards.
Strike Percentage: Throw strikes and good things happen. Kind of the golden rule of baseball. Enough said.
Fielding Independent Pitching (without the constant): FIP gives me a good way to gauge the effectiveness of my pitchers taking out the randomness of the fielding range and abilities at this level.
When it comes to fielding, I’ve yet to settle on stats that really shed much light at this age. I’ll look at fielding percentage and assists but they are tangential at best. Fielding percentage may give you an idea of who’s actually catching the balls in play and assists may give you an idea of who’s capable of doing something with the ball after they catch it, but determining fielding positions is mostly about being observant.
As the kids get better the valuable stats will no doubt change. Already I have new arena planned for next year. I’ve just finished a new spreadsheet to show swing tendencies and holes as well as spray charts. More fun and post-game work for me.
In the end, you can’t manage by the stats alone so I don’t see the point of using more than a handful. As much fun as it is to pour over every statistic looking for an unforeseen insight, the fun outweighs the value at the younger ages, except, of course, in determining season end awards.