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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bill James Mailbag - 3/24/15 - 3/26/15

I need to see Bill’s high school stat line.

Hey Bill, on the Tommy John surgery boom, a couple of questions: 1) I’m pretty sure you’ve answered this in detail before, but is the proliferation mostly the result of Little League and high school kids throwing curveballs long before they should? And/or: 2) Were there a larger number of early-career burnouts before Tommy John? When I was in Little League (early ‘60s), our best pitcher threw a nasty curve. We dominated the league when he pitched, which was pretty much all the time because we only played a couple times a week. But I remember him asking the coach to take him out of a close game toward the end of the season because his arm was so sore. This may not have anything to do with TJ surgery, but I bring it up just because the curve has been a holy grail for pitchers for a long time.

Well, I’m not any kind of athlete, but I was on a high school baseball team that played for the state championship; I didn’t really play, but anybody who wanted to be was on the team in theory, and the other guys were pretty good. When we played in the state championship, the coach allowed our best pitcher to pitch a 7-inning complete game on Saturday and another on Sunday. Some of the questions you are asking don’t really have answers. In my view the increase in the number of surgeries is driven mostly by the lack of fear of the surgery. People aren’t really afraid of that surgery any more; we figure that almost everybody comes back from it, so if there are indications that there is going to be a problem, we’d rather get it taken care of at the start of a young player’s career, rather than when he is ready to move to the major leagues. There are probably other factors driving the frequency of the surgery as well, but exactly what they are is poorly understood, I think.

... in thinking about Brooks [Robinson] at 3B—or, say, Mariano Rivera at “closer—do you find yourself thinking “was this historically great player played out of position?” Should Brooks, really, have been playing shortstop? And would that have further boosted Brooks’ potential value in an overall historical perspective?...

Regarding Mariano as a starter. . ..one year the Red Sox beat up Mariano pretty badly toward end of the year, and I suggested to Terry Francona that maybe the Yankees had over-exposed him to us, let us see him too many times. Part of what made Mariano magic was that he pitched so few innings every year that he only faced each opposing hitter two to three times per year, on average, if the opponent was a regular. One year he pitched about 10 times against us, and we started to hit him really hard. I suggested to Terry that maybe we just saw him too much, but Terry didn’t buy it at all; he said, “No, we just happened to catch him two or three times when he didn’t have his best stuff.” I was never sure whether that was a “true” reaction or a politically correct-this-is-what-us-professionals-say-about-that type of reaction. . . .Regarding Brooks as a shortstop, Brooks didn’t have quick enough feet to be a shortstop. What made him wondrous was that, like John McDonald, he had that wondrous ability to put his glove in front of the ball in exactly the right position at exactly the right moment; of course, he had other skills that McDonald didn’t have. But his feet weren’t quick enough to have been a shortstop, I don’t think. But your point is a good one; there probably are Hall of Fame players who were sort of miscast. I always though Fisk probably should have played third, and might have been Mike Schmidt if he had.

Topical question: as a fan, it sort of bothers me when a young super-talent is indisputably one of a team’s 25 best for Opening Day, but gets sent down for three weeks to retain an extra year of club control. Is this an ethical issue, in your judgment, or perhaps the rules should be re-written to avoid this annual controversy?...

If the player uses the rules negotiated between the union and MLB to maximize his income, is that unethical? Of course it is not. Why, then, would it be unethical for the team to use those rules so as to maximize their return? It would raise an ethical issue if the young player was being exploited in some way, not given value for his contribution. But a player who has a STARTING salary of $500,000 a year cannot reasonably be seen to be exploited.

Reading about Darrel Evans made me wonder, have any players ever thanked you for what you wrote about them in the old abstracts? I remember for some of them, it seemed like you were the only guy who realised how good someone like Brian Downing, Ken Phelps or Ron Roenicke was, or could be. IF they got a chance.

Yes. . . .actually, a good many times. I have heard from Darrell Evans, not thanking me exactly, but I think he’s aware of what I have written about him; seemed to be. But we definitely hear from athletes who appreciate things that are said about them. . .not only me, but those I work with. One of the players who received a Fielding Bible Award, a lesser-known player, wrote to Baseball Info Solutions in February to thank them for the award.


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Bill James Mailbag - 2/3/15 - 2/5/15

Trout Catcher Mask Replica!

Hey Bill, there’s an interesting article today about Ron Hunt on the 538 blog. It says that his feat of 50 HBP in one season is 13 standard deviations better than average, which is apparently off the charts. When people talk about unbreakable records you don’t hear much about that one. Thanks.

... since the minimum in the category is zero and there are 1,519 players [since 1900] who have had 8 or more, it is thus apparent that the distribution of this group is in no way similar to a bell curve, consequently the normal assumptions about the likelihood of something don’t apply. My judgment. . .if you’re a young person, you should probably live to see this record broken.

Jesse Barfield (best arm from my youth) in his first 6 years averaged 23 assists per 162 9-inning games. In his last 6 years, he averaged 19 (drop of 3.5 assists). Converting assists and holds to runs, Baseball Reference is showing him averaging +6 runs in his first 6 years, and +11 runs in his last 6 years (increase of 4.3 runs). Reasonable to conclude that runners held more often, but only affected his assists slightly…

Thanks. Yes, Barfield’s arm may have been as impressive as any I ever saw, certainly on long throws. Clemente threw QUICK, and Clemente threw rifle shots. Barfield threw cannon balls. His throws seemed to hang in the air for impossibly long distances. Greatest arms I ever saw. . .Clemente, Whiten, Barfield, Bo Jackson, Vladimir, Jackie Bradley, Ollie Brown. . .who am I missing here? Jackie last year took a ball at home plate (Fenway) and threw it over the center field wall—400 and some feet away and 25-30 feet high. I doubt if any of the other guys on the list could have done that. Maybe Barfield.

... Imagine if a team of nine Mike Trouts played a best-of-seven series versus a team of nine Clayton Kershaws… Who do you think wins the series?

... Pitchers specialize in one area and hitters in the other, but pitchers still have to hit; they still take batting practice, they still take at bats. Clayton Kershaw has 425 major league plate appearances (and it actually a better-than-average hitting pitcher, for whatever that is worth.) Anyway, pitchers specialize but they still hit; batters do NOT practice pitching, and do not pitch 20 or 30 innings every year just because they have to. It would thus seem to me that the extent to which the outfielder would be out of his comfort zone trying to pitch would easily exceed the extent to which Kerfield was out of his comfort zone trying to hit, and thus extremely likely that the Kerfields would not only win, but would dominate.

What was the best second place team in history? A choice for me would be the 1961 Tigers, who won 101 games and would probably have won 8 pennants out of 10, but had the 1961 Yankees to deal with. Thanks.

A good candidate. My usual answer to this question has been the 1942 Dodgers. The ‘42 Dodgers went 104-50, but finished 2 games behind the Cardinals. You know, mathematically, one team in 8,000 should be strong at all 13 positions (8 regulars, 4 starters, relief pitchers). Since there are only about one-third that many teams in baseball history, then probably there should be no team that is above-average at every position—and, in fact, there isn’t, although I think one can argue for one of the Yankee teams of the 1990s. Anyway, there isn’t, but the 1942 Dodgers are very close to being strong at every position, with Hall of Famers at second (Billy Herman), third (Arky Vaughan), short (Pee Wee Reese) and in left field (Medwick). Their first baseman was Camilli—1941 MVP. In center field was Pete Reiser, an outstanding player for a couple of years; in right field was Dixie Walker, who had something close to Hall of Fame ability, athough his career was broken up at the start by a serious injury and fouled at the end by his infamous role in the Jackie Robinson story. Anyway, 7 really good starters; the 8th was catcher Mickey Owen, who was a good player. Starting pitchers Kirby Higbe, Whitlow Wyatt, Curt Davis and Johnny Allen—all of whom had good careers and were effective in 1942, relief ace Hugh Casey. It’s as close to a perfect team as there has ever been. Larry French was the starter/reliever swing man; he went 15-4 with a 1.83 ERA. . ..he also had an outstanding major league career.

HeyBill, I’d take that bet. Mike Trout earned his first All-State honor in New Jersey in 2008 for his exploits on the mound as a sophomore. He was 8-2 with a 1.77 ERA in 2008, striking out 124 and walking just 40 in 70 innings. He was clocked at 92 mph at age 15… I don’t see anywhere that Kershaw played the field at a younger level, and he has slashed .157 .199 .180 .378 as a pro. With a return to even just his pitching form at 15, I think Trout would dominate Team All Clay.

I don’t. Pitching against 15 year olds is not in any way comparable to pitching against major leaguers. Do you think the kids Trout pitched against could hit .157 in the majors? I’ll guarantee you they couldn’t.. I still think the Kershaws would win easily.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Bill James and Brian Kenny discuss the significance of the Hall of Fame

Bill n’ Bri talk about how childhood heroes linger, and just for fun, STEROIDS.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Bill James Mailbag - 1/4/15 - 1/6/15

But what does this have to do with… oh.

Bill, I saw an early return on a few (under 100) HOF ballots online, and Smoltz has over 75% needed to get in. Schilling has under 75%. Would it surprise you to see Smoltz get in ahead of Schilling?...

Well, I would certainly vote for Smoltz over Schilling. If you compare them as starting pitchers Schilling is ahead, but he wins by an NBA score. . . .98 to 93, or 102 to 97, something like that. If you put Smoltz’ three seasons of top-shelf relief pitching into the equation, I think he beats Schilling. In overtime.

What are the parameters in estimating improvement in MLB play over decades? For example, in sports that are measured quantitatively (track, swimming, weight-lifting, etc.) we know that runners have not improved their times in the 400 meter dash by 200% over the last few decades but that new records have been set, and we can eyeball what that improvement has been. Can we use a variety of comparative measures, not necessarily from these sports but including them, to estimate the ranges of improvement in MLB, or is it all just guesswork and BS and bias?

It’s not easy. The problem with the “parallel track” assumption is that the time line doesn’t match. The improvements that have taken place in track and field from 1960 to 2010 may have occurred in baseball from 1876 to 1920. (Certainly it is obvious that there was vast improvement in skills in baseball from 1876 to 1920. . .less obvious what the improvements have been since then.) Also, improvement in a complex set of skills is not parallel to improvement in a simple, direct skill such as runnin’ real fast or picking up something heavy. Baseball requires a mix of 100 or more highly refined skills. All of those improve at different speeds, and improvement in one waits on improvement in the others. One cannot learn to hit a 92 MPH breaking pitch until a significant number of people are around who can THROW a 92 MPH breaking pitch in the strike zone. We can work on the problem and gain some insight, but I’m not confident that we can measure improvement in baseball skills relative to other activities.

Bill, I dont remember if youve been asked this before? Do you support the pitch clock for pitchers? I think there should be a 30 second limit from when the pitcher receives the ball. And you?

I don’t know that a CLOCK is necessary. DIscipline is necessary. Stop calling timeout when there is no REASON to call time out. ALlow the umpire to call a “ball” when the pitcher dawdles. Skip the clock; it’s just discipline.

Hey Bill, It’s 1959 and you’re transported back to the Kansas City A’s owner’s office. You have one day to talk with him and the GM to try to impart as much as you can to them with the goal of trying to create a Kansas City A’s dynasty in the 1960s and beyond. Without naming names or saying stuff like “go trade for that young 1st baseman on the Giants”, that is, teaching them how to fish instead of giving them a fish, what are the things you would tell them to look at or to do? What are your priorities to get across to them to turn their club around?

The number one thing, certainly for THAT organization, is to get them to understand that player development is a process that takes time and requires patience. 1959 is a little bit too late to save that franchise. In 1959 they had no farm system to speak of. Connie Mack’s old farm system from Philadelphia, that moved to KC in ‘55, was way behind the time, and didn’t produce anything from 1955 to 1959. There is nothing you can do with nothing; you can’t trade your way to a pennant if you have nothing to start with, so the first thing you have to do is build a farm system. By 1959 that process was underway but slow. By 1963, with the hiring of Hank Peters, their development system started moving, and by 1967, when they left for Oakland, this was producing talent. So if you could move that process forward by 4 years, from 1963 to 1959, that would have helped, and if the organization had shown more patience with young players like Lou Klimchock, Nelson Mathews, Manny Jimenez, Bill Bryan, Fred Norman and others, that would have helped, and if you put those two things together, we could have moved the clock back to where the organization was rolling in 1964, rather than in 1968.

Hey Bill, did Brian Giles just become the best player ever to get zero Hall of Fame votes?

Frank Tanana. It was in the New York Times this morning. Same article mentioned my name. . ..thanks to whoever wrote that.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 12/20/14 - 12/23/14

Is it time for the airing of grievances yet?

Bill, Will Myers was just trades to the Padres? Can you think of someone traded TWICE while in the minors and/or their early career and went on to become a great player? The only one I can think of is Sammy Sosa.

The Big Papi. Joe Cronin. Edd Rousch, Paul Konerko, Curt Schilling. Bobby Abreu, maybe.

Gary Sheffield was traded twice by 25.

Right, but he had a big season before the second trade.

Hey Bill, if I’m not mistaken, you referred to Herman Long a long time ago as Herman (Why On Earth Aren’t You in the Hall of Fame) Long. If you still feel that way, could you briefly discuss why you think he belongs, and/or why you’re surprised he hasn’t been elected? If you no longer feel that way, what changed your mind?

I’m 65. I’m not responsible for anything I wrote before I was 40.

In the head-to-head HOF, it’s Pedro v Clemens, and Pedro is winning…

Well, I voted for Clemens. Pedro was pretty good. . ..

Hey Bill, if you had a Hall of Fame vote (by the way, what a joke it is that you don’t) and believed that more than 10 candidates were deserving, how would you proceed? Would you engage in “strategic” voting? (This could take the form of, e.g., not voting for “sure thing” Randy Johnson. Or it could take the form of voting for Johnson to get him in and “unclog” the ballot going forward, while not voting for e.g. Alan Trammell, who seems to have little chance.) Or, would you just vote your top 10?

I would just vote for the ten best players.

Hey Bill, I’m far from a basketball expert, but what struck me about the [Sacramento] Kings considering the 4-on-5 defense is that it would be introduced at the absolute highest level of play. Doesn’t it make more sense for a college team or even a high school team to try such a thing? Or have those teams tried it out, and I just haven’t noticed? It seems like most major strategic overhauls happen at a much lower level of competition, like the Loyola Marymount team that shot a three as quickly as possible, or the Division III football team that decided to go for it every fourth down and never punt. Isn’t that usually where these innovations come from?

I think not. I believe innovation in baseball usually begins at the major league level and flows down. Innovations that try to bubble up from the bottom—like aluminum bats—never make it to the top. Innovations that start at the top—like new fielding gloves or weighted donuts for the bat in the on-deck circle—move quickly downward.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vanguard after the Revolution | NBC SportsWorld

“Bullshit has tremendous advantages over knowledge. Bullshit can be created as needed, on demand, without limit. Anything that happens, you can make up an explanation for why it happened. 

“There was a Kansas football game a year ago; some Texas-based football team, much better than Kansas, came to Lawrence and struggled through the first quarter — KU with, like, a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. The rest of the game, KU lost, like, 37-0, or something. The announcer had an immediate explanation for it: The Texas team flew in the day before, they spent the night sleeping in a strange hotel; it takes them a while to get their feet on the ground.

“It’s pure bullshit, of course, but he was paid to say that … if it had happened the other way, and KU had lost the first quarter, 24-0, and then ‘won’ the rest of the game 17-14 (thus losing 38-17) … if that had happened, we both know that the announcer would have had an immediate explanation for why THAT had happened. … Bullshit is without limit.”

Edit: Bill James is an erudite Bullshit Man!

Jim Furtado Posted: October 28, 2014 at 05:56 PM | 52 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, sabermetrics

Monday, October 06, 2014

James: The Greatest Bench Players of All Time (membership req.)

Johnny Bench called.

this is my list of the ten best bench seasons ever; I’m actually happy with eight of the ten listed seasons.

First   Last     YEAR	G	AB	HR	RBI	Avg	OBA	SPct	OPS	
Oscar   Gamble	 1979	100	274	19	64	.358	.456	.609	1.065	
Mark    McGwire  2000	89	236	32	73	.305	.483	.746	1.229	
Gavy    Cravath	 1919	83	214	12	45	.341	.438	.640	1.078	
Elmer   Valo     1955	112	283	3	37	.364	.460	.484	 .944	
Ted     Williams 1953	37      91      13      34      .407    .509	.901    1.410	
Babe 	Phelps	 1936	115	319	5	57	.367	.421	.498	 .920	
Jerry   Mumphrey 1987	118	309	13	44	.333	.400	.534	 .934	
Jim     Thome 	 2010	108	276	25	59	.283	.412	.627	1.039	
Matt    Stairs	 2003	121	305	20	57	.292	.389	.561	 .950	
Cliff   Johnson	 1977	107	286	22	54	.297	.407	.584	 .991

The only seasons there that I would prefer not to have on the list are Mark McGwire in 2000 and Ted Williams in 1953… Otherwise. . .legitimate list; these were bench players, and tremendously productive ones, cleanup hitters…

According to my method, the greatest bench player of all time was Matt Stairs…  As I said about Oscar Gamble, I am completely happy with Stairs as the #1 guy.

The District Attorney Posted: October 06, 2014 at 11:46 AM | 56 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, sabermetrics

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

KC’s Baseball Writing Royalty

But Neyer didn’t just turn me on to baseball writing. He turned me onto the Kansas City Royals.

Now, I am not a Royals fan: I am a Cardinals fan, which is not quite the opposite of a Royals fan, but it’s close. But Neyer was a fan of the Royals, which was something else that was new. I hadn’t read many sportswriters who openly admitted they were cheering for a particular team; my college journalism professors had told me that was against the rules. (They were wrong, by the way.) But Neyer was passionate about his team—it was easier to be passionate back about the Royals then; it had only been a decade or so since they’d last made the playoffs—and because I was passionate about reading his work, I learned about them as well. And then I realized, that, jeez, there were a ton of baseball writers who were either Royals fans, or wrote for the Kansas City Star, which had one of the best sports sections in the country.

Neyer led me to James, of course (and he was a Royals fan too), but also Rany Jazayerli of Baseball Prospectus (which led me to Joe Sheehan and Nate Silver and Christina Kahrl and Clay Davenport, none of whom were Royals fans but all of whom were brilliant) and my former colleague here at Sports On Earth, Joe Posnanski. These were all wonderful writers, but they were also wonderful writers about the Royals.

And the best part was that these devoted Royals fans and/or observers is that they were all so smart in a way that the team was so dumb.

No love for Lee Judge?

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 01, 2014 at 11:45 PM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, joe posnanski, rany jazayerli, rob neyer, royals

 

 

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