Bill James Newsbeat
Monday, March 03, 2014
Don Coffin was originally intended to manage Kane the Undertaker.
Hey, Bill, would you agree with me that HOF voters have spent a lot of time debating Jack Morris’ candidacy to the Hall and because of that they have overlooked more qualified candidates? I am talking about Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Alan Trammell or Edgar Martinez. Look, I don’t believe that Morris belongs to the HOF, but who am I? Fact is, I have read every argument on behalf of Morris while I haven’t heard the bandwagon for more legitamate candidates. And when Jim Kaat or Tommy John were in the ballot, I didn’t felt the same passion in the arguments of their supporters…
The arguments about Morris are fueled by the other side, and we can’t do anything about it if they keep pouring gasoline on the fire. They have the right to do so. Traditionalists have come to see Jack Morris as “their” guy, who is being kept out of the Hall of Fame by us people over here. We’d like the discussion to move on, yes, but what are you going to do?
In 1956, every National League team had an outfielder of historic greatness on the team, ranging from among the best ever to the merely stellar. Let me lay it out: Giants - Mays, Dodgers - Snider, Braves - Aaron, Reds - Robinson, Pirates - Clemente, Cardinals - Musial, Phillies - Ashburn, Cubs - Monte Irvin. Was this a unique occurrence (the AL that year, for example, had only 3 outfielders who had top flight careers)? Is it something that has become more difficult to sustain as the number of teams have grown?
Are you saying that Bob Cerv is not a player of historic stature? Pretty interesting. I would think it was historically unique, but. . who knows?
Hey, bill. For something I’m working on, I noticed that the rate of hit batters per game (per team) in MLB is now about 0.35—one hit batter per team every three games, roughly. As recently as 1980, it was 0.14, or one every 7 games. The last time the rate of hit batters was this high was in 1910. (Data from Baseball Reference.) Is this something we should be more worried about than we apparently are? (I’ll admit it worries me.)
I hadn’t looked at it in a few years. It’s related to the increase in strikeouts. If you’re trying to hit homers—and EVERYBODY now is trying to hit homers—one of the things you do is crowd the plate to increase your pull zone. One of the things that could (and probably should) be done to reduce homers is to move the hitters off the plate an inch or two.
Hey, Bill- Am I right to recall that you once questioned whether athletes who are represented by agents should also be able to form a union? If not, I apologize for the misattribution. But if so, I was hoping you could elaborate some on that. I applaud the work unions have done to by and large improve the work conditions for athletes, notably the MLBPA under Marvin Miller. But is this form of dual representation still a good idea? It seems like they can work at cross-purposes, in that what individual agents seek for their players can be hampered by membership in a union that includes both, e.g., Mike Trout and 12-year journeymen—and vice versa. Anyhow, I don’t have any strong views on the issue, but just note that it seems like an odd arrangement, and one that is only prevalent in sports and entertainment (SAG vs. the William Morris Agency, e.g.). Thanks.
Yes, it is my opinion that dual representation by an agent and a union is. . ..an odd situation presenting some issues about what is appropriate. I don’t know that I want to elaborate on it. MAYBE it’s appropriate; I just have some questions about it.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Which pitching stats are most closely connected to value?... I took all pitchers in history who pitched 199.0 to 201.0 innings… The more often a category agrees with the bottom line, the more closely it is connected to Value.
What is Value? I decided to use Fangraphs WAR as “true value”.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Didn’t get to this right away, but hey, most of these guys pitched a while ago ;-)
Bill James recently did a 10-part series (behind his paywall) on “big game pitchers”. He came up (in Part II) with a system “to assign ‘Big Game Points’ to every major league regular-season game played since 1952”. Part III explains that 7.7% of regular season games end up getting designated as “Big Games”, in addition to all postseason games.
James then discusses:
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Not that interesting an interview; posting mostly just for posterity. Joe reels off a list of criticisms of sabermetrics, and Bill figures out ways not to disagree. Bill does not call Joe a “self-important prig” or a “little weenie.” He does touch on the shower customs of his youth, so I guess there’s that.
Friday, January 10, 2014
I’m amused to find that a guy named Bill White wrote about Huckleberry.
(Not the Rizzuto version, of course; the version idolized by Bill James…)
How about Bill White for the Hall? Very good player, great broadcaster, NL president and baseball disciplinarian.
Maybe we should poll the allegation that he was a great broadcaster; I’m not sure that’s a winner. Intuitively, when a player of that stature later goes on to serve as the League President, that’s probably somebody that the powers will select for Hall of Fame inclusion.
Hey Bill….As I understand the rules, the HOF electors can vote for no more than 10 candidates per year. Looking at this year’s HOF ballot it certainly looks like more than 10 could have been elected (for the sake of my question let’s presume PEDs never existed). Is there any inherent reason to place a 10 player limit per year, such as concerns that electing more than 10 might somehow dilute the honor, or is there some kind of mathemagic reason to limit it to no more than 10? Or is it that the Hall never expected to have such a strong ballot so that a 10 player limit seemed sufficient? Or is the 10 player limit the least of the HOF voting “problems?” Thanks.
Yes, it is the least of the Hall of Fame’s voting problems. I’m sure that the 10-man limit was put in place to discourage indiscriminate voting leading to lax standards, although indiscriminate voting BY THE BBWAA leading to lax standards has never been a real issue. (Indiscriminate voting leading to lax standards has been a problem, but by the Veteran’s Committee and the special committees, not the BBWAA.) Throughout almost all of the Hall’s history, there have not been 10 reasonable candidates on the BBWAA ballot. This year, because of the Expansion Time Bomb and the lack of consensus about the steroid users, there were (as you note) more than 10 people there who were worthy of selection.
Hey Bill: There is a rather breathless CNN expose that just hit on illiteracy among college athletes: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/01/us/college-scores/index.html Aside from the cautionary tale of Shoeless Joe, I don’t believe I have heard of any baseball greats who could not read or write, although I would suspect anyone nicknamed “Country.” Any thoughts on this? Would an illiterate player be drafted by a club today?
Many of the Dominican players and those from other parts of Latin American have extremely limited educational backgrounds, and it is more than a remote possibility that there could be a player included there somewhere who could not read or write. There was an American player about 20 years ago who was illiterate; he had a strong rookie year, but then faded. It is likely that Rube Waddell was illiterate. . .well, certainly in 1900, and as late as 1940, levels of literacy in America were not what they are now. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a good many illiterate players in that era. On the general issue. ..if a team thought a player could play, they would draft him and address this concern just as they would address any other. If you find a player who has ability but no teeth, you draft him and get him to a dentist. If you find a player who has ability but a terrible swing, you draft him and try to fix his swing. Same thing here. There are no perfect players to draft; the last perfect player to draft was Tom Seaver. Otherwise, everybody has issues. You draft them and deal with the issues.
Late to the party regarding the CEOs-Athletes-Actors salary debate: I don’t think we’re approaching that sea change (society actively trying to limit income among these groups) for a while, if not ever. These people are paid insane amounts because of the insane amounts of wealth/revenue they generate for their employers due to their own unique talents.
Well, you can believe that if you want to, but there are other ways to look at it. There are other people who have unique and valuable talents who aren’t compensated at a comparable level. If all of the players playing major league baseball suddenly retired and a new generation appeared, each player making no more than $100,000 a year, the game would go on just as before. If movie stars were not paid $20 million a movie, there would still be movies. If CEOs were not paid very large salaries, there would still be company presidents and, I suspect, equally competent or more competent business management.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Per G.G., CHIEF OF ORDNANCE
Hey Bill, any writers you’d like to share who helped shape your voice as a writer? Maybe not everybody does, but I think of you as a writer first.
Jim Murray, LA Times sportswriter of the 1950s/1960s, who was syndicated nationally. Ed McBain, mystery writer. Michel de Montaigne, essayist of the French renaissance. Al Silverman and Arnold Hano, 1950s/1960s sportswriters. There were certain books that I read and re-read often during my childhood; I suspect this is common, or was before television. Douglas Wallop’s “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.” Huckleberry Finn.
The first World Series I was even vaguely aware of at the time was 57. In reading John Klima’s book “Bushville Wins,” I became aware of an unusual play in the 1st inning of game seven. Bauer led off with a double. Slaughter then hit a comebacker to the mound. Burdette had Bauer trapped off second, but he escaped the rundown and made it safely back to second. Unfortunately, for the Yankees, Slaughter was also at second, so the Braves got an out anyway. The author said Slaughter was guilty of bad base running. That does not seem right to me. Isn’t he supposed to go 2nd ? Why should he assume that Bauer would beat the rundown? He was not exactly Henderson on the base paths.
Well. .not seeing video, we can’t be sure. But your interpretation is correct in 90% of cases similar to this. The lead runner tries to stay in a rundown until the trailing runner can advance as far as he can, and this very commonly leads to a situation in which there are two runners at a base. It happens most often at THIRD base, not second, but. ..the baserunning error was probably Bauer’s.
Joe Posnanski just had a nice little piece about Johnny Mize: http://joeposnanski.com/joeblogs/no-80-johnny-mize/. I had known about the war years he missed (3 prime ones), but not that he probably could have come up a year or two earlier as well. So that’s 4-5 years missing. I’m also wondering if, given his power and OBP, that he would have been a full-time DH had he been playing today, instead of the part-time work he saw as a Yankee in the early 1950s. It’s a total of three “what-ifs” for him…if they all came together, he’s probably in the 3000-hit/500-HR club, don’t you think?
Yes. Nobody believes it, but I rate Mize NOW, based on what he actually did, as being better than Greenberg. He was a formidable hitter, but some of this gets lost because of the unusual characteristic of the time, which was that run scoring levels were much higher in the American League than in the National League. The American League runs per game were about a full run higher in Mize’s prime seasons than in the National—I believe the largest disparity in run scoring levels between the leagues that we have ever had. People think that a lot of runs were scored in that era (late 1930s), but actually the National League had ERAs in that era lower than in the 1950s.
Hey Bill, Why was there such a big difference between run scoring in the NL and the AL during Johnny Mize’s prime?
Don’t know. I always assumed it was parks, but, since there were at least two parks in use in both leagues, it should be easy to check and see if that was what it was.
Friday, November 22, 2013
He does, however, have a very interesting theory about why Kennedy actually died. More to the point, Bonar Menninger and Howard Donahue have the theory, which is laid out in Menninger’s book Mortal Error. James enthusiastically endorses the theory in his own book Popular Crime. (Popular Crime, James’ obsessive study of pretty much every notorious American criminal case of the last three hundred or so years, is highly recommended.) …
It’s a detailed argument, obviously, but it boils down to this: Kennedy’s fatal wound seems to have come from a bullet fired on the same plane as his head (rather than above). Secret Service agent George Hickey, in the car trailing the president, picked up an AR-15 rifle immediately after hearing Oswald’s rifle shots. (See the picture below.) Another Secret Service agent in fact said in a statement that, on that day, he’d thought Hickey had fired his weapon. And several witnesses near Hickey’s car reported smelling gunpowder immediately after the shots. Donahue therefore believes, as Bonar Menninger writes in Mortal Error, that Hickey fired the kill shot by accident.
Eh, I agree with Howard Stern: Kennedy’s head exploded from sexual tension, not a gunshot.
This is the conclusion of a four-article series behind the payroll. To summarize:
• James explains that his guidelines for Hall of Fame induction are either 300 Win Shares, or 100 more Win Shares than Loss Shares. He comments on the coincidences, or “maybe we should describe them as harmonies”, that great players’ career totals are similar to those of a team, and that the standard deviation of seasons within players’ careers is similar to the standard deviation of players on a great team; thus, those are also the definitions of a championship-quality team.
• He “heartily and unreservedly applaud[s] the effort” to address “The Expansion Time Bomb” where “players are being left out who not only meet but substantially exceed the historical standards for Hall of Fame selection.” He likes the two-step process where one group nominates and another group decides (he had suggested such a system in The Politics of Glory).
• “My ballot: 1. Joe Torre (yes), 2. Bobby Cox (yes), 3. George Steinbrenner (yes), 4. Tony La Russa (yes), 5. Dan Quisenberry (yes), 6. Dave Parker (maybe), 7. Ted Simmons (maybe not), 8. Billy Martin (maybe not right now), 9. Steve Garvey (probably not), 10. Tommy John (I’m afraid not), 11. Dave Concepcion (no). Marvin Miller. ..certainly not right now; we can talk about it in a few years.”
Surprisingly, James has Garvey and Parker as basically qualified statistically; Garvey’s won-loss record is 291-199, Parker’s is 300-201. “guys like me have talked too much about their personal failings, that it is really none of our business and we really don’t know that much about it, and we should just shut up about it… I am not talking about their personal failings. But when I am making recommendations for the Red Sox, I don’t recommend that they sign players like Steve Garvey and Dave Parker; I recommend that they avoid signing players like Steve Garvey and Dave Parker. Garvey and Parker, once they got past their MVP seasons, were pretty good ballplayers who had the reputation of being superstars. It is my opinion, and I suspect that 99% of General Managers would agree with me, that when you are putting together a championship team, absolutely the last thing you want is a pretty good ballplayer who has the reputation of being a superstar.”
James ranks Parker higher than other sabermetricians because he sees defense as being a smaller part of the game. “John Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved claims that the Kansas City Royals’ fielders in 2013 were 195 runs better than the Philadelphia Phillies fielders… The 2013 standard deviation of runs saved, on a team level, is 51.34, according to John’s data. The standard deviation of runs allowed by teams (2013) is 69.96. If John’s estimates are correct, then, 54% of the difference between teams in terms of runs scored is accounted for by fielding, which means that no more than 46% can be accounted for by pitching… Fangraphs’ numbers aren’t appreciably smaller… With my number [for the overall percentage to be assigned to fielding] —12%—there is no room for good fielders saving 25 runs a year… I don’t believe that there is any compelling logic or any completely convincing research in this area. It is, then, not an issue of what we know to be true, but of what we believe to be true. So I will ask you then, what you believe: do you believe that Dave Parker was such a dreadful defensive player that his defense offsets 70% of his work with the bat, or do you believe that he was a good fielder as a young player, a very poor fielder over the second half of his career, but on balance it’s not really much of a factor? I’m not telling you what you should believe, but. . .my answer works a lot better for me.”
Re: Simmons: “my thinking about Hall of Fame standards is better organized now than it was ten years ago, or five years ago, and I am no longer certain that Simmons meets a Hall of Fame standard… The critical issue is whether catchers have to be treated differently, in Hall of Fame evaluation of their won-lost impact, than other position players… one doesn’t need to make special rules for Bill Dickey or Gabby Hartnett or Yogi Berra or Johnny Bench or Ivan Rodriguez to make him a Hall of Famer… Ted Simmons was a significantly better player than Ernie Lombardi, but I wouldn’t have voted for Ernie Lombardi.”
Re: Miller: “Miller, in his last years, stated quite clearly and many times that he did not wish to be in the Hall of Fame… To disregard that clearly expressed sentiment, within months of his passing, would be extremely disrespectful, and it absolutely should not be done.”
Friday, November 08, 2013
Steve Garvey is dumber than ten worst selections to the Hall of Fame in the last 30 years.
Hey Bill, Did your folks have the opportunity to see baseball when they were young- either major league or the minors- and what teams or players might they have shared memories of with you?
No.. .well, I never knew my mother, who died in 1954, and my father was not a baseball fan. He grew up on a farm in Kansas, hundreds of miles from the nearest baseball team. He was interested in baseball in a very general way, but not what one might call a fan.
...can you think of a staff with as many power arms as [the current] Cardinals team?...
... I think your summary is pretty accurate; not sure we ever saw that many cannons in one place at one time.
What is going on with the Hall of Fame? I saw they are having a vote for players whose contributions came after 1973. The nominees are Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry and Ted Simmons… I don’t see any of those guys as clear cut Hall of Famers, much less worthy of a special ballot… Have I lost my mind, or is this just going to dilute the Hall to a level far beyond its already sad state?
All of those players are far better qualified for the Hall of Fame than, let us say, Chick Hafey, Travis Jackson, Jesse Haines or Ross Youngs. The standards for the Hall of Fame have not been going down; they have been going up, and they have been going up at an unrealistic pace, so that the players of the last 40 years are being held to a dramatically higher standard than those of previous generations. I don’t think it is a bad idea to try to address that.
...what [do] you think of “Mind of Bill James and other (?) attempts at capturing your biography?
I don’t read anything written about me.
...this new HOF ballot is abysmal in its representation. First, Dwight Evans easily outclasses Dave Parker (matches him on peak, and destroys him on career). But then you have other outfielders from Parker’s era that has as good or better case than he does…
I haven’t followed it real close, but your judgment seems a little harsh. I agree that Evans was a better player than Parker, but let me make the counter-argument, the pro-HOF argument:
1) There is a problem, in that the “pileup” of qualified candidates is diffusing the vote, and contributing to a situation in which no one is getting elected.
2) It is necessary to address the problem with some special approach, since it isn’t going to fix itself.
3) The 12 “special” nominees may not be the 12 that you would select or I would select, but I don’t see anyone among the 12 who is not a reasonable Hall of Fame candidate. Put it this way: The worst candidate from that group of 12 would not be among the 10 worst selections to the Hall of Fame in the last 30 years.
4) IF they select from that group, let us say, Ted Simmons and Joe Torre, then I would applaud heartily; Simmons and Torre are well-qualified Hall of Famers, as are Bobby Cox, George Steinbrenner and Tony LaRussa. If they select the less-qualified candidates on the list I wouldn’t be as pleased, but. . ..electing ANY of these guys, to my way of thinking, is better than electing more Joe Gordons and Hank O’Days and Effa Manleys and Vic Willises and Phil Rizzutos.
Hi Bill. I may have misinterpreted your previous answer but it seems like you don’t think Joe Gordon was a very good Hall of Fame selection by the Veterans Committee. I’m a little surprised by this…
I think Gordon is similar to [Bobby] Grich. The players of the 1930s are pretty well picked over. We don’t need more of them in the Hall of Fame. Gordon’s career is relatively short. . .even if he had played in ‘44 and ‘45 it would be less than 1900 games. His career average was .268. It was not a TERRIBLE Hall of Fame selection, but then, neither would Steve Garvey or Dave Parker be a terrible Hall of Fame selection.
Sunday, November 03, 2013
Bill, are there any teams that don’t make use of the newaadvanced metrics. Ifn not, which teams were the last holdout?
I think the Royals are the last holdout.
I am wondering if you are aware of a review written by Dorothy Rabinowitz in today’s Wall Street Journal of a TV docudrama called “JFK: The Smoking Gun”. The film is somewhat based on the book “Mortal Error”, which you describe in “Popular Crime” as one of the two best books on the assassination. Check out what Rabinowitz has to say: “That’s not to say that the theory (that Kennedy was accidentally shot by a Secret Service agent in addition to being shot deliberately by Oswald) hasn’t convinced some people, including Malcolm Gladwell . . . (who) had reported in a 2012 online exchange how he came to see the convincing wisdom of the Secret Service agent explanation by reading Lebron James, baskerball star. Mr. James had praised the theory in his own book.” This is a pretty embarrassing error, don’t you think? I wonder if the Wall Street Journal employs copy editors.
It’s more funny than embarrassing. I’ve worked with the Wall Street Journal, and I’ll tell you that their standards of double-checking/fact checking are the highest in the industry. But that’s a good one.
Congratulations, Bill. Don’t have a question, but thought your readers might enjoy an updating of your “Dynasties” accounting system. When that article was written in July of 2012, the current Cardinals had accumulated 15 points, and were tied for the designation of 21st Greatest Team of All Time. Since then they’ve picked up 4 more points, and are now tied for 14th with the 1900-12 Pirates and 1927-32 Athletics, vaulting past such celebrated teams as the 1976-86 Yankees and the 1926-35 Cardinals. Perhaps that’s cold comfort for St. Louis fans, but their club is advancing into very elite territory. The Red Sox’s improvement is less dramatic: They had 13 points after the 2009 season, and now have 14. This moves them up from a tie for 24th place with 5 other teams, to 24th place all by themselves. That’s right, 1885-89 St. Louis Browns; you’re now in Boston’s rearview mirror.
Thanks for doing that. I thought I was going to have to do it myself. .. .
In what area will the biggest jump be made in sabermetrics in the next few years? As a casual observer, it looks like defensive shifting and pitch framing by catchers analysis will take a big jump forward soon.
1) I don’t have any idea what to make of the pitch framing stuff.
2) The breakthroughs in shifting have already occurred, although that is not to say they are finished. But the next movement there, one would think, would be the comeback of the bunt, which should—one would think—be able to defeat the shifts for ordinary hitters (not David Ortiz), and thus drive the shifts into remission. I would guess.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Anyway, moving away from paranoid nut case theories, there’s this special coming up on Reelz…
Bill, what do you think it would take to get the Players Association to give up the dh jobs?
Asked by: manhattanhi
Is this a new paranoid nut case theory. . .the players asssociation has something to do with the DH rule? Hadn’t heard that one.
In the “Hot Hand” article there was spirited discussion about the impact of changes in skill versus randomness in streaks… Do you still feel that the skill level (not outcomes) of Papi and [Stephen] Drew are basically the same as they were in, say, August? Doesn’t your eye tell you that, for the time being, they are very different hitters than they were?
Your eye tells you that the world is flat. Intellectual self-discipline is the ability to understand that what you can see is not always an accurate image of the world.
Hey, Bill, in WS Game 4, the Red Sox used 3 starters (Buchholz, Doubront, Lackey)... My question is whether there is evidence that using such a strategy actually works in the short run.
Well, we won the game. Exactly what kind of evidence are you looking for?
Hey Bill, regarding last night’s pick off and the decision to hold the runner on, is St. Louis in a better position with their man on second or third vs. first (with two outs and two runs back in the ninth?)
There wasn’t any decision to hold the runner on. There was a decision to try to pick him off. I don’t understand why people are confused about that issue.
On talk radio and places like that it’s a total article of faith, just constantly asserted to be true, that the Players’ Association would never tolerate getting rid of the DH because it eliminates 15 high-salary slots. My view is close to yours: it never made any sense—the roster size is the same, the revenue and salary structure are the same, plus most DHs are not Ben Oglivie-level stars anyway. But you hear it said all the time. It’s not a pet idea invented by manhattanhi, is what I’m saying. Having said all of that, how do you know for certain that it’s never been part of the negotiations?
Because for it to be part of the negotiations, there would have to be one party to the negotiation that wanted to get rid of the rule. There has never been a party to the negotiations that wanted to get rid of the rule.
You can’t form a CONSENSUS in secret. The negotiating position of the owners is a consensus of the owners. There is no way they could reach a consensus that they wanted to get rid of the rule without the public becoming aware of that.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
This deal keeps getting worse all the time!
Hey Bill, as the pennant races heat up, we hear broadcasters making a lot of references to how many games back a team is “in the loss column.” It’s rarely explained why the loss column is considered more significant than the wins column… Do you agree with this traditional notion that the loss column is crucial, and if so why? Thanks!
... It relates to the general problem of people preferring options that give them the illusion of control over the action. Managers generally overuse all “strategies” such as bunting and the intentional walk and bringing in a left-hander to face a left-hander, because doing these things gives them a measure of control over the action, and people always prefer to have control over the action. If you’re 88-61 you have more control over your own fate than if you are 89-62.
Researchers in all fields know that the option of “doing nothing” is under-used and under-valued. Decision makers don’t like to do nothing, and won’t choose “doing nothing” as their choice, even when doing nothing is the best percentage option available. Same psychological issue. .. .
I live in Birmingham, Alabama, where in 1910 the owner of the Birmingham Barons built a new ballpark. He modeled Rickwood Field on Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field and designed it to be expandable because he thought booming Birmingham would soon move up to the majors. We, and Rickwood, are still waiting… Would expansion—a big expansion—in the long run be healthy for MLB? Could we double the size of the majors?...
The “smallness” of major league baseball, the fact that there are a limited number of teams and a limited number of players so that the fans can know who all of the players are or certainly who all of the stars are. ..this smallness is central to the appeal of the game, central to the meaning of the “major league” designation.
There are dangers on both sides; it is also dangerous for baseball to ignore strong markets. It is dangerous to expand into boom towns, because booms end and very often the city that goes from 100th to 26th on your list will be back at 45th three decades later.
I think we’re near a point at which we’re going to need to expand again. It’s been about 20 years, and I think the greater danger now is getting behind the population distribution. I also think that baseball would be stronger if the top minor league cities were “free” teams, able to compete vigorously at the limit of their capacity, rather than being operated by the major leagues for the benefit of the major leagues. But I think it is easier to see Birmingham in the second category than as an expansion site.
Bill, has there ever been a game in MLB history in which a team forfeited because they used up all their pitchers and had no one left to pitch?
I don’t believe so, no… if a manager did that, he certainly would be suspended from baseball for months, and quite probably would be banned from ever managing again. Earl Weaver pulled his team off the field after a dispute with umpires once, forfeiting the game, but after that happened he reportedly was told (and I believe that he was told) that if he did that again, he would be banned from baseball for life. Baseball does not and cannot tolerate managers making any decision that reflects a willingness to lose. If your only option is to pitch the guy who was scheduled to pitch tomorrow, you have to pitch the guy who was scheduled to pitch tomorrow. If your best option is to pitch an outfielder, you pitch an outfielder—but you can’t walk off the field. Period…
Maybe I didn’t explain that right. A forfeiture is a breach of faith with the fans, a breach of the contract the fan enters into when he buys a ticket. When the fan buys a ticket, he expects to see a game, and he has a legal right to expect to see a game. If a team forfeits, they’re backing out of the deal. So a forfeiture is an absolute last resort, which baseball uses only under the most extreme conditions.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
And sometimes you draft a guy who strikes out 37 times in 39 at-bats.
Bill, Is there any good reason for umpires to have a rotation? Doesn’t it seem more likely that having the best ball-strike umpires always do the plate and the best base umpires at 1st, etc., would lead to more calls being made correctly?
... It was done that way long before the umpires were unionized. The problems inherent in the other alternative would seem to me to be almost limitless. Umpires rotate not merely from position to position but also from crew to crew, the crews re-forming constantly during the season with the goal of getting uniformity—and anonymity—in the umpiring. Since umpires change crews all the time, the guy who was the third-best ball-and-strike umpire on one crew would be the best ball-and-strike umpire on another crew, and the guy who was the best first-base umpire on one crew would be the fourth-best first-base umpire on another. You’d have to maintain a monster chart to figure out who should be positioned where.
The bigger issue, though, is skills development… If each umpire was “locked” at a position, what happens when an umpire retires, or is sick and injured and misses a game? Then you have to promote somebody who hasn’t been umpiring the plate to become a home plate umpire. This seems to me, frankly, about a thousand times worse than the current system.
I’m curious as to your views on what factors we should or shouldn’t adjust for when calculating a time line adjustment to rate old-time players against modern players…
My perception, before I worked for the Red Sox, was that process of trying to improve teams was offset by natural aging/breakage, keeping the game essentially on a treadmill. My perception NOW is that teams work so hard to improve constantly that they DO improve constantly—all of them. There have been a thousand little innovations in the game in the last ten years, innovations that spread rapidly from one team to another, so that a team that doesn’t work hard to keep up would get very rapidly left behind.
These innovations occur so rapidly and yet so gradually that they’re virtually impossible to document. We just do a lot of things differently—and better—now as opposed to 2003. Everybody does. Some of those things could be grafted onto Home Run Baker; others couldn’t.
I guess what I am saying is that accurate generalization requires clarity, and I just don’t have enough clarity on this issue to generalize about it in a way that would be useful.
Would Denver still have been chosen for an MLB expansion team if the effects of altitude were known (or at least more widely understood) 25 years ago?
... It takes 40 years to build a (reasonably) mature fan base, and there are dry patches in those 40 years when it looks like nothing is growing.
We haven’t expanded now in a long time, and baseball is getting kind of behind the curve with the population. San Antonio is now the 7th largest city in the country or something like that, and. . .no baseball. It’s a problem.
Let us say that baseball were to expand into San Antonio. First of all, you’d have to make some sort of local deal to get a stadium built, and then you’d have two bursts of interest/attendance: 1) When the team started to play, and 2) When the new stadium opened two to five years later. When those bursts of interest/attendance passed, then you’d have some dry years when the attendance was poor and interest lagged, because the San Antonio team—despite the population of the area—just would not have what the old, established teams have. People in Boston grew up going to opening day games with their grandpa. People in Kansas City now grew up going to Royals games with their grandpa. It takes a long time to establish that.
The Rockies now are kind of half-way through that process, and they’re in a little bit of a dry spell—but in the big picture, the organization has done well and the organization has been successful.
... Could you give some examples of ways teams have improved in the last ten years?
Ten years ago teams had a training staff of one or two people. Now we have staffs of people. . .trainers who speak Japanese and double as interpretors. The trainers are half doctors now, some of them. They’re veteran people who know the athlete’s body better than a doctor does.
We’re much more aggressive in using the options process to keep 25 players on the major league roster who are ready to play. Ten years ago if you had a reliever who had a tired arm, you’d wait it out. Now you DL him, call up somebody else and let the other guys’ arm come back.
All of the information that is produced by our field is mined by the operations guys and put to practical use pretty much immediately. Ten years ago we knew SOMETHING about where each hitter was likely to hit the ball. We know a lot more now.
Ten years ago we’d have a scouting report that said “Will use the change to RHB on occasion.” Now we know how many changeups and sliders and cutters and curves the pitcher throws to right-handers and left-handers.
Ten years ago we hardly scouted the Far East. Now we’ve got scouts everywhere checking out rumors of a baseball player. The Dodgers got Ryu out of some league that hardly existed ten years ago.
Ten years ago the Dominican Development Leagues were just getting started.
Do teams do continuous review of their scouting?
... I don’t know that we have systematic, organized review. I do remember Theo trying to organize a systematic, organized review of our scouting a couple of times, but I don’t know that anything ever came of it.
In a less organized fashion, we do a lot of that. During draft meetings we’ll start talking about old drafts, past drafts… We talk through those issues at great length (and with great frequency) after the fact, so that the mistakes we’ve made in the past become a part of our organizational DNA.
One thing you kind of missed on. . .when a draft goes wrong, you generally KNOW why it went wrong. Sometimes we read a guy as a great kid, and he turns out to be not such a great kid. A kid stalls out at High A; the scouts will know why he stalled out at a level that somebody else would miss. . .his swing path was too rigid, locked him out of certain zones and made him vulnerable, whatever. Sometimes you write a guy off because you don’t like his work habits, and he turns out to be one of those guys who is just a natural.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Didn’t James say he regrets the name, but we’re stuck with it now? If so, I think he’s right on both counts…
Bill—I ran a genuine tracer on a short story (about Joe DiMaggio) that appears in the current Penguin Classic books blog—just thought you’d like to know. Link is here: http://www.penguinusablog.com/john-oharas-bread-alone-from-a-sabremetric-perspective-by-steven-goldleaf/ It’s about one of the few stories in literature that is mostly set at Yankee Stadium from a black baseball fan’s perspective during the Depression, and I worked your word “sabremetrics” into the title of the blog piece.
We hear a lot about discrimination faced by black players in the aftermath of the color barrier, both from teammates and fans. While there was never any barrier against them, did other ethnic minorities face similar distaste from their teammates. Did Jewish Americans, Polish Americans, Italian Americans, etc face any problems in the clubhouse?
Jewish players certainly did. Polish and Italian players were subject to less invidious forms of discrimination, of which they were expected to be tolerant… LIFE Magazine wrote a famous article about DiMaggio early in his career which is replete with insulting cultural stereotypes, talking about DiMaggio greasing his hair, etc. But the discrimination that was directed at other groups, while we might look back on it and cringe, was not on a par with the level of discrimination directed at black athletes or at blacks in general.
Bill Todd Helton just got his 2500th hit. Is he a HOF to you?...
I think Helton is a Hall of Famer, yes. His numbers are so good that it’s disorienting. My son Reuben asked me this same question, and I told him a story I remember reading about Dick Stuart when I was maybe 14 years old. Stuart hit 66 home runs for Lincoln in the Western Association in 1956, didn’t make the majors for a couple of years after that. Stuart said that when some young player in the Pirate system would hit 35 homers and drive in 100 runs, the club would get all excited about him, but that when he hit 66 homers and drove in 158 runs, the numbers were so fantastic that they didn’t know what to do with them, so they just wrote them off.
That’s Helton; his numbers at his best are so fantastic that people don’t know what to do with them, so they just ignore them. But my interpretation of his numbers is that he is above the line.
Who would you rather have, Puig or Bryce Harper?
Not sure. To me, Puig is in a line marked by Vladimir Guerrero on the one end and Jeff Francoeur on the other. He’s certainly out-played Harper this year.
Is it cherrypicking to point out Ike Davis’s untapped potential in his excellent 2010 defense, and his excellent 2011 power and his excellent 2013 OBP, or do you think he’s just been able to be good at various parts of his game but putting them all together is just fantasy?... When he’s a free agent this off-season, are you clamoring to sign him at 3 Million?
It is cherry picking, yes. If you put together his lack of power one year, his strikeouts the next, his lack of speed in all seasons and a .218 batting average in his last 800-plus at bats. ... $3 million seems like a lot.
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