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Monday, April 07, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 4/4/14 - 4/7/14

But Eckstein was a clubhouse lawyer...

The issue with the fielding is mostly tied to the spread that the system will estimate. For example, the 114 fielders in 2013 with at least 1000 innings, and including the “positional adjustment”, Fangraphs has those players with one standard deviation = 10.7 runs. I presume that Win Shares is going to be less, probably half of that. So, if Fangraphs has [Manny] Machado at +34 runs, [Andrelton] Simmons at +32 and [Carlos] Gomez at +27 (and [Carlos] Beltran at -21!), this will drive the WAR result for many such players. Win Shares, by giving a fielding estimate a smaller standard deviation allows the offense portion to drive most of the results.

Right. And, to try to move the ball on this just an inch. .. .these discrepancies are caused by two issues. One issue is whether fielding events should be treated as proportional events or marginal events. A single only creates something like 0.29 runs; however, if one adds 100 ADDITIONAL singles to a team, marginal singles, then you’ll add something more than 60 additional runs. The marginal value of an offensive event is more than twice as great as the value of such an event integrated into the whole package. And second, there is an issue as to what is skill and what is luck. It is my view, based on what I know, that the differences between what is attributed to two fielders might equally plausibly be attributed to luck. In the same way that a hitter might hit .370 on balls in play one year and .230 the next, just based on luck; in the same way that a pitcher might give up 220 hits one year and 170 the next, just based on luck, it is reasonable to think that a fielder catching 70% of the catchable but non-routine plays, rather than 40%, might simply be luck. We don’t know. Unless or until we know, I’m using the conservative assumptions.

...I meet Rick Eckstein, when my Dad, took us to watch my nephew play while at UK. Rick was with Georgia. While talking to him I said, “If Boston had kept your brother, David in 2002 and let him play second, they would have won the WS and not the Angels.”... You got there in 2003, did anyone talk about that?

... yes, we would talk quite a bit about Eckstein, because he’s the perfect player to illustrate the need to focus on what players actually can do, rather than on how they look in the uniform. The Red Sox signed Eckstein in 1997; he hit .301 that year, hit .306 and scored 99 runs in 1998, 87-51 walks to strikeouts, hit .313 and scored 101 runs in 1999, 89 -48 walks to strikeouts, and then played decent at Pawtucket his first year at AAA, 2000—and we put him on waivers because he wasn’t athletic enough. It was ridiculous.

Hey Bill, are there pieces of baseball writing that you like to re-read (ostensibly for pleasure) every once in awhile? For me, Roger Angell’s “The Go Shouters” about the ‘62 Mets and their fans is particularly delightful, and of course the one about box scores (I think it’s simply called “Box Scores.” Thanks.

Thanks. But No; I don’t re-read anything. Even my own stuff. The only stuff I ever enjoyed re-reading was the stuff I would re-read to my kids.

...What did the Sox see after 2012 that convinced them that it was OK to let [Jonathan Papelbon] go that the Phils’ didn’t see and wasted $59 million?...

Well, actually, we didn’t let him go after 2012; we let him go after 2011, and it should be pointed out that he had a very good year in 2012 when, as I recall, we didn’t have such a good year and the guys we brought into replace him weren’t really too good. He actually left us. .. .I don’t know if you remember, but after the 2011 season we had a chaotic interval in which our manager and general manager both left, and some other people. Very early in that period, before we could get our feet back on the ground, Philadelphia made Papelbon a generous offer and he accepted it. I’m 99% sure we wouldn’t have matched the offer anyway, but I guess we’ll never know.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 4/3/14

This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt… Magnante, or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent.

Hey Bill: I just noticed that Baseball Reference now has Mike Trout and Carlos Gomez tied for 2013 WAR leaders at 8.9 each. You show Trout as being nearly twice as valuable as Gomez (40 WS to 21.2). One expects different systems to arrive at somewhat different valuations, but a disagreement of this size strikes me as a bit bizarre. Any thoughts?

Well. ..what do you think? Do you really believe Carlos Gomez is the equal of Mike Trout? I don’t feel that I have a deep need to defend my position, and I don’t see any point in attacking there’s.

Now that baseball has finally crossed the Rubicon and begun embracing replay technology, can automating ball-and-strike calls be far behind?...

... what I have advocated for 20 years: an audible beep that only the home plate umpire hears, telling him whether the ball was or was not in the zone. He can ignore the beep if he chooses to do so; there might be cases where the technology doesn’t work, and a ball bouncing off the catcher’s shinguards will beep to signal a strike. Anything can happen. But in practice, umpires are going to learn to just go along with the beep 99.99% of the time. The game LOOKS the same; it’s the same from the seats. The only difference is, the calls are right.

Bill, from a run production stand point, would you rather have a team full of Ben Revers or a team full of Adam Dunns?

... Revere’s on base percentage the last three years is higher than Dunn’s, so it is power against baserunning. I’m not sure who would win. An odd and relevant fact is that Dunn processes as a better baserunner last year than Revere does. Revere was 11-for-22 going first to third on singles; Dunn was 3-for-27, so Revere is several bases ahead there. Revere was 5-for-8 scoring from second on a single; Dunn was 7-for-17, so Revere is further ahead. Revere was 2-for-5 scoring from first on a double; Dunn was 1-for-7, so another base or two for Revere there. But Dunn did not run into an out on the bases, all year; Revere did it five times. Running into an out is FAR more costly than the benefit of one base, so the balance of these events actually favors Dunn.

You mentioned George Allen recently. To me, he was the original moneyball man. He traded unproven commodities (draft picks) for unproven commodities (players) and won EVERY single year. Do you hav thoughts on him?

At the end of his career he was trading away the future for the present. I don’t think that was smart; I think that was selfish. I think he was a great coach up to a point, but. . .like Andy Reid in Philadelphia. . .when the coach becomes the GM, has the dual responsibility of coaching and selecting players, most often this does not work. I think Allen was a terrific coach, but I don’t think the wholesale trading of future draft picks should be allowed, and I don’t think it reflects well on anyone who does it.

Hey Bill, Baseball Reference 2013 WAR data show Mike Trout as being twice as valuable as Carlos Gomez offensively, but suggest that Gomez was five and a half wins better than Trout defensively, and that Trout’s defense actually cost the Angels a win last year. I am skeptical of that assessment, but that is where the discrepancy lies.

I was assuming that everybody knew that. What I was asking—and am asking—is, do you believe it? I don’t believe it; I think it is silly, so I’m not going to worry about arguing it through, because I don’t think anyone really believes that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 3/25/14 - 3/26/14

C’mon now, cancelling the World Series is joyous compared to Arli$$.

Hey Bill, In what context do “one run” offensive strategies (in particular the sacrifice bunt, but also stolen bases) make sense in the early innings of a game? Said another way, how scarce do runs need to be in order to make the sacrifice bunt a favorable strategy in the early innings of a game?

I’m not sure I have a solid understanding of the issue. Billy Southworth bunted constantly in the early innings, believing that the most important thing was to grab the lead. Southworth’s teams were tremendously successful. It could be that if you have a GREAT team, one way to maximize that is to bunt in the early innings. I DOUBT that, but I don’t KNOW that it is untrue. And, as I have pointed out before. . .if the third baseman can’t field a bunt, why not bunt?

Re Southworth’s strategy: I’ve always heard that teams scoring the FIRST run in a game tend to win that game by some ludicrous %, but then I realized that every shutout of course is won by the team scoring the first run, probably equivalent (or close) to the % of wins claimed by the bunting/stealing crowd. Do you see this as blowing a significant hole in the small-ball argument? McCarver used to invoke it like it was heaven-sent wisdom, but I always found it spectacularly dumb.

Well. . .spectacularly dumb is harsh. It’s misleading. If you were to look, for example, at teams that score a run in the bottom of the fourth inning, you would find that those teams win about 70% of their games, just because a) EVERY run you score is highly significant in a contest in which it only takes a few runs to win a game, and b) when you score one run in the bottom of the 4th, very often you will score 2 or more, whereas when you score NO runs in the bottom of the fourth, then you never score 2 or more. It’s not that the first run is hugely significant; it is that every run is hugely significant.

Bill: I don’t expect you to keep printing my input on this. . .


In “Four Sluggers” you tossed in a very interesting generalization that fantasy GMs and possibly real GMs should all know - but I didn’t think was considered general knowledge: ” The usual rule is that a player is consistent when he is young; when he gets older, what he loses is not the ability to produce but the consistency of his production.” Can I take that as fact? Could you, please, elaborate on that? It would make a good subject for a serious study.

I can’t demonstrate that it’s true, no. It seems obvious to me, but then, Amy Adams didn’t win Best Actress for “American Hustle”, so I guess you never know.

Hey Bill, ESPN Magazine has published preseason predictions (, ) based in part on a “chemistry score.” They worked with a couple of professors to build “a proprietary team-chemistry regression model” with three factors: “clubhouse demographics, trait isolation and stratification of performance to pay.” Basically, on each factor, more homogeneity is better: players with similar salaries, experience, race, nationality, etc. Each component gives a result in terms of wins; e.g., the Cubs lose 3.5 wins on “clubhouse demographics” because of “too much diversity”. A fuller summary of the method is here: Any thoughts on this?

Ah. . .it’s happened at last. The happy marriage of sabermetrics and bullshit.

Bill, Selig will retire a the end of this year. Who are the leading candidaes to replace him?

George Will, Bob Costas, Mariano Rivera, Stephen Colbert, Pope Francis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mitch McConnell, Dale Chihuly, Maui Mike, Rob Neyer, Robert Wuhl, Betty White and Steven Goldleaf. In that order.

The District Attorney Posted: March 26, 2014 at 12:40 PM | 40 comment(s)
  Beats: amy adams, bill james, sabermetrics, strategy

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wilson Betamit is the most underrated player in major USA team sports?

Betemit is a couple of years past 30 now and missed almost all of last year with injuries, so, you know. . .it’s anybody’s guess whether he has anything left to give. But in 2010 Wilson Betemit, filling in as a place-holder third baseman for the Royals, hit .297 with 13 homers in 276 at bats, .889 OPS. The first half of 2011 Betemit hit .281, with disappointing power but a .750 OPS. They took his job away, and gave it to Mike Moustakas. Moustakas’ career OPS is 93 points lower than Betemit’s, .774 to .681. Think about it. . .almost 100 points OPS. Career. Betemit moved on to Detroit…

attaboy Posted: March 21, 2014 at 12:41 PM | 22 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 3/14/14

I’ll read my annuals with the pork and beans…

Assume MLB never expanded but it continued to recruit players as it has, roughly halving the size of the MLB pool: are there players we now consider to be at the star/solid regular level who would be sitting on the bench? IOW, which position is so full of stars/solid regulars now that the 17th best player would surprise people?

There are no such players. Expansion put pressure on the organizations to find more players, leading to larger minors, much more aggressive international scouting. Without expansion the quality would be exactly what it is now, or less. .. probably less, because whatever does not grow tends to die.

Bill, Grady Sizemore is making a comeback after missing several years. I can’t think of other position players who came back after missing several seasons due to injury. It seems more common for pitchers to miss several years with sore arms, or for players to miss time while fighting in wars. Are there other position players who have missed several years in a row due to injury, and how well have they done in their comebacks?

I think Jim Eisenreich might be the closest parallel in the last 30-40 years.

Bill, regarding platoon differentials: is it true, as my intuition tells me, that lefty pitchers do better against lefty hitters than righty pitchers do against rightyhitters? If so, do you have a theory as to why?

It is more untrue than true. There is SOME such effect, which I think is not genuinely difficult to understand, but in general, the effect is more the same than it is different.

What makes you think [Bryce] Harper’s platoon splits aren’t normal? For him anyway.

Because, in reality, almost every player has essentially the same platoon differential, not as an absolute rule, of course, but in general. People think of the platoon differential as an individual characteristic, different for each player. The reality is that it is not an individual characteristic of each player; it is a general feature of the game itself, which, over time, tends to have the same effect on every player. With a few exceptions, of course.

Having read about how you started your research while working as a night watchman, just wondering if you ever had a “eureka” moment, and what it was that convinced you to start this as a career?

There were probably several Eureka moments, but in the spring of 1977, when the spring annuals hit the newsstands, I bought several of them, as I usually did, and started working my way through them (on my shift as a night watchman.) After about a half hour I realized that I knew far more about the subject than the people writing the magazines did. It’s a normal kind of maturity moment, I think; as a child you assume that others are experts, that people who write books and people who write for magazines have some sort of magical insight that makes them better qualified than you to write these things. At some point—I would assume no matter what it is that you are interested in, stamp collecting or martial arts—at some point you realize that the people who have been educating you so far are running on empty, and it’s your turn to talk.

Have you ever looked at the most inexplicable performances in MVP voting? I stumbled across the case of Phil Marchildon today. Pitcher for the A’s in the 40s, only things he ever led the league in were losses, walks, HBP, and wild pitches. But he received MVP votes in three different seasons, including the year he led the league in losses.

Marchildon in 1942 was 17-14, but with a team that was solidly in last place, 55-99; they were 38-85 when he wasn’t the pitcher of record. He was 6 or 7 games better than the team. In 1946 he was 13-16, same team, but the team was 49-105, meaning they were 36-89 when he wasn’t on the pitcher of record, so he was still about 4 games better than the team. In 1947 he was 19-9; the A’s were 78-76, but that means they were 59-67 without him, so he’s still 5 to 6 games better than the team. (Paragraph/warning that I am telling you this from memory, hence could be wrong.) Marchildon was a Prisoner of War during World War II, and it is possible that there was some sympathy voting for him or attention effect voting for him. But also. ..his won-lost records on the teams he pitched for are extremely good, and I would suspect that the won-lost records explain most of the voting.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 2/27/14 - 3/2/14

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. . 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

James: On the Relative Importance of Pitching Categories (Registration Required)

Part I:

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”.

The District Attorney Posted: February 26, 2014 at 12:50 PM | 11 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, sabermetrics

Thursday, February 20, 2014

James: Big Game Pitchers (Registration Required)

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

Joe Morgan Conversations: Bill James

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.

The District Attorney Posted: February 19, 2014 at 02:29 PM | 15 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, joe morgan, sabermetrics

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 1/10/14

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: 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.

The District Attorney Posted: January 10, 2014 at 03:31 PM | 90 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, bill white, economics, hall of fame, sabermetrics

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bill James Mailbag - 12/17/13 - 12/18/13


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: 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.

The District Attorney Posted: December 18, 2013 at 01:04 PM | 42 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, history, johnny mize, sabermetrics

Friday, November 22, 2013

Buzzfeed: The Godfather Of Sabermetrics Has A Novel Theory On JFK’s Death: It Was An Accident

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.

JE (Jason Epstein) Posted: November 22, 2013 at 11:12 PM | 165 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, crime, murder, sabermetrics

Bill James Online: The Expansion Era Ballot (Registration Required)

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.”

The District Attorney Posted: November 22, 2013 at 02:03 PM | 71 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, hall of fame, history, sabermetrics

Friday, November 08, 2013

Bill James Mailbag - 11/7/13 - 11/9/13

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.

The District Attorney Posted: November 08, 2013 at 07:55 PM | 20 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, cardinals, hall of fame, history, joe gordon, sabermetrics

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Bill James Mailbag - 10/31/13 - 11/3/13

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

Bill James Mailbag - 10/27/13 - 10/30/13

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.

The District Attorney Posted: October 30, 2013 at 12:14 PM | 83 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, designated hitters, red sox, sabermetrics



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