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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.


 

 

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