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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.


 

 

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