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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bill James 2013 SABR Analytics Conference Keynote

A little old, but I finally have time today to do this stuff.  (h/t Roberto)

• Title: “Wonderful Ignorance”; subtitle: “The Past Is Always Going To Be With Us”
• Bill discusses SABR’s beginnings. It was smaller, allowing for more personal interaction, and more populated by “eccentrics”. He reminds us that founder Bob Davids was reluctant to publish more than one article every two years about statistical analysis in the SABR Journal. He says that of SABR’s 70 members at the time, only himself, Pete Palmer, and Dick Cramer were statistical analysts.  He feels that to an extent, SABR still reflects this emphasis on non-statistical research.
• He has an amazingly mixed metaphor about how sabermetrics is like connecting a power cord, or a hose, or a string, across oceans, or maybe lava, from the surface to the core of a planet, which is made of bricks.  I dunno.  His ultimate point is that sabermetrics is not about producing numbers per se, but rather about using them to answer questions.
• Bill points out that sabermetrics was easier back in the day, when even basic questions had not yet been studied.  Nonetheless, “there will never be any shortage of ignorance.” He believes the LOOGY is an example of said ignorance, as he had previously explained.
• Bill discusses the structure of a front office. He explains that the front office is divided into two virtually separated sides, business and baseball operations. Business has some say in baseball ops, but the converse is not true.  Baseball ops is divided into scouting, field operations, and office management.
• Scouting in turn is divided into amateur, pro and international. Scouting is necessary because MLB competition is so much better than college or high school; also, scouts learn essential personal information about players.
• Field ops is divided into minor league, major league, and field staff.  “Much more of our time is focused on minor league operations than major league operations.”  This is because there are more minor league teams, and also because the money goes out a little at a time, rather than in “big buckets.” 
• Office management is divided into department heads, financial management, information systems, and decision-making.
• Baseball ops talks to business regarding two subjects: spending money/budgeting, and public relations (e.g., Drake Britton’s DUI was the subject of “several meetings” with PR).
• Bill regrets that Craig Wright and another friend who “had sabermetrics on his business card in the 1980s” never got shots at being GMs. “There were two major battles that went on this winter that I was completely on the losing side of, and that’s fine. I don’t expect the Red Sox to do everything I think they should do. But I’m treated with respect.” Bill speculates that his friends in the 1980s weren’t treated with respect, and responded emotionally. Bill advises anyone who wants to work in MLB not to “run too hot.”
• Bill explains that the exuberant Nick Punto is the type of player who “works really well” when you’re winning, but not so much when you’re losing.
• Bill feels that an “all-bullpen” strategy would work, but hasn’t been used yet because it isn’t enough by itself to turn around a bad team. It could—and perhaps is—being adopted incrementally.
• Re: the former popularity of the bunt/current popularity of the LOOGY: “People are very, very bad at judging intuitively relative values.”
• “I’m old and running out of energy, and I just don’t have the energy to do the Red Sox work and do the writing the way that I hope that I might.”
• Bill applies the Law of Competitive Balance to player happiness.  It’s good to treat players well, but doing so will in turn increase the standard of what it takes to make the player happy. One has to “stay ahead of the curve.”
• Bill explains that there are many practical problems with grooming knuckleballers: it’s hard to coach them, bring them into minor league games and otherwise get them work, etc.
• Bill doesn’t believe that teams have better information available to them than the public, because the public simply is so much larger a group.  “You’re always going to be ahead of us.”
• “We spend many, many, many, many more hours trying to manage the clubhouse than we do trying to manage the team.” He points to last year’s Red Sox as an example of why.

The District Attorney Posted: March 27, 2013 at 03:51 PM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bill james, red sox, sabermetrics

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   1. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 27, 2013 at 09:55 PM (#4398061)
Bill points out that sabermetrics was easier back in the day, when even basic questions had not yet been studied. Nonetheless, “there will never be any shortage of ignorance.” He believes the LOOGY is an example of said ignorance, as he had previously explained.


Not coincidentally, I'm in the middle of reading this, which is a marvelous book for a lot of reasons. Firestein's thesis is that science is not only driven by ignorance, but that good science actually broadens our ignorance by revealing how much we still don't know, and by opening the door to areas of the unknown that we not only don't know but didn't know that we didn't know.

-- MWE
   2. Howie Menckel Posted: March 27, 2013 at 11:14 PM (#4398112)
I've always thought that the best way to manage life properly is to know what you know, and know what you don't know.

Kind of zen-sounding, maybe, but it has worked for me - even granting that none of us can always hit this mark.
   3. The District Attorney Posted: March 28, 2013 at 07:26 PM (#4398760)
Does anyone know who the other guy who worked in MLB in the 1980s and had "sabermetrician" on his business card was, other than Wright?

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