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## Sunday, November 18, 2012

#### Bill James Online Mailbag

b they make him run…loads of interesting stuff from James here.

Do you know of any candidates to b 2012 vrsion of Dickey: that is a veteran who has a good chance at having a career year?

No, but how in the world can anyone be too busy to type out the word “before”?

Dear Mr James, I’m a student at DePaul University writing a news story on what I’m calling “The War on WAR,” essentially a look into the different methods(BB Prospectus, Fangraphs, and BB reference) of calculating Wins Above Replacement. In light of this years AL MVP debate the WAR statistic is getting more publicity than usual and since there is not a standardized way of getting a true WAR of a player I was wondering how you personally view the different methods of calculating it. Thanks,

No; I don’t use that statistic myself, so I don’t have any view of how it should be calculated.  Not to speak ill of it; it is a useful concept.  It is probably in everyone’s best interests that there be multiple ways of calculating it.  It is like, for example, the Money Supply in the Economy.  There are all kinds of different ways of calculating the supply of money in the economy, or the GDP (Grounded Into Domestic Products.)  There are many different ways of estimating the GDP, and there SHOULD be, because if something is real, it can be estimated in different ways, and it weakens the value of the stat to reduce the number of ways that it can be calcualted.

Repoz Posted: November 18, 2012 at 07:36 AM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
Tags: sabermetrics

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1. buddaley Posted: November 18, 2012 at 12:22 PM (#4305521)
One of the more famous players who had a long hiatus before returning to the majors was Lefty O'Doul who, after appearing as a pitcher between 1919 and 1923, did not reappear until 1928, this time as an outfielder.
2. valuearbitrageur Posted: November 18, 2012 at 12:43 PM (#4305530)
Well. ..sorry to not-answer your question, but this is not created by the United States having abnormal relations with Cuba. It is created by the Cuban government posting armed guards with shoot-to-kill orders around their baseball players. The United States doesn't have a damned thing to do with it. It's not like the Cubans are fine with their players going to Japan or going to Europe; they're not allowed to go ANYWHERE without armed escorts.

I'm pretty sure Sean Penn said the armed guards were to prevent Americans from storming the team to steal their free healthcare.
3. valuearbitrageur Posted: November 18, 2012 at 12:48 PM (#4305533)
Let us assume that I weigh significantly more than you do (which is statistically extremely likely

Is this still true if question is from a BBTF regular?
4. MHS Posted: November 18, 2012 at 01:16 PM (#4305544)
This Q and A might be worthy of a post:

Bill, how willing would you be to agree with something like this? 1. Imagine two teams, a division-winning team with 101 wins and a non-postseason team with 100. It's reasonable to think the first team's accomplishment is more than 1% more "valuable," although reasonable people would also differ about how much more. 2. It might also be reasonable, in some contexts, to credit some part of that accomplishment's "bonus value" to the first team's individual players. 3. MVP voting is a context where this is reasonable at least sometimes.
In a certain context, yes. One of the things that makes Sandy Koufax singular is that Koufax had more impact on pennant races than any other pitcher of the 20th century. Koufax went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA in 1963, when the Dodgers won the pennant by six games, but the six games are an illusion because they opened it up in the last week of the season. In 1965 Koufax went 26-8 with 382 strikeouts, and the Dodgers won the pennant by two games. In 1966 Koufax went 27-9 with a 1-something ERA and 300-some strikeouts, and the Dodgers won the pennant by two games.

You can look at it this way: If, in any of those seasons, Koufax had been MERELY outstanding, the Dodgers probably wouldn't have won any of those pennants. If Koufax had finished just 20-12 with 250 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA, the Dodgers certainly would not have won in 1965 or 1966, and probably would not have won in 1963. No other pitcher in the 20th century had the same impact on pennant races by his more-than-excellent performance.

If there is a concept of "Wins Above Replacement", there could be a more sophisticated or later-developing concept called "Wins Above Excellence" or something. Impact Wins. Koufax' exceptionalism is based on his Impact Wins.

There are also times when won-lost records of teams are misleading because teams are just mailing it in the last two-three weeks of the season. We should note that the 2012 Trout/ Cabrera debate is not an example of this, in that both teams were still playing competitively essentially to the last out.

There are times when won-lost records are misleading because the schedules are not even. A few years ago, when the AL East was fantastically strong, a team that finished 85-77 in the AL East was almost certainly more impressive than a team that finished 95-67 in the NL West.

We can't attribute to player X that which is done by his teammates. In trying to identify the best player, we can't slip into sloppy attribution, and I'm not suggesting that we should. At the same time

1) Winning IS the point of the game, and
2) Analysis DOES evolve, and should.

On (1) above. . .let's assume that Alabama is in fact the best football team in the NCAA. Should we recognize Alabama as the best team in the country anyway, even though they stepped on their shoelace against Texas A & M? Or should we say, "No; winning is the point. Being the best team isn't the point; WINNING is the point."

On (2) above, I can remember analysts who screamed at the first people who tried to value the innings of closers above the innings of starting pitchers. PITCHING IN THE NINTH INNING IS NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN PITCHING IN THE FIRST
INNING, they would shout, and A RUN IS A RUN. Eventually somebody created the concept of leveraged innings and a way to measure it, and we all said, "Oh. I see." You can't rule out by force or volume the possibility that there is a better way to look at the issue.
5. lieiam Posted: November 18, 2012 at 03:02 PM (#4305578)
Well... I'm certainly curious now as to what the heck the Sisler statistic IS!
6.  Posted: November 18, 2012 at 03:44 PM (#4305589)
You can look at it this way: If, in any of those seasons, Koufax had been MERELY outstanding, the Dodgers probably wouldn't have won any of those pennants. If Koufax had finished just 20-12 with 250 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA, the Dodgers certainly would not have won in 1965 or 1966, and probably would not have won in 1963. No other pitcher in the 20th century had the same impact on pennant races by his more-than-excellent performance.

Or if John Roseboro was a little more below average, they wouldn't have made it. Or if Maury Wills was average instead of a bit above. Or if Drysdale was above average instead of average. Everyone on the team needed to be that good to get the team where they were.
7. Walt Davis Posted: November 18, 2012 at 04:05 PM (#4305595)
Imagine two teams, a division-winning team with 101 wins and a non-postseason team with 100. It's reasonable to think the first team's accomplishment is more than 1% more "valuable," although reasonable people would also differ about how much more.

Now imagine two teams, a division-winning team with 88 wins and a non-postseason team with 89. Errr .... hold on, that can't be right.

Anyway, let us all recall how amazing Willie Mays was. He led the NL in WAR every year from 62 to 65. From 1954-65, he led the league in WAR 9 times, finished 2nd twice and 4th once. He added one more position player crown in 66. Not just because of defense either as he led in oWAR 7 times and finished 2nd another 4 times.

Of course, the BBWAA upheld their traditional standards giving him the MVP in only 54 and 65. Cuz, y'know, Maury Wills invented the SB and Ken Boyer had some RBIs and Dick Groat led the league in BA. (Groat also finished 2nd to Koufax in 63)
8. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: November 18, 2012 at 05:01 PM (#4305622)
Do you know of any candidates to b 2012 vrsion of Dickey: that is a veteran who has a good chance at having a career year?

No, but how in the world can anyone be too busy to type out the word “before”?

The question didn't contain the word "before" in any manner, Bill. But don't let that stop you from snarking.
9. smileyy Posted: November 18, 2012 at 05:27 PM (#4305628)
It's worse -- the questioner abbreviated "be"
10.  Posted: November 18, 2012 at 05:32 PM (#4305629)
It is like, for example, the Money Supply in the Economy. There are all kinds of different ways of calculating the supply of money in the economy, or the GDP (Grounded Into Domestic Products.) There are many different ways of estimating the GDP, and there SHOULD be, because if something is real, it can be estimated in different ways, and it weakens the value of the stat to reduce the number of ways that it can be calcualted.

The various measures of money supply, M1, M2, etc., don't purport to measure the same thing as one another.

GDP isn't like WAR. There actually exists an amount of goods and services produced domestically, though it's tough to tabulate. "Wins above replacement player" isn't something that exists.
11. vivaelpujols Posted: November 18, 2012 at 06:25 PM (#4305653)

One of my all time favorite articles. It turns out it's very possible to create a non linear WAR, although that last graph suggest that in this current playoff format, WAR should be linear.
12. Jay Z Posted: November 18, 2012 at 08:44 PM (#4305704)
Or if John Roseboro was a little more below average, they wouldn't have made it. Or if Maury Wills was average instead of a bit above. Or if Drysdale was above average instead of average. Everyone on the team needed to be that good to get the team where they were.

The way things worked out in the mid-1960s for the Dodgers, there is a tendency to overstate Koufax's impact. Koufax gets hurt in 1962, the Dodgers blow a lead. Koufax big in 1963, 1965, 1966, Dodgers win. Koufax hurt in 1964, Dodgers lose (though a big year likely wouldn't have been enough anyway.) Koufax retires in 1967, team collapses into second division.

But Koufax was on the team in 1955-60 too, when he was just another player. And the team had the same overall result, two WS titles and another pennant. 1956 was a close race; wouldn't that team have wanted a stud Koufax? Or in 1959? Or the 1955 World Series? Wouldn't stud Koufax have been useful there too?
13. The District Attorney Posted: November 18, 2012 at 09:09 PM (#4305712)
Well... I'm certainly curious now as to what the heck the Sisler statistic IS!
As the context would indicate, it was a few categories added/multiplied together in a way justified by sounding good to its creator... probably not all that dissimilar from Pancake Flops.

I don't remember the definition either, though, and it's weird that googling "Sisler statistic" gives zero results. But we're not both hallucinating it. (I don't think...)
14. Harold can be a fun sponge Posted: November 18, 2012 at 09:31 PM (#4305723)
Or if John Roseboro was a little more below average, they wouldn't have made it. Or if Maury Wills was average instead of a bit above. Or if Drysdale was above average instead of average. Everyone on the team needed to be that good to get the team where they were.

True, but that's not the point. Koufax isn't competing with Roseboro or Wills or Drysdale for best pitcher of all time or best peak player of the mid-60s or whatever. When you compare Koufax's peak to other peaks that are in the same category, James is saying that the wins that Koufax added were all extremely high-leverage wins as well.
15. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: November 18, 2012 at 09:32 PM (#4305724)
I'm certainly curious now as to what the heck the Sisler statistic IS!

it's the bastard child of productive outs and runs produced
16. bobm Posted: November 18, 2012 at 11:09 PM (#4305753)
Sisler statistic

Is it the "percentage of total contribution to victory which is represented by his batting average"? Sisler was apparently very high in this regard, according to Bill James.

See page 647 (SS - # 98 George McBride entry) in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.
17. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: November 18, 2012 at 11:14 PM (#4305754)
He took away the formula, so pooft; it no longer exists!
18. bjhanke Posted: November 19, 2012 at 12:04 AM (#4305764)
"GDP isn't like WAR. There actually exists an amount of goods and services produced domestically, though it's tough to tabulate. "Wins above replacement player" isn't something that exists."

This certainly has some truth in it, but isn't part of why GDP is hard to tabulate the fact that we live in an at least partially global economy? We have things whose parts were made in a variety of different countries, including ours, but were assembled in the U. S. A. You can probably tabulate where the parts came from, but trying to decide how much of the eventual worth of the product consists in its parts and how much consists in "assembling" is very much like creating uberstats. Your results will be based to a large extent on your assumptions. If you go by wage costs, you will come to the conclusion that "assembling" is very important, and those parts made in China are less so, because our wages are greater than the Chinese. If you use a different system of valuation, you won't get that result.

I didn't know what "the Sisler stat" was until I read #16, either. And I try to keep track of Sisler stuff because he was my father's very favorite player of all time. (My dad lived in STL all his life and was 11 years old in 1922.) bobm has the idea correct - Bill, apparently surprised by George Sisler's low ranking in the Historical Abstract, looked for ways to explain this, beyond that Sisler had a very serious injury in late 1922 and was not the same player later. He came to realize that, as a hitter, Sisler was all batting average. No real power, except in 1920-22, and wouldn't take a walk. What Bill didn't say, and which has faded into history, is that, when Bill James was a kid (Bill is about the same age as I am, so I mean the 1950s), there were two very serious debates going on about historical player rankings. One was whether Pie Traynor was really the best third baseman of all time, given Eddie Mathews, Al Rosen, and the other homer hitters who were entering the position. The other was whether Sisler or Lou Gehrig was the greatest first baseman of all time. These were not joke debates. These were VERY serious issues in what passed for analysis in the 1950s. Even a little kid like me knew all about these debates. Hall of Fame voters of the time were obsessed with them.

We now know that Traynor's advantage on defense could not really have had the same effect as Mathews bat did, and we now know that Sisler's batting averages and defense were not as valuable as Gehrig's walks and homers. But in the 1950s, there wasn't even the MacMillan Encyclopedia (1969), much less any real way of balancing homers vs. defense. What's more, the game had changed. Although they both played most of their careers in the 1920s (Traynor, all of it in the 20s and 30s), Pie and George were really dead ball era players. In the DBE, because of all the bunting, glovework at third and first base was VERY important compared to what they are worth now, and players were put into those slots because of their gloves. And people didn't just suddenly stop bunting in 1920; very few players immediately followed Babe Ruth's lead. So DBE 1b and 3b didn't hit for a lot of power; they had to be catlike bunt-pouncers, and this lasted until at least 1930.

Because they really were great hitters in the context of DBE first and third basemen, Traynor and Sisler really did rank right up there in historical rankings during their careers and into the 1940s. If you look at the Historical Abstract, Sisler is ranked 24th at 1B. But the only 3 guys ranked higher who played earlier were Anson, Brouthers and Conner, from the 19th century. When Sisler was elected into the Hall of Fame (1939), he really WAS the best 1b of the 20th century whose career was over (well, Gehrig retired in 1939, too). Traynor is almost the same thing. There's Home Run Baker, but no one else above him who played earlier. Jimmy Collins, who had been considered the best 3b in the game before Traynor got his rep established in the 1950s, ranks only 2 slots lower than Traynor in the Historical, and ahead of everyone who played before him, since he is a bit before Baker. What was going on in the 1950s was baseball analysts, such as they were, trying to figure out just how much, and in what ways, the game had changed, with VERY primitive resources. It's like the GDP thing above. You can't really blame the sportswriters of the 1950s for having serious endless debates over these issues. They did not have the resources to figure out the issues they were confronting. They hung on to batting average as an anchor for years not because they were stupid, but because they were desperate.

- Brock Hanke

19. JimMusComp misses Jerry Dipoto... Posted: November 19, 2012 at 01:28 AM (#4305776)
20. bjhanke Posted: November 19, 2012 at 02:42 AM (#4305778)
Jim - Thank you so much in return! My birthday happens to be Tuesday, and this is about as nice a present as I could get. You're the third person in the last few months to compliment me on my posts. I'm starting to think it isn't just someone being sarcastic. I always worry about writing too much - I'm a compulsive talker AND writer. Also, I'm VERY aware that I'm about to turn 65, and worry about writing "boring old man" stories. It always helps to know that there are people who aren't bored to death by all my verbiage. THANKS AGAIN! - Brock
21. bjhanke Posted: November 19, 2012 at 02:50 AM (#4305779)
Also, for anyone who likes my stuff, you really should try bigbadbaseball.com, a blog written by my good friend and often collaborator, Don Malcolm. Don writes a lot of stuff about baseball that you simply will not find anywhere else. He's also into film noir, and so his blogs are littered with film references. But even if 1940s films are not for you, the analysis is good, and not to be found anywhere else, and Don can REALLY write. - Brock (who simply can't shut up)
22. Shock Posted: November 19, 2012 at 03:07 AM (#4305780)
Happy birthday Brock. I, too, very much enjoy all of your "old man ramblings!" :-)
23. SandyRiver Posted: November 19, 2012 at 09:11 AM (#4305800)
But Koufax was on the team in 1955-60 too, when he was just another player. And the team had the same overall result, two WS titles and another pennant. 1956 was a close race; wouldn't that team have wanted a stud Koufax? Or in 1959? Or the 1955 World Series? Wouldn't stud Koufax have been useful there too?

Koufax never played in the minors but should have, he was only on the 55-56 Dodgers because of the bonus baby rule. Thru 1960 he was pretty wild, averaged over 5 BB/9 in those years. His BB/9 dropped to near 3 in 1961, when he became a good pitcher, then to about 2-per-9 for 1962-66 when he had one of the top peaks of any pitcher, esp. 63-66. Just because he was wild and mediocre 55-60 shouldn't affect his impact after that.
24. FrankM Posted: November 19, 2012 at 09:16 AM (#4305802)
The Sisler Statistic was a way of rating pitchers.

I don't remember the details.
25.  Posted: November 19, 2012 at 09:50 AM (#4305817)
Don's blog is actually at this link.

-- MWE
26. SoSH U at work Posted: November 19, 2012 at 10:04 AM (#4305820)

There are times when won-lost records are misleading because the schedules are not even. A few years ago, when the AL East was fantastically strong, a team that finished 85-77 in the AL East was almost certainly more impressive than a team that finished 95-67 in the NL West.

This seems highly unlikely.
27. MHS Posted: November 19, 2012 at 10:07 AM (#4305823)
I would like Dons posts more if he wasn't trying so damn hard to sound smart.

SOSH, Bill no longer peddles exclusively in the likely truth.
28. bjhanke Posted: November 19, 2012 at 10:10 PM (#4306458)
Shock - THANKS to you too. And also to you, MWE (Mike) for remembering that there's a "blogspot" in between "bigbadbaseball" and ".com" in the url for Don's blog. And MHS, I know that sometimes Don sounds like he's trying to be smart, but that's not it. Don was in a weird position as a kid. His dad (Don Malcolm Sr.) was a business math genius. He was one of the team, perhaps the team lead, that put together PERT networks (the large-complexity version of critical path analysis), which govern modern business logistics. Don inherited the talent, but wanted to be a writer. He developed the style he did because it induced his dad to quit thinking of him as a lazy slacker who was denying his heritage, but as a writer of substance who took his craft very seriously. Don is not trying to "sound smart"; he's trying to WRITE smart. And, IMO, he succeeds, and it's worth working around the style (or, in my case, not much interest in film noir) to get what he's saying. I hope that knowing that he's not just being smug helps your reading of his work. - Brock
29. RMc is Fairly Irrefutable Posted: November 20, 2012 at 08:11 AM (#4306592)
Hi Bill. I tried searching for the "Sisler statistic" but didn't find anything. Can you explain what this statistic was?

No.

Thanks, Bill. You're swell.

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