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Sunday, July 29, 2012

BPP: Womack: Reading Bill James for the first time

And the last time! (“Search every ravine, every crevasse, but the fiend must be found! Are you ready? Light your torches and go!”)

To the uninitiated, The Politics of Glory is a 1994 book James wrote about the Hall of Fame– its history, its membership and how James envisioned reforming the museum. I don’t agree with all of it, but a lot of it’s fascinating reading, a good primer for anyone with an interest in Cooperstown. It’s also been interesting to see how well James’ concepts hold up nearly 20 years after publication. Some ideas fare better than others, which is probably reasonable considering there’s stuff I wrote a couple years ago here that I’d just as soon not have my name on now.

Baseball-Reference.com adopted the Similarity Scores idea James introduces in Chapter 9, as well as his Hall of Fame Monitor, Standards, and Black Ink Test that he writes about at length. I see occasional mentions online to James’ “Keltner List” for Hall of Fame candidates that he breaks down for Chapter 22 (here’s Geoff Young doing it for Mark Davis.) And I’m curious if the book got any players into Cooperstown, specifically George Davis, a forgotten Deadball Era infielder the Veterans Committee honored in 1998. James compares Davis favorably to Joe Tinker in Chapter 16, even writing that at the turn of the 20th century, Davis was one of baseball’s best players.

...All things considered, I’m glad to be reading the book, though it comes at an interesting time. James has been under fire recently for some comments he made defending Joe Paterno, and it makes me wonder how relevant the so-called Godfather of Stats is these days. That’s a post for another time. For now, what I’ll say is that I’m glad to be finally reading him. I’m reading Bill James for the same general reason that I’ve read The Great Gatsby and the first few books of the Old Testament. At least in baseball terms, James is part of the canon of the game’s literature. To not read him, to ignore his work is to miss something vital.

Repoz Posted: July 29, 2012 at 09:15 AM | 59 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. jyjjy Posted: July 29, 2012 at 10:12 AM (#4195067)
I thought this was going to be about Tony Womack and was hoping he would have the grace to apologize afterward.
   2. fra paolo Posted: July 29, 2012 at 12:45 PM (#4195130)
No one ever acted either on James’ proposal in Chapter 29 to have Hall of Fame voting handled by five groups: players, fans, media, scholars and professionals.
Sometimes we must thank the Lord for large mercies, too.
   3. bobm Posted: July 29, 2012 at 02:46 PM (#4195198)
Baseball-Reference.com adopted the Similarity Scores idea James introduces in Chapter 9, as well as his Hall of Fame Monitor, Standards, and Black Ink Test that he writes about at length


James on Womack, via B-R:

Hall Of Fame Statistics
Player rank in (·)
              Black Ink Batting - 7 (320), Average HOFer ~ 27
              Gray Ink Batting - 24 (919), Average HOFer ~ 144
  Hall of Fame Monitor Batting - 27 (658), Likely HOFer ~ 100
Hall of Fame Standards Batting - 17 (921), Average HOFer ~ 50 ...

Similar Batters  
Mickey Morandini (928)
     Buck Weaver (927)
     Jerry Lumpe (927)
        Ron Hunt (926)
     Buck Herzog (925)
    Bucky Harris (922) *
   Glenn Beckert (919)
       Tom Burns (919)
Bobby Richardson (918)
 Rennie Stennett (915)
* - Signifies Hall of Famer
   4. Baseballs Most Beloved Figure Posted: July 29, 2012 at 06:01 PM (#4195326)
I’ve been reading about baseball history much of my life...
How do you read baseball history for most of your life and not get to Bill James until 2012?
   5. bobm Posted: July 29, 2012 at 06:18 PM (#4195348)
[4] How do you read baseball history for most of your life and not get to Bill James until 2012?

Your name is Murray Chass? :)
   6. cardsfanboy Posted: July 29, 2012 at 06:20 PM (#4195351)
How do you read baseball history for most of your life and not get to Bill James until 2012?


1. Your 12 years old

2. You have been locked in the basement for 20 years and your parents just let you out on your 40th birthday.

3. You were in a coma for 20 years.


It is funny, I read the headline to my girlfriend and she was as incredulous as I. She thought there is no sane way you can call yourself a baseball expert and then follow that comment with "I've never read Bill James."
   7. willcarrolldoesnotsuk Posted: July 29, 2012 at 07:23 PM (#4195405)
Eh, I don't know. At this point, is there really anything in James' writing that is simultaneously (a) not easily absorbed just by general day-to-day reading about baseball and such, and (b) worthwhile? That is, won't the good parts of James essentially be absorbed casually in today's environment, without actually needing to read exactly what James wrote?

Also, give him a break. At least he's doing it, regardless of how late it is. Cf. Joe Morgan's "As you know, John, I don't read books."
   8. Moeball Posted: July 29, 2012 at 08:01 PM (#4195442)
FWIW, here is an interesting look at James' HOF predictions back in 1994:

Bill James HOF preditions
   9. Swedish Chef Posted: July 29, 2012 at 08:06 PM (#4195447)
Eh, I don't know. At this point, is there really anything in James' writing that is simultaneously (a) not easily absorbed just by general day-to-day reading about baseball and such, and (b) worthwhile?

I've read the NBJHBA (or whatever the acronym is), it was OK but I have little desire to read more James, especially anything about stats, mainly because he seems to take stupid pride in claiming that he is not keeping up with what other people do in his field. That fails my crackpot filter badly.
   10. cardsfanboy Posted: July 29, 2012 at 08:57 PM (#4195495)
Eh, I don't know. At this point, is there really anything in James' writing that is simultaneously (a) not easily absorbed just by general day-to-day reading about baseball and such, and (b) worthwhile? That is, won't the good parts of James essentially be absorbed casually in today's environment, without actually needing to read exactly what James wrote?


I think that his books brought a lot to the table, the Politics of glory is by far the best primer written on how the hof was shaped, what it's actual standards are and heck a great argument for critical thinking. I don't think I can take anyone serious in a hof discussion if they haven't read that book. It's possible to have absorbed all of the nuances of the selection of the hall by just hanging out in the right area, but I find it hard to believe that there are that many people who have.

I like him because he's a generalist in his writings, he doesn't waste 300 pages boring you to death about the ins and outs of a single season, single team or single person, but instead gives you bite sized chunk on hundreds or thousands of players. I also like the fact that he'll ask stupid questions, find out it doesn't matter and still post the research he did and why it doesn't ultimately matter.

And of course unlike most stat based writers nowadays, his snark wasn't nearly as mean as say big bad baseball or baseball prospectus, and actually comprehensible the first time through.
   11. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: July 29, 2012 at 09:22 PM (#4195503)
I still find James' work, even the stuff he does today, more interesting than any other sabermetric writing. The way he poses a question and methodically and logically sets about addressing it ... it's still pure genius. He'll always be relevant.
   12. Ron J Posted: July 29, 2012 at 10:23 PM (#4195523)
#10 Some of his snark ranks with anybody's for mean. Enos Cabell and Doug Flynn come to mind (he later said he regrets the tone, but not the content if you know what I mean). One of his most famous insults -- what would Sparky Anderson be doing if he wasn't managing? "Painting houses" -- was not actually snark or an insult. It's Anderson's own answer. People assumed that James looked down on Anderson and read an insult where none was intended.
   13. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: July 29, 2012 at 10:27 PM (#4195525)
I'm pretty sure Anderson intended the insult when he described James as a little fat bearded guy who don't know nothing about nothing, though.
   14. Random Transaction Generator Posted: July 29, 2012 at 11:50 PM (#4195564)
I usually read NBJHBA once a year (over the span of a few days). It helps me remember all the old-time players that don't get much hype any more, plus it makes me hope that he'll do another one in 2015. I'd love to see his "official" take on the PED era, and the stars from it.

I'd love to see a short "Oops." comment for Pete Rose.
   15. Baseballs Most Beloved Figure Posted: July 30, 2012 at 12:26 AM (#4195575)
I've read the NBJHBA (or whatever the acronym is), it was OK but I have little desire to read more James, especially anything about stats, mainly because he seems to take stupid pride in claiming that he is not keeping up with what other people do in his field. That fails my crackpot filter badly.
You've missed a lot then. As has been said, "The Politics of Glory" is the definitive book on the HOF and its voting processes over the years. His "Baseball Managers" book is also the definitive book on its subject. His yearly abstracts and baseball books were also filled with a ton of non-stats related historical essays and observations like, "The History of the Beanball", "A History of Being a Kansas City Baseball Fan", his essays on Chuck Tanner, Bo Jackson, etc...
   16. cardsfanboy Posted: July 30, 2012 at 03:14 AM (#4195600)
The way he poses a question and methodically and logically sets about addressing it ... it's still pure genius.


This is one thing I love about him. He asks a question and works backwards from there often times. Versus other people seem to gather data and draw conclusions from the data without having a goal. Ultimately with peer reviewed studies it doesn't matter how you accumulate the data or work with it, but Bill James is telling a story when he does it and it makes it a much more interesting read, and easier to follow process. I mean even the big ass win shares book, is easily understandable and 100+ pages of it, is just formulas.
   17. bjhanke Posted: July 30, 2012 at 05:37 AM (#4195612)
I've always thought that Bill's two strengths were 1) an understanding of how the scientific process works: You formulate a hypothesis and test it, and 2) he is a really, really good technical writer. So good that most people don't even think of his stuff as technical writing. But it is, it's just a whole lot much better than almost everything else in that field. - Brock Hanke
   18. DKDC Posted: July 30, 2012 at 07:44 AM (#4195617)
I've never read a Bill James book. I have read a few things he's written online over the years.
   19. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: July 30, 2012 at 07:59 AM (#4195620)
Would there be any interest in a BBTF book club? We could pick a baseball book once every month or so and start a thread on it.
   20. AROM Posted: July 30, 2012 at 09:00 AM (#4195644)
"I'm pretty sure Anderson intended the insult when he described James as a little fat bearded guy who don't know nothing about nothing, though."

I enjoyed James' response to that one. After pointing out that he's 6'5, says 2 out of 3 isn't bad.
   21. BDC Posted: July 30, 2012 at 09:15 AM (#4195652)
His "Baseball Managers" book is also the definitive book on its subject

Well, Chris Jaffe's Evaluating Baseball Managers is now the definitive book on that subject. I reckon Dag himself would say that Evaluating would not exist without Bill James's previous work, but Evaluating is a quantum step forward in looking at the kinds of things that James looks at in the earlier book.

I'll agree with Brock that Bill James is a good writer, period. And I think he was an excellent technical writer in his early days: the essays in the first Ballantine Abstract on OBP and SLG, or "Looking for the Prime," are masterpieces. By the time of Win Shares, his technical writing was something of a mess. But he has always had a great verbal gift.
   22. tjm1 Posted: July 30, 2012 at 09:31 AM (#4195666)
Eh, I don't know. At this point, is there really anything in James' writing that is simultaneously (a) not easily absorbed just by general day-to-day reading about baseball and such, and (b) worthwhile? That is, won't the good parts of James essentially be absorbed casually in today's environment, without actually needing to read exactly what James wrote?


This is similar to saying that it's possible to be a mathematician or physicist without having ever read anything by Newton. In fact, very few living mathematicians or physicists who are not also historians of math or science have read any substantial amount of Newton's work in the original.

I personally find James' writing style engrossing, but one can be familiar with most of his major ideas without reading his work.
   23. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: July 30, 2012 at 09:50 AM (#4195677)
I'm skeptical that there's been as much progress in sabermetrics over the last 15 years as there has been in math and physics over the last 300.
   24. DKDC Posted: July 30, 2012 at 10:03 AM (#4195686)
Maybe a better analogy is that one can be quite proficient in using a computer today without knowing how to use DOS.

When I first started getting interested in Sabermetrics, James was hawking win shares, which seemed like a relic to me in a world where replacement level stats existed. I'm sure I would've read one of his books if I'd started paying attention a few years earlier.
   25. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: July 30, 2012 at 10:18 AM (#4195699)
I've never read any of James' books, but I know that I should, and a few of them have been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years. I've also read a fair amount of his stuff online. But I was a bit late to sabermetrics and by that time I was able to learn about most of James' ideas from other writers.

No one ever acted either on James’ proposal in Chapter 29 to have Hall of Fame voting handled by five groups: players, fans, media, scholars and professionals.

Just curious, what is meant here by "professionals"? Does he mean management/executives, since players already have their own category?
   26. AROM Posted: July 30, 2012 at 10:19 AM (#4195700)
When I first started getting interested in Sabermetrics, James was hawking win shares, which seemed like a relic to me in a world where replacement level stats existed. I'm sure I would've read one of his books if I'd started paying attention a few years earlier.


James should get primary credit for the existence of replacement level stats. He must have thought Win Shares was a step forward, but that opinion, for the most part, was not shared.
   27. Tom Nawrocki Posted: July 30, 2012 at 10:49 AM (#4195721)
I believe James invented the term and the concept of "replacement level." Other sabermetricians were constructing metrics that measured players versus the average player, and James pointed out that this didn't make sense.
   28. jyjjy Posted: July 30, 2012 at 10:56 AM (#4195731)
He must have thought Win Shares was a step forward, but that opinion, for the most part, was not shared.

The concept isn't that different from the every popular WAR but yeah, the methodology seems a bit silly.
   29. fra paolo Posted: July 30, 2012 at 11:11 AM (#4195748)
He must have thought Win Shares was a step forward, but that opinion, for the most part, was not shared.

That's fairly d--ning, though. It's like saying Ptolemy thought his geocentric system was a step forward, but that opinion was not shared. The 'person in the street' who might have thought about such things would probably regard Ptolemaic astronomy as a titanic failure. Will future 'sabermetricians in the street' take the same view? If so, I'd say that was unfair.

IIRC, at the time (c. 2002-3) the fundamental problem identified with Win Shares was that the replacement level was set a bit low. Win Shares Above Bench, which one can thankfully access via Seamheads, offered a refinement to Win Shares that seems to work very well, when compared to WAR results. It's not quite at the level of epicycles, is it?
   30. fra paolo Posted: July 30, 2012 at 11:21 AM (#4195756)
Other sabermetricians were constructing metrics that measured players versus the average player, and James pointed out that this didn't make sense.

I think that depends.

The 'league average' is a useful standard if one wants to compare a starting player directly against his peers.

Replacement level is better for determining a player's value to his team.

I don't think these are the same thing. One can use replacement level to compare a player against his peers, but there is some additional contextual value that is absent from the 'league average standard'.

I'm not convinced we always need that contextual value when making comparisons.
   31. The District Attorney Posted: July 30, 2012 at 11:23 AM (#4195763)
The only thing I'd really get on someone who considers themselves a baseball junkie for not reading is at least one of the Historical Baseball Abstracts. The HOF and manager books are great (especially the former), but I don't consider them "must-reads" in the Ball Four/Veeck as in Wreck/etc. sense. And you can't really expect someone to go back and read an "annual" book about a season that occurred before they were a fan, no matter how great the writing is or how many historically important concepts it introduces. If you told me someone wrote a brilliant statistics-heavy deconstruction of the 1938 season, I'd probably say that sounds interesting and I'll read it some day, but I bet I never would.

(I would point out that This Time Let's Not Eat the Bones, which aims to anthologize the most interesting prose pieces from the Abstracts "without the numbers", is the perfect solution to this quandary... but I don't know how easy it'd be to actually find the book. Ehh, maybe I shouldn't worry about it, it's 2012 so you can probably have it at your doorstep tomorrow for two bucks.)

And BTW, although probably no one but James endorses his exact proposal, I think he's totally right that more people should be involved in the HOF voting.
   32. Swedish Chef Posted: July 30, 2012 at 11:32 AM (#4195775)
Ptolemaic astronomy was the best thing since sliced bread, sure the model of the solar system was in a certain sense wrong*. But the accuracy, damn, those guys were magnificent model builders, they certainly don't deserve to be the laughing stock of modern nitwits. Copernicus wasn't really an improvement more than conceptually.

*) But so ####### what, even now you have to transform everything to a stationary Earth-centered system to compare with observations. For usefulness, a heliocentric approach isn't a win.
   33. OCF Posted: July 30, 2012 at 11:54 AM (#4195801)
But the accuracy, damn, those guys were magnificent model builders, they certainly don't deserve to be the laughing stock of modern nitwits. Copernicus wasn't really an improvement more than conceptually.

Which is the way I teach in when I teach the "Early History of Mathematics" course. One note: the accuracy you're attributing to Ptolemaic models comes from medieval Arab astronomers, who could match the Ptolemaic framework with better observations and better trigonometry. (They got the trigonometry from Indian sources.)

And then there was Tycho Brahe. He was pursuing a model that was neither Ptolemaic nor Copernican. That system, in all its hybrid weirdness, made very little long-term impact on anything. But Tycho was prepared to back it up with the best set of accurate long-term measurements that anyone had ever done. And then, somewhere along the way, Tycho hired a research associate - guy by the name of Kepler.

The lesson there: appreciate the ones like Tycho, whose devotion to evidence and measurement mattered more than their theories.

---

I read the 1982 Abstract when it first came out - and I'd never read anything like it. The impact was huge. And the rest of the Abstracts from then on, the the historical books. At this point, I don't really care what James's ideas are now - he has made his mark.
   34. Swedish Chef Posted: July 30, 2012 at 11:59 AM (#4195810)
One note: the accuracy you're attributing to Ptolemaic models comes from medieval Arab astronomers, who could match the Ptolemaic framework with better observations and better trigonometry.

Which is why is said "those guys" and not Ptolemaios (even though he was plenty good by himself). :-)
   35. Steve Treder Posted: July 30, 2012 at 12:13 PM (#4195831)
I read the 1982 Abstract when it first came out - and I'd never read anything like it. The impact was huge. And the rest of the Abstracts from then on, the the historical books. At this point, I don't really care what James's ideas are now - he has made his mark.

Me too, exactly.
   36. Random Transaction Generator Posted: July 30, 2012 at 12:15 PM (#4195835)
Even if you through out the Win Shares part of the NBJHBA, the historical pieces and player sections are worth owning the book.
Other books might give more information about certain eras/players/teams, but the NBJHBA is the best collection of baseball information I've read.
   37. Tom Nawrocki Posted: July 30, 2012 at 12:26 PM (#4195854)
I read the 1982 Abstract when it first came out - and I'd never read anything like it. The impact was huge. And the rest of the Abstracts from then on, the the historical books. At this point, I don't really care what James's ideas are now - he has made his mark.

Me too, exactly.


Ha! My first was the mail-order-only 1981 Abstract.
   38. Ray (RDP) Posted: July 30, 2012 at 01:04 PM (#4195900)
FWIW, here is an interesting look at James' HOF predictions back in 1994:

Bill James HOF preditions


Interesting article. James had a few bad misses there.
   39. AndrewJ Posted: July 30, 2012 at 01:41 PM (#4195953)
Would there be any interest in a BBTF book club? We could pick a baseball book once every month or so and start a thread on it.

Seconded.
   40. KJOK Posted: July 30, 2012 at 02:11 PM (#4195989)
I mean even the big ass win shares book, is easily understandable and 100+ pages of it, is just formulas.


I would say the Win Shares book might be the weakest of all his works. The writing is generally dry, has few interesting side bars, and of course as mentioned above it completely missed being what was intended, as it needed "LOSS SHARES" and its replacement level/marginal win shares was at the 20% level, below even AA quality.

   41. AROM Posted: July 30, 2012 at 02:28 PM (#4196019)
I just never saw the point of messing with win shares. Sure, you can adjust it to get win shares above bench. But it's harder to make adjustments in that than it is with the WAR framework.

Let's say you don't care for the way James credits fielders. I suppose you could work out a way to sub in your own defensive ratings, but it wouldn't be easy. With WAR, you can use any defensive system that expresses its results in runs.

You've got baserunning (non-SB) run, runs from avoiding DP, runs from productive outs, runs from constructive advice given to teammates, whatever. Any of those can be added to WAR or left out. In win shares, you are a bit more restricted since the difference between component stats and actual team runs is reconciled with a fudge factor. You've got to reconfigure that every time you add a new component that explains part of that difference.
   42. GregD Posted: July 30, 2012 at 02:30 PM (#4196023)
Ditto on those above who said the reason to read James is for pleasure. I don't know that people need to read James to handle modern stat analysis, probably not. I needed to in the 80s and 90s but that probably makes me an historical relic. But they should read him for the same reason a writer should read Faulkner; you've never seen anything quite like it. It might not be necessary or even helpful; you can't really do that anymore. But it's still amazing.
   43. franoscar Posted: July 30, 2012 at 03:55 PM (#4196158)
I just finished "The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World" by Edward Dolnick. It must have gotten a good review. There probably isn't anything new, but it was mostly pretty readable & covers Kepler's calculations & some other things.
   44. Lassus Posted: July 30, 2012 at 04:32 PM (#4196199)
Would there be any interest in a BBTF book club? We could pick a baseball book once every month or so and start a thread on it.

Seconded.


Thirded. And fourthed.
   45. Dag Nabbit: secretary of the World Banana Forum Posted: July 30, 2012 at 05:13 PM (#4196258)
For those interested in creating a BTF book club, my hunch is that the site's forums will work best for you if you want to achieve it. (Even if you're not a forums-person in general, you might want to make an exception for this as the forums were designed and created for niche interests such as this).

Maybe start a forum, and either ask repoz to note the new forum's existance as its own brief mainsite thread,* and/or mention it in the dugout a time or two.

Last year we had a few similar forums in the lounge. Not out-and-out book clubs, but just places for people to note what books they read and their thoughts on them. Example of one such forum.

*I can see an announcement of creating a book club going on the main site because it's temporary and slide into the forgotten world of the site's archives, whereas an actual book club by itself would be more permanent and thus not really fit in on the main site.

That's my two cents.
   46. cardsfanboy Posted: July 30, 2012 at 07:20 PM (#4196385)
Well, Chris Jaffe's Evaluating Baseball Managers is now the definitive book on that subject. I reckon Dag himself would say that Evaluating would not exist without Bill James's previous work, but Evaluating is a quantum step forward in looking at the kinds of things that James looks at in the earlier book.


Glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks that.

I would say the Win Shares book might be the weakest of all his works. The writing is generally dry, has few interesting side bars, and of course as mentioned above it completely missed being what was intended, as it needed "LOSS SHARES" and its replacement level/marginal win shares was at the 20% level, below even AA quality.


I don't disagree that it was the weakest of his works, my point was that it was a stat heavy book, full of formulas and yet it was easier to understand than any article from most of the newer stat heavy books (such as The Book) I disagree about the loss shares concept, but I'm in a decided minority as even Bill James has acceeded to the demands of the public(I believe) and put out loss shares.


I just never saw the point of messing with win shares. Sure, you can adjust it to get win shares above bench. But it's harder to make adjustments in that than it is with the WAR framework.


It's been a while since I read it, but from memory, I liked win shares defensive system more than pretty much any of the others at the time, haven't compared it to the newer systems for the past 5 or so years, but I think that his default assumptions made sense. I trusted his fudge factors more than I trust others assuming the difference is "luck" factor.

   47. Dag Nabbit: secretary of the World Banana Forum Posted: July 30, 2012 at 07:41 PM (#4196409)
Well, Chris Jaffe's Evaluating Baseball Managers is now the definitive book on that subject. I reckon Dag himself would say that Evaluating would not exist without Bill James's previous work, but Evaluating is a quantum step forward in looking at the kinds of things that James looks at in the earlier book.

Glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Why thank you, kind sirs!
   48. Steve Treder Posted: July 30, 2012 at 07:45 PM (#4196416)
Glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Hear, hear! Count me in too.
   49. Poster Nutbag Posted: July 30, 2012 at 08:07 PM (#4196445)
Would there be any interest in a BBTF book club? We could pick a baseball book once every month or so and start a thread on it.

Seconded.


I want in!
   50. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: July 30, 2012 at 08:16 PM (#4196456)
1985 Baseball Abstract was the first one for me.

If you told me someone wrote a brilliant statistics-heavy deconstruction of the 1938 season, I'd probably say that sounds interesting and I'll read it some day, but I bet I never would.



I have 9000 books I want to write and have thought about writing an Abstract like book about an earlier season, but it probably would sell as well as a VCR these days.
   51. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: July 30, 2012 at 08:26 PM (#4196464)
PS - I really liked the Baseball Books of the early 90s; esp the parts that Don Malcom called the "analytic" biographies.
   52. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: July 30, 2012 at 08:28 PM (#4196466)
The only thing I'd really get on someone who considers themselves a baseball junkie for not reading is at least one of the Historical Baseball Abstracts. The HOF and manager books are great (especially the former),


And those are precisely the ones I've read -- well, not the manager book, but then you rated the HOF book above it, anyway.

I now feel somewhat less stupid.

(I also really, really liked James' fantasy guides -- can't remember exactly what they were called, but if memory serves they came out for the '92-'94 season -- when I was first getting started in fantasy ball, even though I ##### & whine every now & then about such dubious predictions as Arthur Lee Rhodes being a surefire Cy Young winner & Marc Newfield a can't-miss MVP candidate. I would've continued to like them, for that matter, but they stopped coming out. Every now & then I'll get one out & read it, I guess just to make sure my cats know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have no life.)
   53. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: July 30, 2012 at 08:33 PM (#4196476)
Another book I have is Stats Diamond Chronicles from 1999 qnd 2000. It isn't just James, but they had email convos between all the STATS writers. It was like the Newsstand only the posters were James, Neyer, Pinto, Mat Olkin, and others. They even digressed into Citizen Kane.
   54. AndrewJ Posted: July 30, 2012 at 09:43 PM (#4196530)
PS - I really liked the Baseball Books of the early 90s; esp the parts that Don Malcom called the "analytic" biographies.

Those bios were sort of the precursors of the SABR Biography project. I miss them.

Another book I have is Stats Diamond Chronicles from 1999 qnd 2000. It isn't just James, but they had email convos between all the STATS writers. It was like the Newsstand only the posters were James, Neyer, Pinto, Mat Olkin, and others. They even digressed into Citizen Kane.

A couple of weeks ago we discussed Bill's defense of Marge Schott's free speech rights in his managers book. He had a very early draft of that in one of those Diamond Chronicle books, complete with Neyer, Pinto, Olkin and his other good friends telling him to shut up.
   55. bobm Posted: July 30, 2012 at 09:57 PM (#4196537)
[31] And you can't really expect someone to go back and read an "annual" book about a season that occurred before they were a fan, no matter how great the writing is or how many historically important concepts it introduces. If you told me someone wrote a brilliant statistics-heavy deconstruction of the 1938 season, I'd probably say that sounds interesting and I'll read it some day, but I bet I never would.

IMO the Abstracts were only incidentally about the recent seasons. Consider the 1987 Abstract.

Meaningful and Meaningless Statistics - Now, if you say that won-lost records are meaningless because they depend on who the player plays for and how many runs he scores. . .then you're left judging the pitcher essentially by his ERA -- which is, in fact, also subject to outside influences. When people say that one statistic is meaningless, what they are really saying is that they have learned to see the distortions in that statistic -- but haven't yet learned to see the distortions in the alternatives. ...


Also discussed are such basic concepts as rookie performance predictiveness, player aging, runs created and OPS, and a rudimentary form of DIPS called Indicated ERA:

There are two elements of a pitcher's record that are independent of the team. Those are his walks and his home runs allowed. Those are the two elements on which, as the announcer says, the defense can't help you; if you don't throw strikes or the ball leaves the park there is nothing Willie Mays or Ozzie Smith can do about it.


(See a summary at http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2004/12/abstracts_from_22.php, which noted "'Indicated ERA' [(HRA x TBB x 100)/Innings Pitched²]. The major difference between the two is that James doesn't account for strikeouts in his formula.")
   56. OCF Posted: July 30, 2012 at 10:11 PM (#4196558)
even though I ##### & whine every now & then about such dubious predictions as Arthur Lee Rhodes being a surefire Cy Young winner & Marc Newfield a can't-miss MVP candidate.

But some of his biggest raves, which I remember, were for Roberto Alomar and Frank Thomas. After Thomas had just a single 60-game season in the majors, James said something to the effect that "This is for real. He really is going to have a .450 OBP."
   57. AndrewJ Posted: July 30, 2012 at 10:33 PM (#4196586)
In the 1985 Abstract Bill predicted Rod Carew would get his 3000th hit that August 3rd. Bill was off by only a day.
   58. Tom Nawrocki Posted: July 30, 2012 at 11:19 PM (#4196633)
In the 1984 Abstract, he called Tony Gwynn - who had less than 600 PAs in the majors and a career .302 average - the prototypical batting champion. He won his first that very season.
   59. bjhanke Posted: July 31, 2012 at 04:18 AM (#4196745)
I agree that Dag's manager book is the best I've ever read, by anyone. It's probably the single book that is most helpful in my voting for the Hall of Merit, because I can see how the managers' different styles and strengths and weaknesses affected their players. That is, it puts many many players into a context that had not existed before. Thanks, Dag, forever!

But Win Shares is the best METHODS GLOSSARY that I've ever read by anyone. That's what you have to remember: Win Shares is the methods glossary for the New Historical Abstract. Read on its own, it's dry, but if you've just read the Historical, Win Shares is a tremendous font of info, clearing up a lot of the problems that the Historical had, because what the Historical did not have was a methods glossary. Bill promised Win Shares in the Historical, although he was a wee tad later than he thought he would be, but you really do have to read the two books as one two-volume set. If you do that, Win Shares stops looking dry. You also understand why the Historical did not have a methods glossary included. The methods glossary turned out to be a whole book by itself. - Brock

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