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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Joe Morgan Conversations: Bill James

Not that interesting an interview; posting mostly just for posterity.  Joe reels off a list of criticisms of sabermetrics, and Bill figures out ways not to disagree.  Bill does not call Joe a “self-important prig” or a “little weenie.”  He does touch on the shower customs of his youth, so I guess there’s that.

The District Attorney Posted: February 19, 2014 at 01:29 PM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bill james, joe morgan, sabermetrics

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   1. Howie Menckel Posted: February 19, 2014 at 03:16 PM (#4659181)

Pass.
   2. AROM Posted: February 19, 2014 at 03:28 PM (#4659195)
Sabermetrics says that a .230 hitting second baseman who takes 90 walks and hits 18 homers, while stealing bases at a very high rate, is much more valuable than one who hits .300 but with little walks or power. Got a problem with that, Joe?
   3. SoCalDemon Posted: February 19, 2014 at 04:07 PM (#4659226)
A team with a 2B like that is never going to beat the Dodgers in the playoffs.
   4. Shibal Posted: February 19, 2014 at 05:05 PM (#4659270)
James showed a lot more personality than I expected in this interview.
   5. Bruce Markusen Posted: February 19, 2014 at 05:42 PM (#4659296)
Does he really talk about showering?
   6. Shibal Posted: February 19, 2014 at 06:06 PM (#4659316)
The best part was Joe talking about how he first learned of Bill James, about 33 minutes into the tape.

Jon Miller. "Joe, there's this great book by a guy that looks at baseball in a totally new way", goes on to bring up OB% and so on.

Joe: I've been saying that stuff to you for years, now you believe me?

Kind of says he got a bad rap because he was critical of the A's not stealing bases, and people automatically assumed he didn't care about walks either.
   7. Moeball Posted: February 19, 2014 at 06:44 PM (#4659338)
Kind of says he got a bad rap because he was critical of the A's not stealing bases, and people automatically assumed he didn't care about walks either.


Actually, during Joe's years doing broadcasts with Jon Miller, I heard Joe say on several occasions that hitters with runners on base should be willing to expand the strike zone (i.e., the standard criticism of Ted Williams, Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds and now Joey Votto) to increase chances to drive in the runners and not leave it up to the next guy.

The Big Hitter must swing at pitches out of the strike zone because everyone knows the "next guy" is going to kill the rally, probably by swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Which is why the criticism is all for the guys taking walks and keeping the rally alive instead of the "next guy" who everyone knows is going to kill the rally. This kind of doublespeak BS is positively Orwellian.

Fortunately for Joe, he didn't listen to Joe Morgan when he played; instead he took a ton of walks with runners on base rather than swinging at a bunch of crap outside the strike zone.
   8. Publius Publicola Posted: February 19, 2014 at 07:13 PM (#4659355)
Hilarious when Morgan brings up Maury Wills at 1.00.40 and James just sort of grunts.
   9. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:03 PM (#4659400)
The Big Hitter must swing at pitches out of the strike zone because everyone knows the "next guy" is going to kill the rally, probably by swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Which is why the criticism is all for the guys taking walks and keeping the rally alive instead of the "next guy" who everyone knows is going to kill the rally. This kind of doublespeak BS is positively Orwellian.

Fortunately for Joe, he didn't listen to Joe Morgan when he played; instead he took a ton of walks with runners on base rather than swinging at a bunch of crap outside the strike zone.


I have no doubt Joe Morgan would tell you that he wasn't the Big Hitter in the Reds' lineup. His and Pete Rose's job was to get on base, George Foster and Johnny Bench's job was to drive them in.
   10. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: February 19, 2014 at 09:18 PM (#4659406)
I think what has gotten Joe all mixed up is that he had a very specific approach to baseball that worked spectacularly well -- but he probably thought of it as being a very useful approach for a top-of-the-order hitter that just happened to pan out into a couple of bigger years for him. (Though Little Joe spent his best years batting third for the Big Red Machine, he spent the majority of his career batting second.) When, in the HR-happy 90s, you started seeing more and more players adopt the approach, he probably responded by thinking that there were a lot of players in the game trying to do things that they shouldn't -- not because they were evil, or because it was absolutely the wrong way to play, but because it was the way to bat leadoff or second, not cleanup or fifth.

Though Joe got old and grew reactionary, he was never a stupid man. I think the game changed on him, and he was too old and too much the jock to go with it. I don't doubt that he honestly believed many of the criticisms he issued, and that many of them were based on the best instruction he had received, ie, probably the best instruction available to a ballplayer at mid-century.
   11. Publius Publicola Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:08 PM (#4659430)
Let's not forget James has been an advisor in MLB through 3 championships now and that gives him an undeniable credibility with Morgan he didn't have before
   12. Rob_Wood Posted: February 19, 2014 at 10:58 PM (#4659448)
I am happy to hear that joe morgan has now reached the understanding and appreciation of sabermetrics circa 1980. I think he admits he has not read any of Bill James's books. OMG some of the things he says are cringeworthy to the nth degree.

And I want to compliment Bill for trying to get along with Joe. I can remember when Bill was on a weekly radio show with Joe Garagiola back in the 1980's (?) when every week they got into heated arguments which both seemed to enjoy.
   13. bigglou115 Posted: February 20, 2014 at 12:18 AM (#4659468)
Though Joe got old and grew reactionary, he was never a stupid man. I think the game changed on him, and he was too old and too much the jock to go with it. I don't doubt that he honestly believed many of the criticisms he issued, and that many of them were based on the best instruction he had received, ie, probably the best instruction available to a ballplayer at mid-century.


Joe Morgan would take a lot less heat if that showed through in his approach. He could have said "The way I was taught to play the game..." and we all would have thought of him as just an old timer who didn't keep up. In fact, he tended to be good enough at a large portion of his job that we probably would have overlooked it. But his sin wasn't ignorance, it was arrogance. He didn't need to read "Moneyball" because he already knew better. All he needed to know was that the book said things he knew were wrong, and that was enough for him to assume it was worthless. I really believe what draws many of us to sabermetrics is intellectual curiosity, and to the intellectually curious there is no greater sin than arguing from a position of intentional ignorance.
   14. The District Attorney Posted: February 20, 2014 at 12:13 PM (#4659657)
Does he really talk about showering?
He mentions it, yes :) To summarize, Morgan says (almost exactly as post #9 predicts) that Tony Perez shouldn't be evaluated by sabermetric stats, because players at that time were being judged by the "old" stats (and specifically RBI in Perez's case). James agrees, saying that standards change as time go on; for instance, his father only showered once a week.

This is definitely an issue on which, if I were James, I wouldn't have been willing to yield. The smaller point is that it really doesn't make sense when we're specifically talking about WAR, which at least claims to measure everything. You could perhaps argue that if Perez had known that people would care more about his OBA than about his RBI, he could have traded some RBI for some walks, while maintaining the same overall value. But I don't see how you could argue that he could have played in such a way as to maximize his WAR, since that would mean simply willing himself to become a more valuable player.

But the larger point is that it's just dumb. I mean, what would it mean if we followed this train of thought to its logical conclusion? I suppose you would:

Evaluate players from 1871-1919 by their batting average.
Evaluate players from 1920-1989 by their BA/HR/RBI.
Evaluate players from 1990-2005 by their BA/OBP/SLG, runs created and Pete Palmer stats.
Evaluate players from 2006-present by WAR.

The fact that no one will ever actually do that indicates that we all ultimately know it doesn't make any sense. We're attempting to measure how many wins the guy added to the team, not the extent to which he achieved his own internal goals.
   15. Ron J2 Posted: February 21, 2014 at 04:22 PM (#4660479)
#9 Actually Morgan talked about how he revamped his offensive game when he was moved to the #3 spot. At that point it was his responsibility to hit for power. (and drive in runs)

And he did hit for more power batting 3rd than he did elsewhere. OK, some pretty massive park (and other offensive context adjustments) in play.

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