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Monday, October 19, 2009

Life Magazine: Goodby To Some Old Baseball Ideas

Google now has every issue of Life Magazine from before 1973 available in its entirety. Finally, we can all see the oft-mentioned article from the August 2, 1954 issue in which Branch Rickey did some of the earliest-known sabermetric-type analysis.

Some may remember Alan Schwarz’s NY Times piece about this from 2004. It’s here.

NaOH Posted: October 19, 2009 at 10:30 PM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dodgers, history, sabermetrics

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   1. Eric in Madison Posted: October 20, 2009 at 01:30 AM (#3358890)
Yeah, yeah, great.

Check out the ad on page 52, where they urge you to feed meat to your newborn.
   2. 'Spos Posted: October 20, 2009 at 01:43 AM (#3358908)
That is one oedipal look.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: October 20, 2009 at 02:41 AM (#3358970)
What's F?

So we've got OBP, a weighted ISO and a "scoring efficiency" factor on offense. I'm not sure I'd expect the socring efficiency to be very stable from season to season though this is where baserunning goes. The pitching bit has, essentially, OBP against, opp scoring efficiency and K per 8 batters faced and the mysterious F. I'll admit to not having a clue why it would be K per 8 batters.
   4. steagles Posted: October 20, 2009 at 02:46 AM (#3358976)

So we've got OBP, a weighted ISO and a "scoring efficiency" factor on offense. I'm not sure I'd expect the socring efficiency to be very stable from season to season though this is where baserunning goes. The pitching bit has, essentially, OBP against, opp scoring efficiency and K per 8 batters faced and the mysterious F. I'll admit to not having a clue why it would be K per 8 batters.
no DH?
   5. Kiko Sakata Posted: October 20, 2009 at 02:50 AM (#3358983)
What's F?


From the caption on the next page, if I squint, I think it says that "F" stands for "fielding". No, I have no idea how exactly one measures "fielding" there.
   6. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: October 20, 2009 at 03:01 AM (#3358997)
Fielding errors?
   7. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: October 20, 2009 at 04:01 AM (#3359057)
Check out the ad on page 52, where they urge you to feed meat to your newborn.


You mean I should be buying Gerber racks of ribs for my 8 month old?
   8. NaOH Posted: October 20, 2009 at 04:34 AM (#3359075)
F does stand for fielding. Says Rickey in the article,

Fielding averages? Utterly worthless as a yardstick. They are not only misleading, but deceiving. Take Zeke Bonura, the old White Sox first baseman, generally regarded as a poor fielder. The fielding averages showed he led the American League in fielding for three years. Why? Zeke had "good hands"! Anything he reached, he held. Result: an absence of errors. But he was also slow moving and didn't cover much territory. Balls that a quicker man may have fielded went for base hits, but the fielding averages do not reflect this.

Fielding then cannot be measured, although it must be admitted that, all other things being equal, it could be the difference between winning or losing four of five games or mean the run that wins the big game. But application of the formula to 20 years of statistics shows fielding to be worth only about one half as much as pitching or about 15%. No team would have an aggregate fielding percentage of 1.000. So the variation within the 15% between the best fielding team and the worst would be only a few percentage points and does not destroy the validity of the [greater] formula.
   9.  Hey Gurl Posted: October 20, 2009 at 04:35 AM (#3359076)
Fielding errors?


Can't be. In this "cluster" we want a low number, so if it was errors he'd be adding errors.
   10. God Posted: October 20, 2009 at 07:21 AM (#3359111)
Fielding averages? Utterly worthless as a yardstick. They are not only misleading, but deceiving. Take Zeke Bonura, the old White Sox first baseman, generally regarded as a poor fielder. The fielding averages showed he led the American League in fielding for three years. Why? Zeke had "good hands"! Anything he reached, he held. Result: an absence of errors. But he was also slow moving and didn't cover much territory. Balls that a quicker man may have fielded went for base hits, but the fielding averages do not reflect this.

It's pretty phenomenal that someone within baseball wrote this over half a century ago. Even today, most of the sportswriters and old-school baseball types can't bring themselves to accept it.
   11. Halofan Posted: October 20, 2009 at 07:55 AM (#3359113)
FIXED:

most of the sportswriters and old-school baseball types can't bring themselves to UNDERSTAND it.
   12. CFiJ Posted: October 20, 2009 at 12:43 PM (#3359153)
Some may remember Alan Schwarz’s NY Times piece about this from 2004. It’s here.
Schwarz also did this really interesting roundtable on stats vs. scouts. Someone should post a thread about that.
   13. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: October 20, 2009 at 12:52 PM (#3359164)
Some may remember Alan Schwarz’s NY Times piece about this from 2004. It’s here.


Schwarz also did this really interesting roundtable on stats vs. scouts. Someone should post a thread about that.

Do you mean this 2005 Baseball America article?
   14. kthejoker Posted: October 20, 2009 at 02:09 PM (#3359252)
I didn't know Branch invented isolated power. Cool.
   15. jesse spector Posted: October 20, 2009 at 03:03 PM (#3359299)
Without being able to calculate the F, I just put together a quick-and-dirty blog entry applying the formula to this year's teams. Thought it would be of interest to the community here, and thanks for posting the link to the Life article -- Here's the link to the 2009 G-ratings.
   16. Hack Wilson Posted: October 20, 2009 at 03:12 PM (#3359304)
Please send page 52 to every vegan you know, hilarious.
   17. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: October 20, 2009 at 03:22 PM (#3359314)
kind of impressive that three of the top 8 pitchers for--(which year, 1953?) were Indians

if it is the 1954 season, then it is 4 out of 8

EDIT--turns out that "Ed Ford" of the Yankees was pretty good, too
   18. Jose Canusee Posted: October 20, 2009 at 03:33 PM (#3359331)
I also thought it curious that the spelling of "goodbye" used to be shorter. More commonly when the usual spelling changes, the old one was the longer one.
   19. Cyril Morong Posted: October 21, 2009 at 01:54 AM (#3360252)
What do you mean " Finally, we can all see the oft-mentioned article...?" BTF has had the text of this article posted for years. Jim Furtado posted it and he noted that I found a possible discrepancy. It is at

Goodby To Some Old Baseball Ideas

If you really want to blow your mind, read this article from Fortune magazine in 1935 about a very early and very sophisticated

The Base in Baseball By Travis Hoke

It is also posted by BTF
   20. NaOH Posted: October 21, 2009 at 02:00 AM (#3360271)
Oops. Thanks, Cyril. I'd never seen the Hoke piece. A quick read suggests it's another interesting classic. I'll re-read it again, though.
   21. Cyril Morong Posted: October 21, 2009 at 02:04 AM (#3360279)
You're welcome. I hope you guys put clear links up to these articles. Who knows what else you got. Maybe something from a Dan Brown novel (hey, if he wrote a baseball book would it be called "The DiMaggio Code?"). It could be a about the long lost magic power of clutch hitting handed down by a secret society of Yankee players. It would explain Derek Jeter's super human powers
   22. McCoy Posted: October 21, 2009 at 02:18 AM (#3360310)
You can also go back to the 1910's and read FC Lane's linear weights work which I believe is posted somewhere on this site as well. Or you could also go to baseball-fever and look at leverage index work from the 1960's.

This stuff ain't new, not by a long shot.
   23. Downtown Bookie Posted: October 21, 2009 at 02:24 AM (#3360320)
Without being able to calculate the F, I just put together a quick-and-dirty blog entry applying the formula to this year's teams. Thought it would be of interest to the community here, and thanks for posting the link to the Life article -- Here's the link to the 2009 G-ratings.


I won't speak for the community, but I personally definitely found it to be very interesting. Thank you very much for sharing.

If I may make one point, you stated in your entry:

I also feel like this provides a little more evidence that the Mariners were big-time overachievers, and can't go into next year hoping to contend without making some serious upgrades.


You very well may be right; but (and I state this not as a point of contention, but rather as a point to ponder) perhaps the difference between the Mariners expectations per the formula and their actual accomplishments lay inside the immeasurable "F". Maybe, just maybe, their fielding really was that much above average this year.

DB
   24. Cyril Morong Posted: October 21, 2009 at 02:25 AM (#3360322)
You can read that FC Lane article at

Why the System of Batting Averages Should Be Changed

Then his analysis of the value of walks is at

The Base on Balls

And links to more Baseball Magazine articles are at

Cyril Morong's Sabermetric Research
   25. Cyril Morong Posted: October 21, 2009 at 02:33 AM (#3360330)
I posted the following at BTB a few years ago

The post below is the few pages from FC Lane's book called "Batting" that dealt with the batting order. Whether or not it matches up with some of the recent analysis on lineups I will leave up to readers. One expert mentioned that it was a good idea to bat Cy Williams 2nd. FC Lane was a great baseball writer and editor of Baseball Magazine in the early part of the 20th century. It comes to you through the miracle of scanning (well, it was a miracle that I figured out how to use the scanner-actually my wife who is a computer programmer showed me how-the miracle is that she stays married to me)

How the Batting Order "Colors" Batting

FC Lane on the Batting Order

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