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Friday, October 12, 2012

Miller: Analytics, Empathy and the Washington Nationals

Not since Newsboy Moriarty has a newspaper kid made it this big!


“(Disclosure: I delivered newspapers to Davey Johnson’s house as a kid when he played for the Baltimore Orioles. He was a great tipper and a favorite customer!)”

A Ph.D. with a strong statistical background on leave from the faculty of Princeton, Bernanke, like many economists, is a devotee of Sabermetrics, baseball’s version of advanced analytics, pioneered by Bill James 30 years ago. And the Nationals, who’ve been in D.C. just 7 years, are this season’s biggest success story, compiling the best record in major league baseball.

Bernanke’s thesis is that, despite all the political turmoil around town, there‘s a noteworthy example of excellent leadership in the nation’s capital – in the person of Nationals manager Davey Johnson. (Disclosure: I delivered newspapers to Johnson’s house as a kid when he played for the Baltimore Orioles. He was a great tipper and a favorite customer!)

...Bernanke cites the example of Nats shortstop Ian Desmond, a talented young player who’s struggled over his first few seasons. Johnson overruled the statistical “book” in Desmond’s case this year, keeping the budding star in the lineup, emphasizing that the job was his. Desmond’s “response was to have an absolutely sensational year.”

In sum, Johnson’s style deftly combines analytics, empathy and emotional intelligence. “He strikes the right balance between relying on the tangible (data) and the intangible (confidence and motivation) and shows the rare ability to make the right trade-off” between the short and long run.

Repoz Posted: October 12, 2012 at 09:31 AM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: nats, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. McCoy Posted: October 12, 2012 at 10:15 AM (#4265889)
I wonder if he thinks they'd be in the NLCS if Rizzo had handled Strasburg differently.
   2. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 12, 2012 at 11:44 AM (#4266007)
Sabermetrics, baseball’s version of advanced analytics, pioneered by Bill James 30 years ago

John Thorn and Pete Palmer really get short shrift, don't they?

I read "The Hidden Game of Baseball" long before I heard of Bill James.
   3. Spectral Posted: October 12, 2012 at 11:48 AM (#4266012)
I know it's got a bit of post facto reasoning to it, but I've heard more than one person allege that Davey's preference for power hitting has led him to encourage guys to pull the ball, and that it's been a big part of the power surge experienced by Desmond, and that fostering the atmosphere where that's highly valued may have helped lead to the Nats team power numbers this year. Probably there's more to Laroche being completely healthy and at his best and Harper being better than expected this soon to explain the team HR numbers, but Davey may have played a non-trivial role.

My favorite move of his this year has been putting Werth in the leadoff role and Werth changing his mechanics to fit that role better (his strikeout rate dropped like a rock when he was moved there, and he's gotten on base wonderfully). I'm not sure that's a move that every player/manager combo could pull off for a guy that's had Werth's career path and contract. Far too many managers would have just looked for a more conventional leadoff guy and insisted on putting someone fast there.
   4. Bob Tufts Posted: October 12, 2012 at 11:59 AM (#4266032)
On leave since when?

I seem to remember that Alan Blinder had to come back to the school because at that time there was a 2 year limit on leaves. Once it beacme obvious that he would not get Greenspan's job as the deadline approached he gave up the vice chairmanship of the Fed. As Anne Marie Slaughter detailed recently in a controversial article on women in the work force, if you are gone for more than two years you lose tenure.

Bernanke went on public service leave in 2002 and when he became head of the Council of Economic Advisors and resigned from the Princeton faculty in July of 2005
   5. Tom Nawrocki Posted: October 12, 2012 at 12:27 PM (#4266065)
I read "The Hidden Game of Baseball" long before I heard of Bill James.

If not for the success of Bill James, "The Hidden Game of Baseball" might never have been published.
   6. Steve N Posted: October 12, 2012 at 12:53 PM (#4266104)
I read "The Hidden Game of Baseball" and found it forgettable. No idea what it said. James big advantage is that he was, and seems to still be, an excellent writer. Also doing yearlies kept him visible.
   7. Ron J2 Posted: October 12, 2012 at 01:26 PM (#4266154)
#6 There's a lot of meat in "Hidden Game" but the wring just isn't very good.
   8. Repoz Posted: October 12, 2012 at 04:27 PM (#4266431)
John Thorn and Pete Palmer really get short shrift, don't they?

Like John Smoltz mentioning "Peter Palmer" yesterday and getting complete "who's that" emptiness from Cal Ripken Jr. and Ernie Johnson?
   9. Don Malcolm Posted: October 12, 2012 at 04:29 PM (#4266433)
"Applying data compassionately" is not something that happens with any great degree of regularity in this little region of the beisbol mundo, n'est-ce pas?? :-!
   10. bjhanke Posted: October 12, 2012 at 05:07 PM (#4266480)
"John Thorn and Pete Palmer really get short shrift, don't they?

I read "The Hidden Game of Baseball" long before I heard of Bill James."

You got there a little bit late. The "first wave" of sabermetricians was, essentially, Bill James, Pete Palmer, Craig Wright and Dick Cramer. John Thorn was a book packager, I believe, who got in contact with Palmer and has become, as best I can tell, his editor for things like Total Baseball. But he did not start out as a sabermetrician. He was a guy who could write and understood the value of what Pete Palmer was doing. He has progressed considerably since the early days. - Brock Hanke

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