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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Thorn & Palmer: The Hidden Game of Baseball: A Revolutionary Approach to Baseball and Its Statistics

From John Thorn: “Thirty years ago this month Pete Palmer and I put out “The Hidden Game of Baseball.” A fine publisher has proposed a reissue for next spring, with a new intro and guest foreword.”

“I wonder whether BBTF readers might comment upon their reactions to the book way back when, or their view of it all these years later. I’ll have to write an intro to the reissue touching upon these themes and, of course, the rise of sabermetrics generally.”


Repoz Posted: April 05, 2014 at 12:50 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics, site news

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Rennie's Tenet Posted: April 05, 2014 at 01:09 PM (#4679911)
I unfortunately didn't have this one early on, but I can still remember clearly the first time I read through James's introductory pages. It was very difficult to internalize the notion that all you really have is 27 outs.
   2. Mefisto Posted: April 05, 2014 at 01:16 PM (#4679914)
The book was a real eye-opener for me, even after reading James' Baseball Abstracts. Also, John Thorn is a really nice guy.
   3. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 05, 2014 at 01:21 PM (#4679916)
I've got the perfect blurb for the back cover: "Billy Beane should have never written this book." - Joe Morgan
   4. ntr RdP Posted: April 05, 2014 at 01:22 PM (#4679917)
If it doesn't cover grittiness, veteran presence, and clubhouse chemistry it won't sell more than 7 copies.
   5. GGC Posted: April 05, 2014 at 01:36 PM (#4679926)
I bought this back in '85. Between that and the Abstract, my life changed. I took more notes on these books than any other ones. I never became a sabermetrician, but I did get into SABR and BTF years later because of Palmer, Thorn, and James.
   6. Ginger Nut Posted: April 05, 2014 at 01:36 PM (#4679927)
I remember finding this book in the library sometime in the late 80s. It completely changed my understanding of baseball and incited a lifetime of nerdy immersion in baseball statistics. From there, I found Bill James.... but it was Palmer and Thorn who first opened my eyes to baseball writing that was more intelligent than The Sporting News or what the columnists wrote for the local paper.
   7. GGC Posted: April 05, 2014 at 01:49 PM (#4679935)
I think I read the 1985 Abstract first. FWIW, I think James is the better writer, but Palmer had a better understanding of statistics. But outside of Linear Weights Batting Runs and relative OPS and ERA [now referred to as OPS+ and ERA+ (or ERA-)], I don't think any of his concepts really gained traction. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Smarter folks than me have pooh pooed Fielding Runs and I haven't seen anyone mentions Wins Above Team in ages. But I may be missing something. It has been some time since I've read it.
   8. GGC Posted: April 05, 2014 at 02:04 PM (#4679942)
I know these guys also wrote The Hidden Game of Football, but I didn't read that until years after it was published. Allen Barra and George Ignatin wrote at least to Abstract-esque Football by the Numbers that I read to feed my pframetrics jones.
   9. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: April 05, 2014 at 03:25 PM (#4679981)
Was Thorn in the Ken Burns movie? I seem to remember him in that.
   10. void*** (SC) Posted: April 05, 2014 at 03:38 PM (#4679989)
The sequels:
A Clash of Nerds
A Storm of Stats
A Feast for Hacks
A Dance with dWAR
   11. Chris Fluit Posted: April 05, 2014 at 05:00 PM (#4680043)
Was Thorn in the Ken Burns movie? I seem to remember him in that.

Yes, he was. People like to pick on the Ken Burns documentary but it was a great gateway to baseball history through storytellers like Buck O'Neil, Doris Kearns-Goodwin and Studs Terkel and, almost unintentionally, to the the statistical revolution through John Thorn.
   12. Hecubot Posted: April 05, 2014 at 05:21 PM (#4680053)
Loved it, but doubted Glen Hubbard's defensive value was as high as they argued.
   13. shoewizard Posted: April 05, 2014 at 07:18 PM (#4680089)
It's not the destination, it's the journey. My journey started with Strat, got rekindled with James, and turbo charged by Thorn and Palmer. It doesn't matter one bit to me that some of their specific metrics or results are out dated or obsolete. Thats like discounting or denigrating your first Apple Computer you owned in the 1980's because it doesn't compare to what an i phone can do today.
   14. AndrewJ Posted: April 05, 2014 at 08:59 PM (#4680126)
I got my copy for Christmas in 1984. The back-of-the-book career and single-season lists revealed just how ridiculously dominant Babe Ruth and Ted Williams were, but as a 1970s-80s fan it was very gratifying to see Schmidt and Brett -- and, yes, Joe Morgan -- finish as high as they did.
   15. Howie Menckel Posted: April 05, 2014 at 09:17 PM (#4680132)

I still have a galley proof of this book somewhere, which I mention whenever the book is mentioned here. I keep imagining someone here would give a crap.

   16. Cblau Posted: April 05, 2014 at 09:21 PM (#4680133)
My god, you've got a galley proof? I am green with envy. Hail Howie! :)
   17. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq., LLC Posted: April 05, 2014 at 09:35 PM (#4680137)
My parents grabbed this book for me at a yard sale, and it's what got me into sabermetrics. Actually, in looking for Linear Weights stats online ten years ago, I ended up finding this place, in a roundabout way.
   18. Howie Menckel Posted: April 05, 2014 at 09:40 PM (#4680141)
Cblau, you have made my day!


ironically, the galley cover indeed is (lime) green
   19. AndrewJ Posted: April 05, 2014 at 10:24 PM (#4680149)
In his first Historical Abstract, Bill James decimated LWTS (because it rated an average regular at zero; this presumably led, after a fashion, to the idea of WAR)...
   20. bjhanke Posted: April 06, 2014 at 01:17 AM (#4680179)
I'd been reading the Bill James Abstracts since 1981, so Diamond Appraised didn't introduce me to sabermetrics or anything (my first sabermetric activity occurred at age 8, in 1956, when I got into Cadaco All-Star Baseball and noticed that Eddie Yost was scoring a whole lot of runs on the Ted Kluzewski homers behind him, despite a low batting average. It, of course, turned out to be all the walks). My main memories of DA are two: 1) Markov Chains are really really useful in analyzing baseball, although acquiring the raw data can be difficult, and you always run the risk of small sample sizes in some cells of the chain. 2) Placing the zero point at league average (not average regular - sorry Andrew - but league average) gets you into all kinds of trouble. I started noticing that there were players - very good players - great players - whose career Linear Weights number was lower than it would have been if the player had quit three years earlier, because he had played at a below-average rate in the dregs of his decline phase. That is what convinced me to completely buy in to replacement rate, which held until Win Shares, which demonstrated that, while your zero point makes a difference no matter what else you do, if you have your zero point low enough, you will always get rid of the real serious problems, like guys who would rank higher if they had quit earlier. Those were the two big discoveries for me. - Brock Hanke
   21. PreservedFish Posted: April 06, 2014 at 02:23 AM (#4680184)
This is a very hazy and unreliable memory, but I found both the Historical Baseball Abstract and The Hidden Game in the NYC Public Library, the big one at Bryant Park. I would have been 13 years old or so (1994-5), and was certainly supposed to be working on a paper for school. All I really remember about The Hidden Game is reading the run values for linear weights - that was some edgy ####.

A few years later I organized a Yahoo baseball league that I scored with linear weights, which was difficult because it didn't allow for certain important categories like Outs. I did the math wrong, and the thing was a disaster, abandoned by everyone within about a week. Despite my failure, I was a bit ahead of the curve on that one.
   22. Rob_Wood Posted: April 06, 2014 at 03:51 AM (#4680189)

I remember seeing Jimmie Foxx's phenomenal home stats for one season (I think it was 1938) in the book. Over 100 RBIs with a very high batting average. It was neat that Pete Palmer had that detailed information.
   23. mitchiapet Posted: April 06, 2014 at 08:02 AM (#4680204)
I managed to get a used copy from a library and read it on my honeymoon. Besides seeing the details of Linear Weights, with which I had become familiar through reading other sabermetric material and a couple seminars in college, my favorite part was their history of sabermetrics. Still one of the best recaps of historic sabermetric thought in existence.
   24. I Am Not a Number Posted: April 06, 2014 at 09:15 AM (#4680222)
I had read the Bill James Abstracts at the time. And read Hidden Game when it came out. I thought the material was extremely insightful. Mind blowing in fact. Obviously, they would appear much less so now to someone reading them for the first time (they might even seem quaint). Like Brock in #20, I would eventually find fault with the premise that the LWTS model was zero-based around league average and not replacement level. A player who was good enough to be a starter at his position but below league average at that position actually gets "punished" for logging 700 PAs rather than, say, 500 PAs. This problematic line of thinking became evident when using LWTS to prepare for Strat-O-Matic drafts.
   25. Howie Menckel Posted: April 06, 2014 at 10:13 AM (#4680240)

"I managed to get a used copy from a library and read it on my honeymoon."

do you still talk to your ex-wife?
   26. I Am Not a Number Posted: April 06, 2014 at 11:16 AM (#4680251)
I managed to get a used copy from a library and read it on my honeymoon.

I hope it didn't lead to you dropping your bride because she was merely below average despite being well above replacement level.
   27. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 06, 2014 at 01:02 PM (#4680312)
I read this back in HS. Great book. This was my introduction to Sabremetrics. Never read Bill James.....
   28. bjhanke Posted: April 07, 2014 at 04:50 AM (#4680735)
Rereading this thread, I was embarrassed to find that I'd used "DA" for Hidden Game, which, of course, should have been "HG." DA stands for Diamond Appraised, which is the very seminal book that Craig Wright wrote. It's still very influential, if for no other reason that it is the first book to note that large workloads are far worse for young pitchers than they will be when they mature. Highly recommended, if you don't already have a copy. - Brock Hanke

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