The James (Lake Hopatcong): I'm in a league with some fanatics. Me? I pick up a magazine the day before the draft, and usually clean up every season. Where's the balance between statistical analysis and common sense?
Sam Walker: I know there's a line there, and that the two disciplines are both important, but I'm probably the LAST guy who can tell you where to draw it. While writing the book, I went to the furthest extremes in both directions. To cover the stats, I hired Sig Mejdal, a NASA biomathematician and sabermetrician to advise me (Sig is now working in baseball as senior quantitative analyst for the Cardinals). We built all kinds of crazy models and did all sorts of data manuipulation to try to get an edge. Some of it workked well, some of it was pointless. We discovered that players who have a religious conversion tend to generate 2 fewer runs the following season. I'm not sure what you do with that... On the other hand, I spent the equivalent of about three months on the road that season using my press access to meet ballplayers and scout them in person. I even went to Winter ball in Puerto Rico to look for sleepers. Sometimes this taught me that the numbers can be obscured by some pretty elementary stuff. Matt Lawton's dad told me that the reason his son had such a lousy 2003 season was because his shoulder was so mutilated that he couldn't physically hit pitches on the outside corner, and often didn't even offer at them. If you saw Sidney Ponson arrive to camp looking like he'd eaten an entire donut factory, you probably would have opted to pass. And from the first time I talked to David Ortiz about his approach to hitting in Fenway, I knew I was going to draft him (which I did) and I knew he was going to have a big year.... Here's what's really odd: in 2004, I spent $50,000 on scouting and research and didn't win Tout Wars. Last year, I spent two days preparing, had a baby in May, and spent most of my free time just watching games on the couch. I won. What does that tell you?
dmaybee (Virginia): Hello, In your research for your book, I often wondered do the baseball players themselves know or follow their own stats. Do they analyze thier own statistical performance?
Sam Walker: Some do, some don't. I remember trying to ask Orlando Hudson something about his contact rate once and he sort of jumped backwards. He put his hands up to his ears and said "No stats! Stats are the devil! I don't want to hear any stats until the season is over." When I asked Aubrey Huff a really long and carefully reasoned question about his plate approach, he said "My philosophy is pretty simple. See the ball, hit the ball." Then he went back to his newspaper... But most players are pretty keyed in. If you tell them, for instance, that their batted balls were becoming outs at a freakishly large rate, or if they had a much higher BA with two strikes than they do when the count is in their favor, they almost always know this already, intuitively. I heard a lot of clubhouse conversations about the "moneyball philosophy." Players realize that it's a good idea to learn the quantitative side in order to survive in the game. I noticed that Curt Schilling made a reference to VORP recently, but I guess we all know that he's a quant guy.... One thing that surprised me is that a huge number of these guys play fantasy sports, so they're aware of the way that they're perceived in that world. Major leaguers are strongly discouraged from playing fantasy baseball (for obvious reasons) but there's a fantasy football league in every clubhouse. At spring training, I had a talk with Randy Winn, who plays in a bunch of fantasy leagues. So I asked him a hypothetical question: if he was in a Rotisserie league, would he draft himself? I won't tell you what he said, but it pretty much summed up the odd direction the game is headed in.