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Thread: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    http://www.dailybulletin.com/pauloberjuerge/ci_6378921

    This week, staff writer Paul Oberjuerge spoke with Bill James, baseball analyst, sabermetrician and famed author of "The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract" (1985) and "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract" (2001). James, now senior baseball operations advisor with the Boston Red Sox, will be inducted into the Pasadena-based Shrine of the Eternals next Sunday. Paul O's column on James appears in Sunday's edition. The following excerpts are an online exclusive from his interview with James.

    QUESTION: Where did your first thoughts about discovering what really matters in baseball originate? How was it you began asking questions about what we all "knew" to be true?

    ANSWER: I don't know for sure, but I know that I began thinking about these issues by the time I was in my mid-teens. There was a time in 1965 when I read in "The Sporting News" that Wes Parker of the Dodgers was such a great fielder that he probably saved the team a hit a game over another first baseman, but his bat was so weak the Dodgers didn't know whether they would be able to keep him in the lineup. I figured out if Wes Parker was an average fielder but got one more hit per game, his batting average would be .504. Figure it out.

    Therefore, the Dodgers apparently were trying to figure out whether it was smart to keep a .504 hitter in the lineup. I would have been 15 then, so I was trying to figure those things out by age 15.

    Q: My impression is you were considered something of a crank by baseball traditionalists (GMs, journalists) for quite some time. Do you recall when you felt that changed?

    A: It was just a gradual thing. There wasn't any time when it changed.

    Q: Is there any aspect of your research of which you are most proud? A particular thought or statistical device? Runs Created, Win Shares, the defensive spectrum, the value of on-base percentage, etc.?

    A: Win Shares are a sort of end point, a culmination of the research that goes before them, so they were important in that way. Runs Created and Pythagorean Wins are practical contributions that everybody sort of uses. I suppose it's like asking which of my children I like best.

    Q: Are baseball executive, baseball writers, fans even, approaching the game more intelligently now than they did 30 years ago? Is the level of discussion higher?

    A: People are people; human nature doesn't change very much over time. Baseball being competitive, it moves forward all the time, not only in the last generation but in every generation. So ... certainly the discussion is more sophisticated now than it was a generation ago, but not that much of that is related to me. More of it is related to baseball being a bigger business that has more specialized executives.

    Forty years ago, you had general managers who negotiated radio and TV contracts and ran the gift shop, as well as trying to keep the baseball team together. Naturally enough, they weren't very good at certain elements of the job. Modern front offices are very different, in that we have people with specialized knowledge and special skills.

    Q: Is there a Last Bastion of Stunning Ignorance out there? Something you believe is obvious? That bugs you?

    A: Well, there are many of my ideas which have been spinning their wheels for 25 years, perhaps because I haven't advocated them well or perhaps because they're just not true. Who knows. Perhaps 20, 30 percent of the ideas that I advocated years ago have been widely accepted, but probably 70 or 80 percent of them haven't. So I couldn't pick out one thing that's held out.

    Q: I was re-reading your thoughts about the decade of the 1990s in "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract," and I was struck by how you did not mention performance-enhancing drugs. At all. If you do another revision at the end of this decade, will you talk about the Steroids Era?

    A: Perhaps, but a) I don't think people were talking much about PEDs at the time that I was writing that book; b) Even if they were, I really don't know much of anything about them, and I'm reluctant to write about things that I don't know much about; c) The fact that everybody else may regard that era as the steroid era doesn't necessarily make it true in my eyes. So, I don't know how I'll feel about it when the dust settles. I'm trying to figure it out.

    Q: Should players known to use (or strongly suspected to have used) performance-enhancing drugs be treated differently in history? Was the Baseball Writers Association of America electorate correct in not voting Mark McGwire to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot? Are you cheering for Barry Bonds?

    A: I'm not cheering for Bonds, but then, I didn't much like (Henry) Aaron, either. I look at it this way. There's a rule in basketball against traveling but the NBA has pretty much stopped enforcing it. Well, they still call traveling but they will allow you to take about five steps without dribbling as you are running toward the basket. There was no "decision" not to enforce this rule; they just kind of lost track of it. They started not calling one step and progressed to not calling two steps, not calling three steps, and eventually they just kind of lost track of the rule. Should the players who took advantage of this failure to enforce the rule be banned from the NBA Hall of Fame? After all, aren't they cheating? They're not obeying the rules. Julius Erving, out. The Hall of Fame doesn't need cheaters like you. Kobe, Michael, get out. If you don't play by the rules the way Elgin Baylor did, you're not deserving.

    Or it is, rather, the responsibility of the LEAGUE to enforce the rule? It seems to me that it might be the responsibility of the league to enforce the rule rather than the responsibility of the media to punish those who didn't obey the rule that wasn't being enforced. I won't name any players, but there are a whole bunch of superstars who are now or are going to be involved in the PED accusations. We CAN'T start picking and choosing who we honor on that basis. It's hypocritical, and it's impractical. And it diminishes the game.

    Bonds has hit more home runs than anybody else, or will have in a few weeks. That's kind of the end of the story as far as I'm concerned.

    Q: Do you sense a shift back toward "small ball"? Home runs are down; is that good?

    A: I think there is a shift back in that direction, yes.

    Q: In the "New Historical Abstract," you seemed quite pessimistic about the future of "small market" franchises. Any change in thinking?

    A: I don't think that's true, to begin with. I've never been pessimistic about the future of small-market franchises, I don't think. But in any case, there has been some quite significant progress on that issue within the past five years. The income disparities never entirely will go away, but they are starting to contract.

    Q: Which players, despite your efforts to clarify these things, continue to be overrated? Underrated? Do a few of each come to mind?

    A: I don't know. I never use the terms "overrated" and "underrated" because I'm never sure where players are rated to begin with. Over the weekend, somebody was talking about Curtis Granderson (of the Tigers) being tremendously underrated, which is true, but he's only been in the league two years. In that sense, the young players are always underrated and the veterans always overrated. Pat Burrell has a .390 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage every year but has played his whole career to a chorus of boos, so in that sense he is underrated.

    But ... it's an awkward concept. I think it is hard enough to say who is good and who is not so good without getting into who is better than everybody else says they are or not as good as everybody else says they are.

    Q: What do you think of the Shrine of the Eternals? Is it fun to belong to the same club as (outspoken 1960-70s slugger) Dick Allen and (catcher-turned-U.S. spy) Moe Berg?

    A: I'm very flattered.

    Q: Final thoughts on the steroid issue?

    A: The steroid debate is, in a sense, very much like the immigration debate, in that at their essence is this problem: 1) Rules weren't enforced in the past; 2) What do we do now?

    Perhaps we could solve all of our problems by offering a general amnesty to steroid users but banning undocumented immigrants from the Hall of Fame. Baseball at least has figured out this much: That we can't solve the problem unless we start enforcing the rules going forward. It's really impractical to start punishing people after the fact for rules violations that were ignored at the time.

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    http://baseballanalysts.com/archives...7/on_james.php

    On James

    By Rich Lederer

    Bill James will be inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals on Sunday, July 22, in Pasadena, California. James, Yogi Berra, and Jim Brosnan comprise the ninth class of electees in voting conducted by the membership of the Baseball Reliquary. All three honorees have made significant contributions to the language and literature of baseball.

    According to Terry Cannon, Executive Director of the Baseball Reliquary, the Shrine of Eternals is "similar in concept to the National Baseball Hall of Fame" but "differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not a criterion for election."

    Previous honorees have been Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Moe Berg, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Roberto Clemente, Rod Dedeaux, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Josh Gibson, William "Dummy" Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck Jr., and Kenichi Zenimura.

    Cannon and James have asked me to introduce Bill at the event, a distinct honor unto itself and one that I gladly accepted. Following my introductory remarks, Bill will speak and be presented with his induction plaque.

    Here is an excerpt from the press release:

    An author, historian, and statistics analyst, Kansas native BILL JAMES has been one of the most influential figures in baseball since he turned his inquisitive sights on the game in the mid-1970s. Using his annual Baseball Abstracts to question conventional wisdom, he developed his own analytical tools (Runs Created, Win Shares, Pythagorean Winning Percentage, et al.) with which he tweaked the nose of the major league establishment and revolutionized the way fans, the media, and baseball insiders think about the game. The corn-fed clarity of his writing style, combined with an acerbic wit and careful presentation of data in the Abstracts and subsequent books, made James the most widely read and imitated apostle of sabermetrics, the search for objective knowledge about baseball (after SABR, the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research). James’ knowledge of the game also made him a valuable asset for players and agents, some of whom hired him to assist in arbitration battles with management. Since 2003, James has been employed by the Boston Red Sox as Senior Baseball Operations Advisor, giving him a chance to put some of his theories into practice. In addition, since 2006, James’ life and ideas have been chronicled in two books, The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball, written by Scott Gray and published by Doubleday, and How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball, edited by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce and published by ACTA Sports.

    Bill James will be in attendance to personally accept his induction, and he will be introduced by RICH LEDERER, a Southern California native and a major contributor to the Baseball Analysts Web site, which utilizes a sabermetric approach in examining college, minor league, and major league players and teams.


    As one who owns the entire run of Baseball Abstracts (including the self-published editions from 1977-1981) and all of his other books, I literally bought into James and have been eating up every word he has ever written for more than a quarter of a century. James has had a tremendous influence on the way that I—and most of you—think about, understand, and appreciate the game of baseball. If not for James, the inspiration for Baseball Analysts may never have existed. Without a platform, I would not have undertaken the Abstracts From The Abstracts series, which culminated in Breakfast with Bill James, a three-part interview that took place in December 2004 at the Winter Meetings in Anaheim.

    For more on Bill James and his induction into the Shrine of the Eternals, be sure to read Paul Oberjuerge's outstanding article (which appeared in print on Sunday in the Los Angeles Newspaper Group) and interview.

    If you live in or around the greater Los Angeles area, I would highly recommend attending Sunday's ceremony. It will be held at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena Central Library, 285 East Walnut Street, Pasadena at 2:00 PM. Admission is open to the public and free of charge

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    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Pat Burrell has a .390 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage every year but has played his whole career to a chorus of boos, so in that sense he is underrated.
    We don't know anyone like that, do we?
    "I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful

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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Burrell has twice been close to that mark (.390/.500) in his career. And they boo everyone in Philly, so I think that his point is overstated.

    And I don't think Dunn has played his whole career in a 'chorus of boos'. He may get booed on occasion when he strikes out, but it's not just Cincinnati that boos their players, and it's not just Dunn that faces the fans displeasure.

    I spent the last two days at Shea. David Wright got booed, Carlos Beltran got booed. Carlos Delgado got booed. They were all jeered after failing with runners on base as the Mets have struggled in that capacity over the past few weeks. Wright swung at some horrid pitches. Beltran has no patience at the plate right now. Did they deserve to get booed...probably not. But in an era where players are making mega-millions and fans are dropping $200-300 dollars to take their family to the game, there will be times when they voice their frustration.

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    Member wally post's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Dunn has Magpies. Heckle and Jeckle. (sp?)

    I loved the bit about younger players always being underrated and veterans overrated.

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    Vampire Weekend @Bernie's camisadelgolf's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    The Phillies boo Burrell, the Cardinals boo Duncan, and the Reds boo Dunn. With high expectations come high disappointments.

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    Member Highlifeman21's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Quote Originally Posted by camisadelgolf View Post
    The Phillies boo Burrell, the Cardinals boo Duncan, and the Reds boo Dunn. With high expectations come high disappointments.
    2 of these guys have talent while the other guy is a coach's son.

    I would never boo Chris Duncan b/c I don't have high hopes for him.

    Burrell and Dunn, however, once they go much south of an .850 OPS, then I might raise an eyebrow.

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    Member Highlifeman21's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Quote Originally Posted by NJReds View Post
    Burrell has twice been close to that mark (.390/.500) in his career. And they boo everyone in Philly, so I think that his point is overstated.

    And I don't think Dunn has played his whole career in a 'chorus of boos'. He may get booed on occasion when he strikes out, but it's not just Cincinnati that boos their players, and it's not just Dunn that faces the fans displeasure.

    I spent the last two days at Shea. David Wright got booed, Carlos Beltran got booed. Carlos Delgado got booed. They were all jeered after failing with runners on base as the Mets have struggled in that capacity over the past few weeks. Wright swung at some horrid pitches. Beltran has no patience at the plate right now. Did they deserve to get booed...probably not. But in an era where players are making mega-millions and fans are dropping $200-300 dollars to take their family to the game, there will be times when they voice their frustration.

    Friday night, I noticed David Wright as the subject of many boos. I guess the passing of the torch from Phillies Phans and Michael Jack Schmidt journeyed north up I95 to the Big Apple with David Wright and Mets fans.

    I guess it must be an unwritten rule to greatly not appreciate one of the better, if not best player on every team.

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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Quote Originally Posted by Highlifeman21 View Post
    2 of these guys have talent while the other guy is a coach's son.
    Duncan has had himself a pretty nice career so far, though granted, he's only played in 174 games. He's got a .290/.371/.574/.945 with an OPS+ of 143.

    Of course, he has a rather underwhelming career minor league OPS of .753.

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    The Lineups stink. KronoRed's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Quote Originally Posted by Highlifeman21 View Post
    I guess it must be an unwritten rule to greatly not appreciate one of the better, if not best player on every team.
    Stars should always be perfect apparently.
    Go Gators!

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    Member Ron Madden's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Thanks WOY,

    Very interesting thread.

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    High five! nate's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    I liked this line:

    Forty years ago, you had general managers who negotiated radio and TV contracts and ran the gift shop, as well as trying to keep the baseball team together.
    Can you imagine that? "Put Pujols on hold, I gotta great lead on a pallet of drink hats!"

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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Of course contract negotiations were a little bit easier then too.
    The GM could basically tell the player what their new salary was going to be.
    When people say that I donít know what Iím talking about when it comes to sports or writing, I think: Man, you should see me in the rest of my life.
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    I don't like the comparison between PEDs and travelling in basketball.

    One is a crime and one is not.
    When all is said and done more is said than done.

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    Danger is my business! oneupper's Avatar
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    Re: Q & A with Bill James, baseball analyst

    Quote Originally Posted by dabvu2498 View Post
    I don't like the comparison between PEDs and travelling in basketball.

    One is a crime and one is not.
    James and other researchers play down the significance of PED because it compromises the data they have used to make some of their conclusions.

    I can understand that.
    "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."

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