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Thread: 10 minutes with Bill James

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    10 minutes with Bill James

    http://www.azcentral.com/members/Blog/NickPiecoro/76897

    How has working for a team changed the way you look at the game? (James is a senior advisor for the Boston Red Sox.)

    For one thing, I canít believe how much I didnít know. I knew in theory there was a lot of stuff I didnít know, but working with the team exposes me to different things. Itís profound. I sit next to scouts at games and they just see things I would never have seen I guess because I didnít play the game. An example is a right-handed pitcher will throw his change-up five times as often to a lefty as he will to a righty. I never knew that. I think everybody in baseball knew it except me. Iíve been around baseball for a long time but I donít pick that stuff up. I still donít understand pitching patterns at all, basically. Understanding how they talk and how they think is extremely useful to me, although I donít have the ability to follow through on it the way they do.

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    Member Sea Ray's Avatar
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    An example is a right-handed pitcher will throw his change-up five times as often to a lefty as he will to a righty. I never knew that. I think everybody in baseball knew it except me. I’ve been around baseball for a longtime but I don’t pick that stuff up. I still don’t understand pitching patterns at all, basically
    I can't believe Bill James didn't know that. I'll give him another one: That same RHP will throw many more sliders to a RH batter than he does to a LH batter. It has to do with the principle of ball movement. As a pitcher you generally want to throw balls that tail away from a hitter. A lot of pitchers are throwing circle changes these days and that will tend to have a screwball effect; that is it'll dart down and away from a LH hitter given Bill James example.

    This gives me the impression that he's spent too much time immersed in numbers and not enough time watching games
    Last edited by Sea Ray; 03-26-2010 at 09:46 AM.

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    Titanic Struggles Caveat Emperor's Avatar
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea Ray View Post
    This gives me the impression that he's spent too much time immersed in numbers and not enough time watching games
    I think that's a vast oversimplification -- he just watches games differently than a scout would.

    Think of it like a traffic accident that a lot of people witness. I'd expect an engineer or a scientist who was an eyewitness to give a very different account of the accident than a teacher or an author. Neither account would be "more correct" -- they'd just be different because people see things differently and are paying attention to different things.
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Think of it like a traffic accident that a lot of people witness. I'd expect an engineer or a scientist who was an eyewitness to give a very different account of the accident than a teacher or an author. Neither account would be "more correct" -- they'd just be different because people see things differently and are paying attention to different things.
    Disagree. A scout sees more, probably much more, over the course of a game. A statistician is focused on quantifiable data, and that generally lacks significance until a large amount has been gathered.
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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by lollipopcurve View Post
    Disagree. A scout sees more, probably much more, over the course of a game. A statistician is focused on quantifiable data, and that generally lacks significance until a large amount has been gathered.
    But scouts have their own domain silos too. Often they only go to look at a player and then often all they see is that player, not the rest of the game, that tends to make their observations highly subjective. Any information they have is translated to a scouting report that is rich in its own domain language and is often only transferable to those who understand the language, so it lacks the ability to teach people about the player or the game unless they have been privy to that language.

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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by westofyou View Post
    But scouts have their own domain silos too. Often they only go to look at a player and then often all they see is that player, not the rest of the game, that tends to make their observations highly subjective. Any information they have is translated to a scouting report that is rich in its own domain language and is often only transferable to those who understand the language, so it lacks the ability to teach people about the player or the game unless they have been privy to that language.
    Hence, front offices use and value both.
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    On the brink wolfboy's Avatar
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    I'd like to point out that just because Bill James wasn't all that familiar with pitching patterns doesn't mean that other SABR oriented types weren't. Take, for example, Dave Cameron's "An Open Letter to Rafael Chavez" post from a few years back. For those who aren't familiar with the post and the aftermath, this article sums it up nicely: http://www.seattleweekly.com/2007-08...ly-read-blogs/ Cameron made these observations about Hernandez's pitching patterns from his home in NC, not at a game.

    I think the fact that Bill James had a lot to learn about pitching patterns tells us a little bit about Bill James, not about SABR oriented analysis as a whole.
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    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    For one thing, I canít believe how much I didnít know. I knew in theory there was a lot of stuff I didnít know, but working with the team exposes me to different things. Itís profound.


    I have not doubt he is being very earnest in this statement.

    I think a lot of people lose sight of this when they are criticizing players, managers, GMs, owners, etc. I'm not saying that they are above criticism, or that they don't deserve it from time-to-time ... but IMO they get it way more than is warranted.

    We just don't know the constraints these guys are working under; the players may be injured, having family problems, etc. - the manager may have players that can't go for one reason or another, but he doesn't want to advertise that to the other team ... the GM may have asked about signing a guy and the owner said no, or the player outright rejected the idea of playing for the team, etc. etc. etc.

    These are just a few of the kind of things the team is just not going to want in the paper.

    Having been exposed to more management activities than I care to, it becomes immediately obvious that the worker bees have no idea what is involved in the decision making process. (Not that it is their/our fault, that information is just generally not shared) I have heard a number of water-cooler complaints that make sense on the surface, but fall apart as soon as the specifics/constraints are considered at the management level.


    I sit next to scouts at games and they just see things I would never have seen I guess because I didnít play the game. An example is a right-handed pitcher will throw his change-up five times as often to a lefty as he will to a righty. I never knew that. I think everybody in baseball knew it except me. Iíve been around baseball for a long time but I donít pick that stuff up. I still donít understand pitching patterns at all, basically.
    I suspect the most likely reason is that the pitching data just wasn't available to the average Joe until recently. I suspect he'd have figured it out eventually.

    Understanding how they talk and how they think is extremely useful to me, although I donít have the ability to follow through on it the way they do.
    It never hurts to be able to speak the language.

    GL

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    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    I recall a similar interview he gave to XM radio a couple of years ago. He was also talking about things he learned sitting with scouts that surprised him. One of his examples was that scouts were very interested in whether or not a pitcher was "hitting his spots". He talked about how that surprised him, that he hadn't ever considered it in his evaluations.

    I found that astonishing, but very refreshing in his willingness to point it out.
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    I think the point isn't that "Bill James didn't know this, therefore people who spend their study time in statistical analysis have this same blind spot." The point I get is that, like any discipline, only using a certain tool or tools will lead to a much less rounded view of the discipline being studied than gathering data from various sources and angles.

    A fitting analogy would be walking into a car dealership ready to buy a new car, having done all the research on the car's specs. Then you sit in it and drive it and find it isn't comfortable and rides awful. So, you don't why the specs say one thing but your ride tells you another, but I'm guessing you don't buy the car. Or at least you would be wise not to. There was value in knowing the specs, but it did not tell you all you needed to know about that car. The test drive ("kicking the tires" as they say) gave you vital information that helped make a wise decision.
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by RFS62 View Post
    I found that astonishing, but very refreshing in his willingness to point it out.
    I agree, James could easily sit back and keep his mouth shut about the things he doesn't know about the game but instead he is willing to speak up and admit he doesn't know it all. I appreciate the mans humility.
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea Ray View Post
    I can't believe Bill James didn't know that. I'll give him another one: That same RHP will throw many more sliders to a RH batter than he does to a LH batter. It has to do with the principle of ball movement. As a pitcher you generally want to throw balls that tail away from a hitter. A lot of pitchers are throwing circle changes these days and that will tend to have a screwball effect; that is it'll dart down and away from a LH hitter given Bill James example.

    This gives me the impression that he's spent too much time immersed in numbers and not enough time watching games
    I would bet the farm Bill James knew that already.

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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by traderumor View Post
    I think the point isn't that "Bill James didn't know this, therefore people who spend their study time in statistical analysis have this same blind spot." The point I get is that, like any discipline, only using a certain tool or tools will lead to a much less rounded view of the discipline being studied than gathering data from various sources and angles.

    A fitting analogy would be walking into a car dealership ready to buy a new car, having done all the research on the car's specs. Then you sit in it and drive it and find it isn't comfortable and rides awful. So, you don't why the specs say one thing but your ride tells you another, but I'm guessing you don't buy the car. Or at least you would be wise not to. There was value in knowing the specs, but it did not tell you all you needed to know about that car. The test drive ("kicking the tires" as they say) gave you vital information that helped make a wise decision.
    To me the point is that different people bring different perspectives to a topic/issue/problem and nobody knows everything there is to know/understand about anything-baseball included.

    That's the beauty of redszone by the way.... often times people ask a question that makes someone else think about an issue from a different perspective leading to new insight. Redszone as an entity is brilliant (and thats why the archives need to go further back than 500 posts) because each of us contribute some unique perspective/insight.
    "This isnít stats vs scouts - this is stats and scouts working together, building an organization that blends the best of both worlds. This is the blueprint for how a baseball organization should be run. And, whether the baseball men of the 20th century like it or not, this is where baseball is going."---Dave Cameron, U.S.S. Mariner

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    Socratic Gadfly TheNext44's Avatar
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by jojo View Post
    To me the point is that different people bring different perspectives to a topic/issue/problem and nobody knows everything there is to know/understand about anything-baseball included.

    That's the beauty of redszone by the way.... often times people ask a question that makes someone else think about an issue from a different perspective leading to new insight. Redszone as an entity is brilliant (and thats why the archives need to go further back than 500 posts) because each of us contribute some unique perspective/insight.
    Not me. I got nothing insightful to offer, just the ability to tick other posters off. :
    "Imagination is more important than knowledge." -- Albert Einstein

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    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: 10 minutes with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by TheNext44 View Post
    Not me. I got nothing insightful to offer, just the ability to tick other posters off. :

    That makes you executive material in my world
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