1. Wednesday, April 2, 2008

    bill james knows a lot about baseball 

    you mighta seen him on 60 minutes on sunday.

    my buddy matt welch has the hots for him. or maybe he just has the hots for his mind. who knows and who am i to judge?

    anyways the libertarian news cycle must be outta control because im the one who has to let people know that mr sabermetrics answered a shitton of questions over on the freakanomics blog at the NYT.

    here were some of my favorite questions and answers. voici:

    Q: Are there any baseball rules either in the game itself or for the leagues that you think ought to be changed, removed, or added to increase the entertainment value of the sport?

    A: Many, actually. My pet project is a rule to limit pitching changes in the late innings. My rule, specifically, would be this:

    1) Each team is entitled to one unrestricted pitching change per game.

    2) With the exception of that one unrestricted change, no pitcher may be removed from the game in mid-inning unless he has been charged with allowing a run in that inning. With an exception for injuries, of course.

    When you propose a rules change like that, people say, “Oh, you’re changing the way the game has always been.” That’s nonsense. In 1970 major league teams used 1.75 relievers per game. In 1990 they used 2.02 relievers per game, and in 2007 they used 2.97 per game — and the rate of increase in this area is still accelerating.

    I’m not trying to change the game with this rule; I’m trying to stop a change in the game that is running amok. There are actually many rule changes like that which I would favor — rules designed to control changes in the game that are occurring, uncontrolled, at a breakneck pace.

    Q: Can you tell us a time when you did an analysis and expected one thing, but the numbers told you something radically different?

    A: Well, it happens every day. My “debunking” of the importance of stolen bases came from extended efforts to prove the importance of stolen bases, all of which failed. I remember I used to think that players from California were over-scouted and over-drafted, because the amateurs out there play baseball year around and mature early. It’s not true; the state fully justifies — and more than justifies — the draft picks invested out there.

    Q: Will we see a woman player in the majors in my lifetime? (I’m in my 30’s. And when I say woman player I’m thinking regular contributor as opposed to a one-time gimmick.)

    A: Well, there is nothing happening now at lower levels that would tend to cause that as a higher-level outcome. You will certainly see many women General Managers in baseball (and basketball) within a few decades, because there are large numbers of capable women filling lower-level baseball operations positions. You will see women scouts and probably umpires.

    But colleges don’t have women’s baseball teams, and high schools don’t. Ninety-nine percent of girls who like to play baseball have been driven to other sports by age 12. It’s hard to see how a woman can wind up in the major leagues under those conditions.

    Q: How important are good-hitting pitchers to the success of an offense in the N.L.?

    A: Exactly as important as good-fitting underwear on a long drive.

    Q: Has looking at the numbers prevented you from actually just enjoying a summer day at the ballpark? Have we all forgotten the randomness of human ballplayers? By reducing players to just their numbers can we lose sight of the intangibles such as teamwork, friendships, and desire.

    A: Does looking at pretty women prevent one from experiencing love? Life is complicated. Your efforts to compartmentalize it are lame and useless.

    Q: Why can’t the Chicago Cubs get into the World Series? Is it the small park? Low salaries? The curse of the billy goat? Does sabermetrics provide any insights?

    A: Talking about the origins of it — the Cubs fell into a trench in history in the late 1930’s, when almost all baseball teams built farm systems, but the Cubs for several years refused to do so. This put them behind the curve, crippled them for the 1950’s, and really the organization did not fully overcome that until about 1980.

    Since 1980 they have had several teams that could have wandered into a World Series, with better luck. They haven’t had any one overpowering team — like the 1984 Tigers, or the 1992 Blue Jays, or the 1998 Yankees — that was so good that it demanded a seat at the Last Banquet of Fall. And, unless you have a team that good, you’re at the mercy of the fates.

    Q: Is clutch hitting a repeatable/retain-able skill?

    A: I don’t know.