The book (“How Bill James Changed Our View Of Baseball”) and this book review are particularly appropriate to read and to understand at this point in time. Earlier this week the Cubs hired professional stats guy Ari Kaplan to be a member of their staff, answering to
GM Jim Hendry.
As dat_cubfan_daver posted here on VFTB, Jim Hendry’s public “Welcome Aboard” statement leads me to believe that perhaps he (Hendry) does not embrace modern statistical analysis as applied to baseball situations to the degree that the folks writing in this book do. If that’s the case then Mr. Hendry, by not being part of the solution, is defining himself as part of the problem.
We learned from Bruce Mile’s column that Ari Kaplan will answer to Jim Hendry within the Cubs front office. I hope that he will also be answering directly to the Ricketts family, either officially of unofficially.
I am not advocating the abandonment of scouting and scouting reports (aka “human intelligence”) in analyzing baseball players and baseball situations. But modern statistical analysis deserves a seat at the table. Jim Hendry and the Cubs organization will misuse or ignore this valuable tool at their peril.
The full title of this book is “How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball by Colleagues, Critics, Competitors and Just Plain Fans”. It is edited by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce, and was published in 2007 by ACTA Sports in Skokie, Illinois.
This book consists of an Introduction by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce, 12 main essays, and Bill James’ The Last Word. The editor, Mr. Pierce, freely admits that he had never heard of Bill James until 2001.
Software Architect Dan Fox recalls reading his first “Abstract” in the spring of 1984, stating: “From that point forward, my view of the game changed to one where the primary question I asked myself was not ‘what happened?’ but ‘why did it happen?’.”
Senior Technical Writer Tom Rathkamp from Cedarburg, Wisconsin opines that Bill James “taught me that facts are irrelevant without context.” He continues, “…if Bill James wrote a book about peanut butter, I would buy it immediately”.
On that subject of “context”, Dave Studenmund, editor of “The Hardball Times Baseball Annual” includes among the things that Bill James taught him: “A pitcher’s wins and losses depend a great deal on his team’s offense”, and “Batters will have more RBIs if they bat with more runners on base”. Mr. Studenmund further notes: “Today we have remarkable websites like Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com that are fantastic resources for many fans. For that, you can thank Bill James”.
Gary Huckabay, founder of Baseball Prospectus, observes, regarding the charge that “arrogance” is often perceived by an existing power structure to the suggestion of change: “The disquieting reality is that the true arrogance is not displayed by the upstart with the new idea but by the calcified inhabitants of the positions of power”.
Engineer and business owner Ralph Caola submits: “…Bill James’ annual book made my interest blossom. The parochial outlook of a fan was transformed into the more critical outlook of an analyst….I discovered a new place for baseball in my life thanks to Bill James”.
Sam Walker, sports columnist for “The Wall Street Journal” and author of“Fantasyland” (Note from Joe: Fantasyland is a fun read and well worth your time even if you don’t play fantasy baseball) describes having sprung an intellectual trap on Bill James, “a question I’d worked up on the drive down from New York…that was designed to challenge the very notion that accurate statistics can be kept on baseball, let alone be used to evaluate player performance”. He recounts Bill James’ response: “The world is vastly more complicated than anyone can understand. Therefore everyone has understandings of it, and only fools imagine that those understandings are so complete that they’re immediately exclusive”. Mr. Walker ends his essay with a personal message for Bill James: “…I’d like to officially forgive you for lobotomizing my dad, apologize to you for all my earlier venom…and thank you for making baseball a hundred times more enjoyable
for old farts the world over”.
Steve Moyer, President of Baseball Info Solutions, says: “That’s really how Bill James changed my view of baseball, turning me into a much more intelligent baseball fan. It’s funny, between sabermetrics and fantasy baseball I’ve lost my love for one individual team. I no longer live and die by the St. Louis Cardinals or any other single franchise”.
Keith Sherer, an Attorney and Baseball Analyst from Chicago, describes the 2600 word reply Bill James sent to an email from Mr. Sherer, which included the following: “The role of lawyers in discussing crime cases in public venues…is essentially identical to the role of athletes in the discussion of sports. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are essentially purveyors of bullshit”.
Daryl Morey, Assistant General Manager of the Houston Rockets, shares some of Bill James’ baseball principles which apply to basketball, including the following : “Past performance is the best predictor of future success….Amazingly, this principle continues to be ignored by the leadership of multiple teams….This ‘past performance’ principle…is a necessary but not sufficient condition to succeed”. Mr. Morey continues: “‘It has always been done that way’ is not a good reason to do anything”. And Mr. Morey concludes: “…he has changed my view of life in general”.
Rob Neyer, ESPN analyst and author of “The Big Book of Baseball Blunders” (Note from Joe: Also a good read if for no other reason that to see some of the comments he writes about Dusty Baker’s lineup choices) adds in part: “Bill James either changes your life or he doesn’t”.
Bill James himself, in the final essay of the book, observes: “People like me don’t have ‘mentors’; we have parole officers”. He also says: “I never understood why John Rocker became a pariah for expressing opinions that roughly 85% of baseball players privately agree with”.
And the editor, Mr. Gregory F. Augustine Pierce, in his closing statement includes: “…I follow my Cubs every year, even though they always break my heart…”
I learned a lot more about Bill James by reading the opinions and reactions of these insiders to him. I enjoyed reading this “gift sized” book very much and I recommend it highly to everyone. (Final note from Joe: I’ve also read this book and enjoyed it a lot as well)