Bring Your Questions for Sabermetrician Bill James

Bill JamesBill James

If the name Bill James doesn’t mean anything to you, then you are probably not a baseball fan and have no need to read further. If, however, you are a baseball fan — ranging from fairly serious to obsessively statistical — then the name Bill James probably sets your brain and heart a-clattering. Here’s what his bio says:

Bill James has been writing about baseball since 1975. He is Senior Baseball Operations Advisor for the Boston Red Sox, and is the author of The Bill James Gold Mine 2008.


This would be the equivalent of a George Washington bio that said:

George Washington was a colonel and then a general during the U.S. Revolution, and then he became President.

Bill James hardly invented the statistical analysis of baseball, but over the past 30 years, he has done more than anyone to turn it into a science. His Wikipedia page gives a pretty good overview of his achievements; it is also worth visiting the Society for American Baseball Research (S.A.B.R.), which allowed sabermetrics to become a way of life.

With a new baseball season about to begin, and with his Red Sox pursuing their third World Series title in five years, Bill has agreed to take questions from readers of the Freakonomics blog. So fire away in the comments section and we’ll post his answers in a few days’ time. Thanks to Bill and all of you for participating.

Addendum: The answers to this Q&A can be found here.


Aaron

Does it typically make more sense for a team to draft the best available player they can, or to try and fill an organizational need?

Kyle Willkomm

Bill,
Why do you think baseball statistics is a good way to spend your time on Earth? If its a good choice, why don't more people do it?
Thanks,
Kyle Willkomm, Saint Paul, MN

Nicholas Bullington

Do you believe that statistics can be better utilized in evaluating pro football, and that there will be a statistical revolution? Also, do you believe baseball announcers will ever look at stats like OPS+ with the same reverence they have for BA?

Jon

In baseball, and maybe in life, real change and real innovation comes only as a result of crisis or flux driven by external pressures.

But baseball is awash in money, both players and owners seem relatively happy, and fans and their governments are heavily invested in MLB as it currently exists through taxpayer funding of stadiums. Attendance is at or near historic highs.

I believe you've said (and I'm paraphrasing) that a sport that never changes quickly becomes boring and irrelevant. Do you see opportunities for the game to grow and change in the near future given its current state?

Travis Walker

Mr. James,

If there was one stat that the baseball announcers on ESPN and other networks would start using - as opposed to say a player's ERA or batting average - what would you recommend it be?

JB

I remember hearing somewhere that there is evidence that the idea of "protection" in the batting order is not empirically supported (i.e. a hitter's stats are largely independent of who hits after him). Am I just imagining hearing that (might not be the first time I heard voices)?

David Stokes

Bill,
Who are ten players in the HOF that do not deserve to be there?

Joe M.

Bill,

Most major professional sports have a history of experimenting with changes of rules and technology in an effort to find some type of optimum of both entertainment and competitive balance. I'd argue baseball has largely resisted this trend, certain historical influences (the dead ball, steroids, etc.) notwithstanding.

Minding the quantitative and qualitative effects of both newer and old innovations in the game (designated hitters, moving the pitching mound, redefining foul balls, altering the strike zone, to name a few) are there particular rule or technical changes you'd like to see implemented in baseball in the future? If so, why?

Patrick

Bill,

What advances do you see coming in statistical analysis in baseball regarding a player's defensive abilities? It seems like there is a lot of dispute over how to effectively objectively measure a given player's defense and compare it to other players, both at his position and in the overall spectrum of things.

Thanks!

DougB

Pick one (or more):

1. It seems pretty obvious that athletes are bigger, stronger and faster today than they were 50-75 years ago, yet baseball fans can still argue Babe Ruth vs. Barry Bonds or Cy Young vs. Roger Clemens. Is there a way to really compare baseball players from different eras? How were pitchers of the past able to pitch so many more innings and complete games than today's pitchers? Is this an indication of how much better today's hitters are?

2. Do you like the designated hitter? Do you feel that both leagues should have the same rule (DH or no DH)? What has the difference between the 2 leagues done to competition between the 2 leagues?

3. How do you use statistics to help determine what a player's salary should be? Is a perennial all-star pitcher (e.g. Johan Santana) worth more than a perennial all-star hitter (e.g. A-Rod or Pujols)?

4. What effect does batting order have? Do you have any recommendations for batting order different from the current norm? What do you think of Tony LaRussa's batting the pitcher 8th?

5. How do you feel about the current format of the playoffs, particularly the frequent days off? I feel that it detracts from the playoffs because the management of the pitching staff is so different than it is during the regular season.

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chris c

Mr.James do you have a numeric value for a players situational value over his overall statistical value? For example it is the 9th inning of the 7th game in the world series and your SS fields like a drunken mongoloid over statistical value-said mongoloid draws one walk a week more than the guy who knows what his glove is for. Can you put a value on something like this?

Steven

Hi Bill,

Huge fan of your stuff. I saw a new pitching statistic, maybe not even technically a statistic but rather a form of analysis.

http://saberscouting.com/2008/03/23/pitchingefficiencypto/

Do you think it is worthy to look at what percentage of pitches go directly towards outs as it states in this article? It's pretty clear what it's evaluating but I just wanted to see what you thought of the applications of it. It is interesting to see what pitchers get outs with the greatest efficiency and fewest amount of wasted pitches.

Would love to hear your feedback on this. Thanks.

Jbon

With over a hundred years of baseball data to crunch, what do you say to GM's and managers that make decisions from the gut? Should there ever be decisions made because they feel "right" even if the statistics say otherwise?

John

What would you do if you were named the commissioner of MLB? What would you do now if you were able to run the Hall of Fame?

Christopher

Has anyone ever attempted to correlate payroll and success over a 162 game season? Do you think we would see a correlation?

Jason

1.
1. Do you play fantasy baseball?

Jason

1. Steroids. Have you looked at any statistical methods to try to determine if and when a player was using them?
2. Do you play fantasy baseball? I'd bet you'd do pretty well...

Brian G.

Who is playing you in the movie version of "Moneyball" that's in the works?

MGB

How are you going to be able to get through all of these great questions by the All-Star break?

CSK

Bill,
What statistics are you currently "in trial" on. Are there new statistics which you are validating at this time which you would like to describe/discuss. Thanks very much for the forum participation.
CSK