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Thursday, March 25, 2004

Bill James Interview 

Thank you Mariner Musings for posting a link to this Bill James interview. What led me to read the interview was this snippet Peter quoted:
And we rely heavily on statistics (though no good analysis in any sport is driven solely by statistics). I've tried for 25 years to keep sabermetrics from being taken over by the bad habits of academicians--overspecialization, discussing issues that are of interest only to other academics, and discussing them in a manner which is inaccessible to anyone who hasn't been following the discussion for years.
James has an excellent point here, but I would hesitate to compare baseball research to academic research. It's more like scientific research. If you want to know, for example, if the suicide squeeze is a play that succeeds more than it fails, you take a look at a large number of recent attempts, and keep track of the results. There's enough quantitative analysis left unexplored in baseball that we'll all be long gone before baseball research regresses into asking the "If a tree fell in a forest" purely academic questions. Even "research" as trivial as my groundbreaking work developing the Suck Ass has as its basis the scientific method.

One other bit from the James interview:
TAE: When you see Ugueth Urbina exchange kisses with Ivan Rodriguez after every Florida Marlins victory you realize that the influx of Asians, Latin Americans, Australians, and so forth has brought cultural changes to baseball. Do you think this is ultimately a good thing for the game?

JAMES: It is a good thing for baseball. It is a way in which baseball is very American in the best sense. We live in a society which searches out the best in everything and embraces it without disfavor. We go all over the world looking for baseball players and say, "We don't care how weird you are. We don't care what color you are. We don't care what habits you have. If you can play baseball, we want you." And that's very American.
The Seattle Mariners are, evidently, not at all American in their approach (big surprise there). Their criteria for player evaluation seem to be (in descending order):

What habits do you have?

Are you weird?

(much lower priority than above)
Can you play baseball?

There's a new Scientific revolution, and it's happening in the game of baseball. Men like Paul DePosta and Theo Epstein, with consistent, sound approaches to talent evaluation, will soon make baseball alchemists like Bill Bavasi obsolete. As a scientist, I can't wait.

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