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Some raw meat for any baseball fan to dig into....


SteveA

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A Joe Posnanski article/interview with Bill James. Go ahead read it, you know you can't resist...

http://sportsworld.nbcsports.com/bill-james-statistical-revolution/

Some interesting stuff....

People referred to statistics James invented ? things like Pythagorean Expectation, which estimates how many games a team will win based on runs scored and allowed, and Runs Created, which attempts to estimate, well, how many runs a player created ? and assumed that he was all about reducing baseball to complex math. But Bill James was never very good at math. And he never cared about baseball statistics in the abstract.

He was just looking to stamp out the bull****.

Here is Bill James on Wins Above Replacement, perhaps the hottest advanced statistic in the game right now:

?Well, my math skills are limited and my data-processing skills are essentially nonexistent. The younger guys are way, way beyond me in those areas. I?m fine with that, and I don?t struggle against it, and I hope that I don?t deny them credit for what they can do that I can?t.

?But because that is true, I ASSUMED that these were complex, nuanced, sophisticated systems. I never really looked; I just assumed that the details were out of my depth. But sometime in the last year I was doing some research that relied on these WAR systems, so I took a look at them, and ? they?re not very impressive. They?re not well thought through; they haven?t made a convincing effort to address many of the inherent difficulties that the undertaking presents. They tend to get so far into the data, throw up their arms and make a wild guess. I don?t know if I?m going to get the time to do better of it, or if it will be left to others, but ? we?re not at anything like an end point here. I assumed that these systems were a lot better than they actually are.?

Right now, Bill James thinks this sort of arrogance can be dangerous in the sabermetric community. There is more baseball data available now than ever before, and the data grows exponentially. ?Understanding cannot keep up with the data,? he says. ?It will take many years before we fully understand, say, some of the effects of PITCHf/x (which charts every pitch thrown). It?s important not to skip steps.?

He sees smart baseball analysts and fans get mesmerized by the data and lose touch with their own basic understanding of the world. People are becoming skeptical of everything, including things that don?t deserve skepticism. During this World Series, many people ? yours truly, included ? attacked the strategy of baseball managers without considering that the manager has much more information than we do and that there are so many things that none of us know, no matter how detailed the statistics.

The young Bill James rather famously wrote that he could not find any evidence that certain types of players could consistently hit better in the clutch ? he still has not found that evidence. But unlike his younger self, he will not dismiss the idea of clutch hitting. He has been a consultant for the Red Sox for more than a decade, and he has watched David Ortiz deliver so many big hits in so many big moments, and he finds himself unwilling to deny that Big Papi does have an ability in those situations others don?t have. He wrote an essay with this thought in mind, suggesting that just because we have not found the evidence is not a convincing argument that the evidence does not exist.

?I think I had limited understanding of these issues and wrote about them ? little understanding and too-strong opinions,? he says. ?And I think I damaged the discussion in some ways when I did this. ? these sorts of effects (leadership and clutch-hitting and how players interact) CAN be studied. You just need to approach the question itself, rather than trying to back into it beginning with the answer.?

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Nice article. I wish he had gone into more detail about his opinions on the shortcomings of WAR.

I think that was the weakest part. I'm not sure Bill has a great idea of how WAR is put together. Tango addressed this yesterday:

2. As for the not thought through, I do not agree with Bill at all. They are actually incredibly thought through. Again, just as an example, the distinction between Starting Pitchers and Relief Pitchers is huge. This is something that baseball people inherently understand, but that those of us studying the data kind of dismissed or ignored for the longest time.

We just couldn’t explain that a 3.50 ERA by a starting pitcher was far better than a 3.50 ERA by a relief pitcher, and it goes beyond just volume of innings. Keith Woolner was one of the first to bring this up over a decade ago, and others followed suit, me included, notably in The Book. This is research that evolved over time to the point where I gave it a rule, the Rule of 17, which basically says that a relief pitcher gets 17% more K, allows 17% fewer HR, allows 17 points fewer in BABIP, and 17% fewer runs (walks are flat).

There’s the standard thing we do with park effects, as well as the difference in AL/NL talent ,so that “lgERA” is really adjusted for all that. Some even go so far as to look at the actual opponents and their fielders to further adjust that lgERA. (Note, when I say ERA I really mean RA/9, but ERA is so ubiquitous a term. Which is also another advance, that we focus on runs allowed, not the made-up earned runs.)

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haven?t made a convincing effort to address many of the inherent difficulties that the undertaking presents. They tend to get so far into the data, throw up their arms and make a wild guess. I don?t know if I?m going to get the time to do better of it, or if it will be left to others, but ? we?re not at anything like an end point here. I assumed that these systems were a lot better than they actually are.

I found this part especially odd, considering that James himself invented the Win Shares system, and now has kind of tacked on a Loss Shares system... which is much more convoluted than WAR, and makes all kinds of assumptions that WAR doesn't. Win Shares backs into all of its defensive rankings from a team level, it has best guesses on things he calls "claim points", it uses a defense/pitching breakdown that frankly seems a little bizarre because it maxes out an individual's defensive contribution at maybe +/- 20 runs in a season.

Bill is a hero of mine, a founding father of the modern way of looking at the game, but he also holds more than a few idiosyncratic viewpoints. And part of that is that he really doesn't read a lot of other's work in his field. In this article he acts like he just recently looked into how WAR is constructed... that seems amazing for someone in his position regarding a tool that's been the standard in his field for a decade or more.

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This is my favorite raw meat.

l.jpg

“There’s just a couple of people out there that they think they’ve got everything figured out. Now what? What would have been the advice they would have given the Red Sox right now if I was going to be a free agent after this season? ‘Oh, we screwed up.’ ‘Oh, you should have listened to me.’ I don’t hear anybody saying right now, ‘It was wrong what they did, signing David Ortiz in March’ . . . .Nobody will because it’s all about making noise and calling attention. It’s all about having the chance by this time [of the season] to say, ‘See, I told you it was wrong to sign him.’ That’s what it’s all about, so that’s why I don’t pay any attention to that.”

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