I was able to conduct an interview with Bill James, Red Sox consultant, and the man who's been called "The Guru of Baseball Statistical Analysis." James is a founding member of SABR and the writer of "Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract." His influence on baseball has been great, as a lot of general managers and others follow his statistical analysis.
Over The Monster: What is exactly is your role within the Red Sox organization?
OTM: How much of a say do you have with trades, signings and other transactions within the organization?
OTM: What is your role during the amateur draft?
I tried to limit my input, because these guys have much more experience in evaluating young players than I do, but I did participate, and I enjoyed it, and I felt that my participation was useful.
OTM: What is your opinion on how many pitchers a team should carry? Are 12 pitchers too many or just right? Are 10 pitchers too little?
When I was a kid, teams typically carried nine pitchers, sometimes eight, and I can remember teams going through parts of the season with seven. Now we debate eleven or twelve and occasionally wind up with thirteen. There are advantages both ways.
I have always thought that, if I was managing a table-top team, Strat-o-Matic or whatever, I would prefer to have more pinch hitters available. But real baseball is different from table-top baseball in at least two relevant ways. First, in table-top games, a pitcher with a 3.50 ERA has a 3.50 ERA, period. In real life a relief pitcher who might not be able to pitch effectively for three innings might be very effective throwing 15 or 20 pitches an outing, because he is able to focus, limit his repertoire, and maximize his energy.
Second, in table-top games the platoon differentials are all over the map, and the platoon differentials for hitters tend to be as large or larger than those for pitchers. In real life the platoon differentials for some pitchers are much larger than the platoon differentials of almost any hitter, so that it becomes more effective to work the platoon differential from the pitching side than from the hitting side.
That said, I'd probably prefer to carry fewer pitchers. But you've got to do what you've got to do.
OTM: When evaluating pitchers, which stat do you think is the most important to be aware of? Which stat do you tend to look at the most to judge if a pitcher is successful or not?
- His health,
- His "stuff", and
- Mis-matches or discrepancies in his data.
Or if a pitcher has only pitched 45 innings in 48 games and gave up 21 runs but 14 of them were in four bad outings, maybe he is better than his stats show. Or if he pitches in Colorado maybe he is better than his stats show, but if is the odd case where he has a 3.80 ERA in Colorado but 7.52 on the road, maybe he isn't better; maybe he is worse.
The reality is that we're not dealing with one of these problems; in a typical case we're dealing with 15 or 20 of them, so it is almost impossible to figure out what the true level of ability is behind all the moving screens in the statistics. So we're usually wrong.
OTM: When evaluating hitters, which stat do you think is the most important to be aware of? Which stat do you tend to look at the most to judge if a hitter is successful or not?
OTM: How largely have stats -- other than the normal batting average and ERA -- influenced front office personnel and scouts? Do front office
personnel and scouts tend to rely more on stats nowadays, or does their personal judgment of a player still play a large role? How have the Red Sox changed in that aspect since you joined the organization?
There has never been a time in baseball history when 10-game winners were paid as much as 20-game winners. There has never been a time when .250 hitters were paid as much as .300 hitters. There has never been a time when outfielders who drove in 100 runs didn't make the All-Star team, or when outfielders who drove in 60 runs did. There has never been a time when you would trade a 30-homer guy for a 20-homer guy, unless there was something else in the deal.
The stats have always played a huge role in how players are evaluated, and a huge role in every decision. What has changed is two things. First, there are more stats around. And second, there is some change in the emphasis on different stats. On base percentage is more important than it used to be.