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Friday reading list: Bill James hates WAR

11/14/2014

A few new things and a few old things I wanted to get out there.

  • Jeremy Collins with a piece titled "Thirteen ways of looking at Greg Maddux," a heartfelt memoir of what the pitcher meant to Jeremy and his friend Jason. Read it.

  • We ran this piece during the playoffs. Maybe you missed it while updating your fantasy football team. Steve Fainaru's story of the friendship between Giants broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper is about much more than two baseball announcers.

  • This is pretty awesome, via Ryan McCrystal of It's Pronounced "Lajaway": How the Indians turned Jerry Dybzinski into Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.

  • Joe Posnanski writes about Bill James, 40 years after he first started writing about baseball but still thinking about the game. This quote from James is certainly interesting:

    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."

    Posnanski doesn't elaborate more on the details, so we're just left with the idea Bill James isn't a big fan of WAR.

  • Speaking of James, he had a fascinating study on BillJamesonline (pay). He went back to the 1950s and studied consecutive starts made by starting pitchers. As he writes, it's not a perfect study because of factors that couldn't be completely adjusted for; for example, a rainout can create a gap between starts that's not actually meant to be a gap, or maybe a starter makes a relief appearance between starts. Anyway, he tracked the ongoing leaderboards for consecutive starts made under the rules he set up. He writes:

    But here is the point I wanted to make ... now that I made you read 25 pages of lead up just to make this point, but ... people talk about injuries to pitchers as if this were a new phenomenon; more and more pitchers every year are getting hurt. Well, maybe.

    But this study shows that the number of pitchers staying in rotation for years and years without any injury or interruption is clearly higher than it has ever been. A record was set in 2012, broken in 2013, broken in 2014. I don’t want to make too much out of that; the record is based on just ten pitchers out of a population of 150. But there is certainly some indication that injuries to starting pitchers may not, in fact, be increasing.

    I would go far as to suggest that an additional reason for the decline in run scoring isn't just the increased size of the strike zone but pitchers staying healthier than a generation ago. Healthier pitchers are better pitchers. (Yes, even with the long list of Tommy John surgeries this season.)

  • We remember Madison Bumgarner's heroic Game 7 performance, but he had help from the defensive positioning behind him.

  • Brad Johnson of The Hardball Times with 10 forgotten plays from the postseason.

  • Alex Remington looks back at the Giants' World Series titles -- include those while they were in New York.

  • Great piece by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs on the player who attempted to bunt for a hit most often in 2014: Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner.

  • Yoan Moncada is a 19-year-old Cuban with big skills. He'll soon be very rich. Kiley McDaniel tells us about Moncada's unique background.

  • Rob Neyer says writers are still too obsessed with RBIs when it comes to MVP voting. Agreed.

  • Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus examines some of the reasons for the decline in scoring and whether this is just a "down" cycle. He says it's not:

    After looking at the evidence, I think the conclusion to be drawn is that baseball is not in the middle of a mild cyclical hitting drought. There'™s a real structural change about how the game is being played and it'™s bringing scoring down.

  • The writers at It's About the Money discuss the Yankees of 2015 and optimism versus pessimism. I'd lean towards pessimism right now. The Yankees haven't finished under .500 since 1992. This may finally be the year. Maybe.

  • Eric Reining of One Strike Away wonders if there's a way the Rangers can trade for Cole Hamels.

  • Maury Brown reports on the high local TV ratings throughout the sport during the regular season.