SweetSpot: Keith Woolner

Keith Woolner 'speaks'

April, 10, 2009
Keith Woolner speaks (and I recommend the whole interview, for sure) ...
    Andrew (Nueva York): Keith, thanks for taking the question. What advice would you offer someone desiring to work in a major league baseball front office?

    Keith Woolner: I get this question a lot, and I always struggle with how to answer it. My path into baseball was so atypical that it's hard to use that as the basis for a recommended strategy. But if my case has any instructive value, I'd say that the best way to break into baseball analytics is to start doing it on your own. Don't have any expectations that it will lead to anything, just do what interests you, and it will lead you to other topics and questions. Build up a base of knowledge, and complement that with the technical skills (Excel/database/stats) that you need to answer your own questions well. Write, write, and write some more. If you develop a reputation as an expert in something, teams will notice.

That's exactly it. I'm sure there's a set career path upon which a wise 16-year-old might embark, and wind up working for the New York Yankees eight years later. What's different between now and, say, 10 years ago is that a 16-year-old has any number of examples to follow. But the key is the passion, first. Best-selling novelists don't start out wanting to make a million dollars; they start out wanting to tell a good story. It's the same with working in baseball; or more specifically, with working in baseball operations and doing objective analysis. You have to love the game and the work first, because only the love might carry you through the dead ends and the rejection letters and (if you're lucky) the pitiable wages. Another always-popular topic:
    john (chicago): Jim Rice - Hall of Famer?

    Keith Woolner: Before I answer, let me acknowledge that (a) Jim Rice was my favorite player growing up, and (b) I'm a "big Hall" kind of guy.

    With that context, I disagree with what seems to be the prevailing sabermetric opinion, including here at BP, that Rice was obviously unworthy as a HOF selection. I don't think he's a no-brainer Hall of Famer, but I think he has a legitimate argument.


    Among players with exactly 6 Top 10 finishes, 11 are in the HOF, 6 are active or too recent, and only 4 are not in the Hall (Vern Stephens, Dave Parker, Andres Galarraga, Fred McGriff). Even among those with just 5 such finishes, the ratio is 17 HOF, 6 not HOF, 5 active. There's a reasonable case that players with Rice-like peaks get into the Hall about 2/3rd of the time.

    Of course, all of Rice's Top 10 finishes were in fact Top 5 finishes. All of the players with 6 such rankings are in the Hall (4) or obviously qualified barring PED-externalities (Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols, A-Rod). Of those with exactly 5 Top 5 MVP years, only Pete Rose and Dave Parker aren't in the Hall or active.

    Sorry for taking so much time to answer this one, but I think Rice looks better through contemporary views than through a modern analytical lens, and I don't think it's silly to consider that perspective.

I agree 100 percent. It's not silly to consider that perspective. It's just silly to value that perspective as highly as 76.4 percent of the Hall of Fame voters did last winter. And as I've mentioned at least a few times already, when Rice was first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1995 -- the single year in which the contemporary views were most fresh in the minds of the voters -- Rice got 29.8 percent support. So now I'm left wondering exactly what "contemporary" means.