Day By Day

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Man Who Changed it All

Many years ago a friend of mine showed up at my doorstep carrying an armful of books. "I was cleaning out my bookshelves and thought you might appreciate these," she said and handed me several "Baseball Abstracts". That was my introduction to one of the most fascinating minds of our times -- Bill James, the man who changed everything we thought we knew about our national pastime. The WSJ has a nice profile on James and the sabremetric revolution he represents.

Starting in 1977 with his first Baseball Abstract, Mr. James transformed a century's worth of conventional wisdom and forever altered the way ballplayers are judged. Applying the scientific method to the game, he and a band of amateur analysts who Mr. James termed sabermetricians (for the Society for American Baseball Research) attempted to answer through objective statistical analysis what factors led to scoring runs and winning games--and which players contributed most to those goals. Mr. James, for instance, has long held that the ability to get on base was underrated and that the sacrifice bunt was overrated. After gaining a wide following among fans, his work started to influence at least a few baseball general managers, a process chronicled in "Moneyball," the 2003 best seller by Michael Lewis about the Oakland Athletics and General Manager Billy Beane.

Now, more than 20 books of his own later, Mr. James has a desk in Fenway Park and a title, senior baseball operations adviser. So what does he do for the team? "I see it as being my job to ensure as much as I can that we act on the basis of actual evidence."

Read the whole thing here.