Bill James Things

The latest Bill James Gold Mine will be shipping soon. The Gold Mine is full of Bill’s essays—the “pure gold” part of the book—as well as ten-to-fifteen special statistical insights for each team—the nuggets. Yours truly contributed nuggets for five teams; see if you can guess which ones. The Gold Mine is available from ACTA or Amazon.

Most of the essays in the Gold Mine are reprints of articles he has posted on Bill James Online (BJOL). BJOL is a subscription site, but it may be worth the price for you. For example, Bill’s latest essay, I Knew It!, uncovers something I hadn’t even thought about: We all know that the number of “long” outings by starting pitchers has declined, but it turns out that the number of “short” outings has declined, too.

Here’s how Bill explains it:

People think that modern managers are only concerned, and are over-concerned, with not over-working their starting pitchers. That’s not exactly true. Rather, in the modern world we believe in regular workloads. Whereas managers in the fifties and sixties believed that some days pitchers just didn’t “have it”, and jerked the pitcher out of the game quickly when they thought he didn’t have it, we believe now that you get maximum production and minimal risk of injury with a regular, predictable workload. And, really, this is progress, because the whole thing about the pitcher just “not having it today” is mostly just nonsense.

Bill also has a series about the best pitching duels of each decade going, which is also fun reading.

(Full disclosure: I also work for Bill on BJOL.)

Finally, reader Ken Cale has been playing around with Bill’s Win Shares system and developed his own way of ranking players with Win Shares. You can download Ken’s system in this PDF file. THT doesn’t “endorse” Ken’s system, but some of you may find it interesting.

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  1. Mike Fast said...

    Tango’s been mentioning for as long as I remember that both the long and the short outings for starting pitchers have declined such that the average number of pitches thrown by starters per start has stayed relatively stable.

    I can’t find the specific post from Tango on the topic, but I did find this comment by Mike Emeigh at the Book Blog in a thread from 2007 about Pitcher Abuse Points:

    One of the things that we are seeing today – which probably contributes to the reduction in complete games – is an increase in the number of starts in which a pitcher struggles early but stays in the game for 5-6 innings.

  2. MikeS said...

    It may not be that managers just want a pitcher to go 5 – 7 innings regardless of how good or bad he is that day, it may be the construction of the modern bullpen.  Decades ago, there were guys in the pen who could give you 5 innings or more if asked.  Now a long reliever is a guy who goes 2 innings and most teams only Have one or two of those guys.  So if the skipper pulls his starter in the second, he is going to use 4 or 5 guys to get him through the game.

    Teams today sort of have 2 bullpens – the good ‘pen is usually three guys (if you’re lucky) who’s “job” is to pitch the 7th, 8th and 9th each.  There may be LOOGY so the “Good” pen is 3 or 4 guys.  The other three or four guys are in the “bad” ‘pen – strictly mop up men who’s job it is to absorb innings when the starter gets knocked out early.  Even these guys only go 2 (maybe 3) innings.  So if you pull the starter to early in a blowout, you are replacing him with all of these guys at some point.  In general, these guys are inferior to the starter (talent-wise) or else they would be starting or in the “good” pen, so the likelihood of all of them holding the other team at bay and each giving you 2 good innings is pretty low.  You also lose your flexibility for a day or two since few guys can throw multiple innings on consecutive days.

  3. Tony said...

    How is it that Ken spends 70 pages discussing and summarizing the best players of all-time and Alex Rodriguez is not mentioned once other than the fact he should have won an MVP in 1996.

  4. LarryM said...

    The Ken Cale piece was interesting, though I think he ended up proving that a HOF system with (almost) purely statistical cutoffs would be a very bad thing, which I gues is not what he intended to prove.

    Looking over the list of exclusions, there are a number of names (and not just ones high on the list) that clearly belong in the HOF, even by Ken’s relatively narrow definition. Even if that definition was made more liberal, the result would still be the exclusion of some deserving candidates, and inclusion of undeserving candidates. It migth be a “better” list than the current HOF, but would not be better than a well designed voting system that did not use arbitrary statistical cutoffs.

    Though in fairness, part of the problem is that wins shares, which I think is still a good system, probably (based on recent research) understates the defensive value of certain players. I’m also not sure that it does a great job with positional adjustments either (witness the paucity of third basemen on the list).

  5. stevebogus said...

    I’m not sure if this is a cause or a result, but the swing man has been eliminated as a role on most (all?) teams. Pitchers are classified as starters or relievers and switching from one role to another is considered a major move. Teams used to consider every pitcher as a potential starter, so roles were not so narrowly defined. This gradually changed, beginning with career relief specialists, then the reduction of innings per appearance (of starters AND relievers) which required more relievers per game.

  6. LarryM said...

    To be fair, there are only 2 people on the should-not-be-in list that I would say clearly should be in, and a lot of guys that, depending upon how exclusive you want the HOF to be, arguably should be in. But again the point is that whatever cutoff you use, you’re going to have some injustices. For example, Jimmy Collins is not one of the two (IMO) players on his out list who definitely should be in (I think he should, but reasonable minds might differ), but he is clearly a much better candidate than Joe Kelly, who is tied in performance and has a much higher career value. There a bunch of examples of that.

    Mind you, one of the reasons why I said that Mike had “proved” that statistical cutoffs were a bad idea, is because his system is about as well designed as such a system could be yet still flawed.

  7. Detroit Michael said...

    In case folks need encouragement to subscribe to Bill James Online, you might like to know that it seems like virtually all of the content since Bill started his website is easily accessed.  Hence, even if one signs up for just a 3-month period, there’s a ton of content to wade through.

    There ARE time periods when there are not a lot of new articles posted to the website (especially in the fall for those like me who are interested in baseball only, not football), but often the lulls are followed by some long articles.  Overall, I’d recommend it for folks who are fans of Bill’s writing.

  8. Tom M. Tango said...

    I sent this to Bill:

    Keith Woolner, 1999, looked at Dodger pitchers from Retrosheet:


    I posted this on my site last year, and I think I also posted it in the
    comments section of one of your articles a few months ago:

    Dodgers pitchers, 1958 through Aug 1964:
    GS   Pit   StDev   Over130   Under70   Pitcher
    252   103   28   0.13   0.12   Drysdale
    204   107   37   0.28   0.16   Koufax
    129   94   35   0.13   0.21   Williams
    198   92   29   0.07   0.19   Podres
    289   84   32   0.07   0.33   Rest

    Pit is pitches per start.
    StDev is standard deviation of pitches per start.
    Over130 means percentage of starts with over 130 pitches thrown.
    Under70 means percentage of starts with less than 70 pitches thrown.

  9. Mike Fast said...

    Turns out I was wrong.  The discovery that starting pitchers in the 50s, 60s, and 70s had both more longer and more shorter outings than starting pitchers of today dates back at least ten years, to the writings of Keith Woolner:

    Keeping in mind that the average pitch count per start was about 95 for both groups, look at the percentage of starts made between 81 and 110 pitches: whereas last year, 61.1% of starters were pulled in that range, just 35.7% of all starts in the other group—barely one-third—fell into that range. To describe the differences between the two eras in a sentence: Pitchers in the 1950s came out of the game when their performance dictated it; pitchers today come out of the game when their workload dictates it.

  10. Tom M. Tango said...

    It was worth repeating, because I still see that most people don’t know it.

    Ask the typical fan how many pitches the stars of yesteryear threw, and they’d think “120”.

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