Saturday, February 17, 2007

How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball

I just received my copy of "How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball". This book was by produced by ACTA Publications in response to Bill James making TIME magazine's list of "100 Most Influential People in the World". It is a collection of essays written by well known analysts and writers, such as Alan Schwarz, Rob Neyer and john Dewan, who have been greatly influenced by Bill James. Also sprinkled throuhout the book are passages from fans whose lives have been touched by James in less direct but equally prominent ways. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out yesterday that one of those fans was me.

If you are looking for statistical analysis, then this book is not for for you. If you are looking for a collection of heartfelt tributes to the God father of sabermetrics, then you'll probably enjoy it. Here is what I wrote:

When I first read Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts in the early 1980s, they profoundly changed the way I looked at the game and even had an impact my career. I was majoring in mathematics at a university in Massachusetts at the time but had not seriously considered the connection between my education and baseball. I had memorized the batting averages and ERAs of Major League players and had played simulated games for years, but baseball was not something that I had analyzed scientifically. James’ writings led me to think more carefully about why teams won and lost games and to examine everything I thought I knew about baseball. He taught me to question traditional beliefs about batting orders, strategy and player evaluation, and he showed me that the baseball establishment was not always correct. Baseball had become more than just a leisurely pastime; it was now a sport that I spent as much time analyzing as watching.

Inspired by James, I started using baseball data in my classes at school and ultimately wrote a Masters thesis entitled, “How to Win a Pennant in Major League Baseball.” In my thesis, I used regression analysis to investigate the relationship between winning percentages and various other team statistics. Twenty years later, I am still analyzing the game on my blog and on internet message boards and encouraging others to do the same. When I am not watching or studying baseball, I work as a research analyst in the behavioral health field and have never forgotten James’ lesson about questioning everything that I think I know.


  1. Do I have a comment published in this book? I submitted one and a guy from ACTA called me on the phone to verify that indeed I was the guy who submitted it.

  2. Yes, you are in there. I actually saw your comment first and I was kicking myself for not getting mine in earlier. I had submitted mine a little late and I thought I had not made it because nobody had contaced me about it.

  3. That's awesome Lee. I picked up my first Abstract when I was 12 with the 1984 Abstract. To say it influence me would be a huge understatement. While not having the math background and expertise that you have, it did completely change the way of how I viewed my favorite sport. It's the whole building a better mousetrap theory. And James is always looking for a new and better way. Thanks for your blog, it's my favorite on the internet and though I don't post often your work is much appreciated.

  4. Thanks KS. One of the great things about James is you don't have to be a math guy to follow him. That's one of the reasons why he has been so influential. He's an excellent writer.


  5. You write very well.



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