Around The Majors With Lee Sinins
Lee Sinins is best known as the creator of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, a product that I use extensively when researching, analyzing, and writing articles for Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT. The Encyclopedia is available via CD and can be ordered by visiting Lee's website at http://www.baseball-encyclopedia.com. Lee also produces daily Around The Majors reports to his e-mail subscribers at no charge. His research and encyclopedia have been cited numerous times online and in newspapers throughout the country.
Lee is a proud alumnus of Syracuse University, home of the National Champions as he is quick to point out, where he received degrees in U.S. History and Political Science. Lee also has a degree in computer programming, along with a law degree.
I caught up with Lee and gave him the third degree (or should I say his fifth degree?) in the first of a series of interviews this off-season with the game's best analysts and bloggers.
RWBB: Lee, how long have you been a baseball fan?
Lee: Since I was 7 years old, back in 1978.
RWBB: What is it about baseball that you like the most?
Lee: I love everything about it. The games, the drama of a pitching duel, the back and forth of a slugfest, a pennant race between good teams (before the wild card made that just about defunct), the history and so much more.
RWBB: You have been a vocal critic of the wild card system.
Lee: I've written a lot about it over the years. The wild card system has destroyed numerous pennant races. It is illogical that a team that can't be the champions of a subdivision of a whole should be eligible for the championship of the whole. It makes as little sense as having a player who's not the best on his own team be named mvp. (Editor's note: The use of lower case letters is at the behest of Lee to show disrespect for the award.) I still have no idea what was supposedly wrong with the four division setup from 1969-1993. The switch was nothing more than change for the sake of change.
RWBB: You are well known in baseball circles as the creator of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. What motivated you to produce this product?
Lee: I was a big fan of the old Fanpark Baseball Encyclopedia. However, they stopped making it. Also, while it had a lot of the functions of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, it didn't have all of them.
RWBB: It sounds like you stepped in to fill the void created by the demise of the Fanpark Encyclopedia.
Lee: While I was at computer school, I realized early on that I could create an encyclopedia that can do everything I want and which I could keep up to date. So, the Encyclopedia was born.
RWBB: The newest version of the Encyclopedia with statistics from the 2003 season is now available. Did you add any new features this year?
Lee: This year I added the ability to sort using team statistics.
RWBB: Give an example of how this sort could be used.
Lee: The Red Sox set the major league record for highest slugging average in a season in 2003. Using the new team sorting feature, you can get the top ten, or top whatever number you want. Or, if you wanted a specific team's top ten, or a leader list for a particular time period, those options are also available.
RWBB: One of the beauties of the Encyclopedia is that a user can sort in absolute and relative terms.
Lee: That's right. When we combine the team sorting with the "vs. average" feature, we can compare each team to their league's average and generate that leader list. Compared to the league average, the 1884 Cubs become the leaders, the 1927 Yankees are the modern day (1900-) leaders, and the 2003 Red Sox fall to 10th (7th since 1900).
RWBB: What are some of the features of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia that are unavailable online or in printed reference sources?
Lee: In online or printed sources, you are just stuck with the player's stats. There's no way to sort them. There's no way to create your own leader lists. That is a major difference between the Encyclopedia and other sources.
RWBB: I like using the Encyclopedia to compare a player's stats relative to the league.
Lee: Yes, every player has his own average player line, customized to his own career.
RWBB: Switching gears, please explain your Around The Majors reports.
Lee: Each day, I write the ATM reports with baseball news, commentary, statistics and rumors. Each Sunday during the season, I send out a complete stat report.
RWBB: Are you planning on publishing a 2004 edition of the Player Comments Book?
Lee: Yes. But, this time, I'm just planning on making it in Adobe format. The sales from the first edition weren't high enough to justify the low profit margins after the printing costs.
RWBB: You do not acknowledge the Hall of Fame and instead have created Baseball Immortals as an alternate to Cooperstown. What is the difference between the two?
Lee: The major difference is I use my own judgment when making the selections to Baseball Immortals, while I've long given up on figuring out what criteria the voters use for the hall of fame. (Editor's note: Once again, the lower case is intentional).
RWBB: Give an example of a player who has been enshrined by Cooperstown yet is not a Baseball Immortal.
Lee: About a quarter of their members aren't Baseball Immortals, so there are many to choose from. A good random example is Rabbit Maranville. Maranville had minus 280 Runs Created Above Average and an OPS 73 points under his league average. Maranville had 14 years with a double-digit negative RCAA, compared to just two with a positive figure and never more than seven in a season. He's grossly unqualified even for a Hall of Average.
RWBB: Rabbit was a slick fielding shortstop at a time when baseball placed a bigger premium on defense. Is there any way you can measure his value in the field?
Lee: I believe that the gap between fielding is far smaller than the gap between hitting. In Maranville's case, I find it unbelievable that he could have saved his team 280 runs in his career, and that would be what he would have needed just to get himself up to the level of an average player.
RWBB: Let's go in the opposite direction. Pick a player you have selected as a Baseball Immortal but is not a HOFer and give us the rationale for his inclusion.
Lee: One of the best examples is Dick Allen. He had 511 RCAA, four years with 50+ RCAA and six years with at least 40. Allen's .912 OPS was 205 points above his league average and he hit 215 more HR than his league average.
RWBB: For what it's worth, I believe Allen is much more deserving than Maranville, too. As stat heads, are we too preoccupied with numbers rather than a player's overall contribution to his team and/or the game?
Lee: I'm definitely a big believer in things being measurable.
RWBB: That doesn't surprise me.
Lee: Statistics, when used properly, give us an accurate assessment of a player's value. However, they are subject to so much misuse with far too many people using them improperly.
RWBB: What is the single most important statistic from an offensive standpoint in your opinion?
Lee: Runs Created Above Average. A hitter's job is to produce runs for his team and RCAA measures the amount of runs a player added or cost his team.
RWBB: What is the most important stat for pitchers?
Lee: Runs Saved Above Average. A pitcher's job is to save runs for his team and RSAA measures the amount of runs the pitcher saved or cost his team.
RWBB: How do you feel about average value vs. replacement value as used by Baseball Prospectus and others?
Lee: I hate replacement value. I wrote a lot about this in my Player Comments Book and intend to just about repeat that verbatim in the next edition.
RWBB: Give us a sneak preview.
Lee: Comparing a player to a made up awful one asks the wrong question. I'm not interested in trying to estimate how much better a player is than a hypothetical terrible one. What I'm interested in is trying to determine whether a player helps his team win or lose games and by how much. Whether a player helps your team win or lose, I'll bet that's what you're really interested in, too.
RWBB: Average value is easier to quantify than replacement value.
Lee: League average isn't just some abstract concept. Rather, it is the level that separates whether a player helps his team win or lose games. If, for example, the league averages 4.81 runs per team per game, like the 2002 AL, it means that a team has to score more than 4.81 runs to win the average game. So, a player who has 4.81 runs created per 27 outs is performing at an average level, not pushing his team more towards winning or losing, while 4.82 and above moves his team more towards winning and 4.80 and below moves them more towards losing.
RWBB: There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of on base percentage vis-a-vis slugging average. Which one do you believe is of more value and why?
Lee: I give a slight edge to on base average because it has a little better correlation with runs scored. But, I also put a lot of value in slugging.
RWBB: Do you favor rate stats or counting stats?
Lee: I can't really choose between them. I have to go with both.
RWBB: Name the baseball researchers, analysts, reporters, and columnists you most like to read?
Lee: Every day, I retrieve every online article at ESPN Local, which purports to collect all of the articles from all of the teams' local papers. Most of my baseball reading is to collect material for the ATM reports. For the most part, I pay a lot more attention to the content of the articles than to bylines.
RWBB: OK, Lee. Time for the lightning round. Which team is your favorite?
RWBB: Who is your favorite baseball player of all time?
Lee: Like most people, I'm partial to my favorite player of my youth, which was Reggie Jackson.
RWBB: Who is your favorite active player?
Lee: Bernie Williams.
RWBB: Do you think Barry Bonds will break Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755?
RWBB: If salary was not a factor, which player would you pick first if you were going to build a baseball team for the next 5-10 years?
Lee: I'd say a team would get more out of what is left of Barry Bonds' career than anyone else in the majors.
RWBB: Who is the most overrated player in the game today?
Lee: Alfonso Soriano.
RWBB: Who is the least appreciated great player today?
Lee: Although he's gotten a lot of press, I still don't think people have appreciated how great Jason Giambi's been over the past five years.
RWBB: If you were the manager and needed to win the seventh game of the World Series, who would you pick to start that game among all the pitchers ever?
Lee: For a single game, I'd have to take Pedro Martinez. But, that does not make him the best pitcher ever.
RWBB: That begs my next question. Who do you think is the best pitcher ever?
Lee: It's a too close to call battle between Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens, with the deciding factor being how much boost Clemens gets from a higher level competition in today's game vs. the past.
RWBB: Thank you for your time, Lee. This has been a most enjoyable discussion.
Lee can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Check back next weekend for an interview with Alex Belth of Bronx Banter, one of my most enjoyable daily reads.
[Reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]