Baseball BeatSeptember 19, 2004
Abstracts From The Abstracts
By Rich Lederer

Part Seven: 1983 Baseball Abstract

The 1983 edition of The Bill James Baseball Abstract is the seventh in a series dating back to 1977. On the heels of a successful commercial introduction in 1982, the price of the soft-covered book was raised a dollar to $6.95. The book was also expanded to a then-record 238 pages.

James dedicates the 1983 Abstract to "all of the early readers of the book, to all of the people who helped in one way or another to bring it along to where it was profitable in the ordinary sense." He lists 91 names, many of whom are famous (including Roger Angell, whose "Invaluable. . .Dazzling. . .Original" quote is front and center on the cover of the book).

The first half paragraph in the 12-paragraph Introduction reads as follows:

Hi. My name is Bill James, and I'm an eccentric. . .The reason that I am an eccentric is that I spend all of my time analyzing baseball games. Well, not all of my time--I have a wife to neglect--but most all of my time. I count all kinds of stuff that lots of people are sort of interested in, but nobody in his right mind would actually bother to count. I devise theories to explain how things in baseball are connected to one another.

The first part of the book is called Methods, and it is conveniently divided into two sections--Old Business and New Business--for the convenience of readers who may not wish to wade through material that has been previously presented. James limits the Old Business to six pages but still manages to cover tools that are used to analyze and evaluate hitters, pitchers, defense, careers, and teams as a whole.

Over the next three pages, New Business introduces 1) account-form box scores, 2) ballpark influences, 3) Cooperstown's trail, 4) late-inning records, 5) the law of competitive balance, 6) logs method, 7) percentage of offensive value, and 8) runs created with technical adjustments.

Many of you believe that I am fascinated with the ways that ballparks shape the statistics of those who play there. Actually, I am rather more inclined to wish that the whole subject would go away, or that there were some Preparation B that we could spray on them ("Shrinks Ballpark Effects Fast") so that we could go on to other subjects. But there isn't, and since there isn't the subject is too important to ignore. The ways in which the ballparks alter the game and therefore the statistics of the players who play there are so massive that it is impossible to perceive the abilities of the players accurately without constantly adjusting the lens.

So I have undertaken a kind of consciousness-raising drive on the subject of ballpark effects this year, with the goal of being able to say much less about it in the future.

. . .I suppose I should say that my own awareness on this subject is fairly recent. When I began the Abstract in 1977, I had been a hard-core baseball fan for many years. But I still thought of ballpark effects, as I suspect many of you do yet, as a marginal effect, the sort of thing that could make a .300 hitter into a .310 hitter and give a power hitter a break on a few longballs. But as I got down more deeply into the evaluation and analysis of player records, it became clear to me that in fact it was much more than that. . .

. . .The essential thing that I am trying to show this year is that this is not a theory or a hypothesis or abstract speculation. . .Twenty years ago, when a National League slugger said that he would hit ten more home runs a season if he played in Wrigley Field, if you disagreed with him it was just a matter of you?ve got your theory and I?ve got mine. Now it?s a matter of you've got your theory and I've got a stack of evidence this high to show that your theory is bunk.

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With the help of Pete Palmer, James shows the career home and road breakdowns for (in the order presented) Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, John Pesky, Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, and Babe Ruth.

Although Williams slugged 25 more home runs on the road (273 to 248) in 38 fewer games, he actually had 152 more hits and a higher batting average (.361 to .328) at Fenway. In 1951, Williams hit .403 at home and .232 on the road?the only time The Thumper hit under .300 in any of his home/road splits with at least 200 at bats.

The biggest difference in Williams' career splits was in the number of doubles (319 at home vs. 206 on the road). The greater than 50% increase is primarily a function of The Green Monster, further validated by the fact that Carl Yastrzemski and Fred Lynn--the next two biggest lefthanded-hitting Red Sox stars to that point--had similar home and road splits in terms of doubles. Yaz, Lynn, and Doerr all hit over .300 at home and in the .260s on the road. Doerr, a right-handed hitter, slammed nearly twice as many homers at Fenway (145 to 78).

Greenberg's stats benefited from Tiger Stadium across the board. Adjusting for his 1947 season in Pittsburgh, Hank hit .343 in Detroit and .295 on the road while a Tiger. He also slugged 68 more HR at home while with Detroit in 27 fewer AB.

DiMaggio was actually victimized by playing his home games in Yankee Stadium. Joe D. hit .315 with 148 HR at home vs. .333 and 213 HR on the road. His splits were most pronounced from 1942 through the end of his career with the exception of his final season in 1951 when his numbers were fairly uniform. The Yankee Clipper only had six seasons in which he hit 10 or more HR at home whereas he had 11 such seasons on the road (including four with 20+).

On the other hand, the batting average and home run totals of the lefthanded-hitting Gehrig and Ruth were neither hurt nor helped by playing their home games in New York. The Iron Horse, however, lost a meaningful number of two-base hits playing in Yankee Stadium. Bill Dickey, another LHB from that era, slugged twice as many homers at home than on the road by taking advantage of the shorter porch in right field. Dickey, in fact, hit 44 HR at home in 1937 and 1938 vs. only 12 on the road.

Staying with the ballpark theme, James challenges a comment by Bill Buckner in the Chicago Cubs team commentary. Billy Buck had complained the previous summer that the Cubs didn't have a home field advantage because the conditions at Wrigley Field changed so much from day to day. It turns out that the Cubs actually sported a 29% improvement at home vs. on the road over the previous six years--the third highest in the National League. After performing this study (which showed that the overall won-lost percentage had been .550 at home and .450 on the road with nearly every team winning more than half its games at home and losing more than half on the road), James concluded that the home field advantage was greater than generally believed.

Although stating that the home field advantage decides one game in ten, James acknowledges "there is some evidence to suggest that the more unique or distinctive a park is, the greater the advantage." Notwithstanding a park's uniqueness, James says it is "an unavoidable fact that the teams which play in the best hitter's parks in baseball--Fenway, Wrigley, County Stadium in Atlanta, Tiger Stadium--win obviously fewer championships than their share, and that the group of teams which play in the pitcher's parks--Yankee, Memorial in Baltimore, Dodger Stadium are in the group--win more than their share." James believes "there is a connection," that it is "easier to build and maintain a starting rotation in a pitcher's park than it is in one that favors the hitter."

James studies the Mets--the team with the smallest differential between its home and road records--and concludes that the team's failure to emphasize power pitchers over control pitchers to take advantage of the poor visibility at Shea Stadium is the reason for not having a more pronounced home-park edge.

The Mets as a team have led the NL in pitchers' strikeouts six times. They have finished over .500 all six of those times. They have finished over .500 without leading the league in strikeouts only once in their history.

Although that strict record was broken a year later, the Mets led the N.L. in strikeouts in 1985 and 1988-1990, winning 87-100 games and finishing first or second each of those seasons. The Mets have not led the league in K's during the past 14 years and have only played .500 or better ball five times--all during a consecutive stretch from 1997-2001. Goodbye Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and David Cone. Hello Steve Trachsel, Tom Glavine, and Jae Weong Seo.

In the Houston Astros essay, James says the Astrodome is a "negative image" of Fenway, an "exactly opposite park in almost every way." James claims that the Astrodome (where "it takes three players to make a run") humbles hitters and controls egos, whereas Fenway inflates egos and causes teams to "pull apart over time." He believes the Astros need to "maintain a stable personnel" to win but thinks the Red Sox (where "the longer they stay together, the more stale and lifeless they become") are constantly in need of "fresh talent." And you thought the Nomar Garciaparra trade had to do with his contract status, ehh? (Only four of the nine combined position players and designated hitter are holdovers from the pre-James era and, if memory serves me correctly, Boston management tried valiantly to trade--give away?--Manny during the last off-season.)

Speaking of Fenway, James informs us that Craig Wright believes it is a "common misconception that you have to play longball in this park" when, in actuality, "it is a park in which a long-sequence offense can do very well."

In the Red Sox team commentary, James theorizes:

I believe in the Natural Selection of Strategies. If a team tries something and wins, other teams will follow; if a team tries something and loses, nobody else imitates it. If the imitating team tries it and goes into a slump, they'll stop; if they try it and get hot, they'll keep it up. Successful managers stay around while unsuccessful managers learn to sell insurance, and therefore the strategies of the successful managers stay around, too. By small degrees and over a painfully long period of time, the best strategies come into use and the worst die out, and all a sabermetrician can do is speed up the process a little.

Regarding the debate over four-man vs. five-man pitching rotations, James writes:

1) If I have a four-man pitching rotation and you are trying to persuade me to switch to a five-man rotation, what you are saying is that I should take eight starts away from my best starting pitcher, eight away from my second-best starting pitcher, eight away from my third-best starting pitcher, eight away from my fourth-best and give all 32 starts to my fifth-best starting pitcher.

2) Before I am going to do that, I want to see some real good evidence that I am going to get something back in exchange for it.

3) I have not seen any such evidence. Ergo

4) I wouldn't do it.

James' research on the subject uncovered two anomalies. The first is that "the National League has almost universally adopted the five-man pitching rotation, while the A.L. has not" despite the designated hitter rule in the latter. "I cannot explain that. It seems backward." The second anomaly is that "the organizations seem to have adopted a protectionist policy toward their players at a moment when they have just surrendered that which they are attempting to protect."

Ten years ago, it was one thing to say that we are using a five-man rotation to protect our pitchers' futures, because that future really belonged to you. You either used it or you traded it; either way it was yours, to do what you would with it. It's not that way any more. What sense would it make for the Toronto Blue Jays to cut Dave Stieb back to 240 innings to protect his future, when it seems to be agreed that his future includes free agency? None at all.

James predicts that "when baseball management grows up, the four-man rotation is going to make a comeback." Well, it's been 21 years since James made that statement. Aren't 21-year-olds considered grown ups?

In the San Francisco Giants section, James somewhat surprisingly admits, "I am, among sabermetricians, not an enthusiastic proponent of walks as an offensive weapon." However, he believes the public at large is either unaware that walks are either kept or are "just a sort of random result of being at bat when a pitcher is stricken with control trouble." James also says the public "tends to overestimate the value of a high batting average in producing runs, and to underestimate the value of power."

To put it in a few words, the relationship between a player's batting average and his total offensive value varies immensely from player to player; the two primary factors according to which it varies are the player?s isolated power and his walks.

James believes that "no manager has ever understood this better than Earl Weaver" and proceeds to show that the 1982 Giants (which included Joe Morgan, Reggie Smith, Darrell Evans, and Jack Clark) were "an Earl Weaver team" that not coincidentally was managed by Frank Robinson. James points out that the Giants had many characteristics of Weaver's teams, including the tendency to have poor starts and strong finishes; win more games than they should based on the number of runs scored and allowed; superior performance in double headers; low number of stolen base attempts combined with a high success rate; lack of success on artificial turf; strength in winning one-run games; and losing a close pennant race. The primary differences involved a difference in the depth of talent as well as ability to turn the double play well without making many errors.

In discussing the Baltimore Orioles, James breaks down the number of runs teams score in an inning to analyze the effectiveness of Weaver's "big inning" vs. Gene Mauch's "first run" strategies. James lays out Weaver's theory that "the probable loss on the third or fourth run in the inning is more important than the probable gain on the first." He labels sacrifice hits and caught stealing as "first-run outs," which is short for "outs invested by the manager in first-run strategies."

James determines that (1) the Orioles had the highest big-inning percentage in the league, (2) the big-inning teams averaged 85 wins and 765 runs scored; the others average 77 wins and 687 runs scored; (3) the big-inning teams invested an average of only 92 outs in first-run strategies while the other teams invested an average of 131.

In the next team section, James lists the Orioles and Tigers team hitting stats. Other than runs scored, stolen bases, and walks, the numbers are virtually identical. The Orioles (774 runs scored) drew 634 BB and had 49 SB, while the Tigers (729) had 470 and 93. James advises his readers to divide the difference in walks by four and "you've got the difference between the two offenses." The relative impact of walks and stolen bases may seem rather obvious today, but it was pretty eye-opening back then.

James continues discussing the impact of stolen bases on offenses when reviewing the Yankees:

Anything you do--anything at all, anything you can devise, if it has even a reasonable degree of intellectual integrity--will lead you to the same conclusion. Stolen bases, compared to any other type of offense, are trivial. They create virtually no runs on balance; they have very little to do with who wins and loses.

In commenting on his hometown Royals, James shares the data from 47 games in which he used a "hit-location" scoring system. He lists in order the 12 largest "holes" in the defense and admits being surprised "that more hits go up the middle than through the hole." James also gives Wright credit for tracking data with the Rangers. These innovative studies provide an early glimpse into zone ratings and other more sophisticated defensive metrics that have since been developed.

In a tribute to Wright, James says "the most interesting work that is being done in sabermetrics these days is not being done by me."

I have attributed the reappearance of the running game in recent years almost solely to declining home-run rates. Craig has convinced me that a much larger share of it is due to the simple physical fact that you can run faster on artificial turf than you can on grass. Well, I can't find the data, but take my word for it--stolen-base percentages are way up on artificial turf.

Me? I would argue that artificial turf and big ballparks entered and exited the baseball world at about the same time. As such, I think the rise and fall of the stolen base as well as the fall and rise of the home run were highly correlated with the existence (or lack thereof) of artificial turf and big ballparks.

On topic, James disputes the conventional wisdom that Whitey Herzog believes in speed, aggressive base running and line-drive hitting. "What absolute malarkey. Whitey believes in winning," pointing out that "intelligent men adapt to the situation that they are given, take what fate allows them and do what they have to do with it."

About 1976, which was the height of the stolen-base mania, I pondered on the question of why the stolen base had gone out of the game in the 1920s, and why it came back in the 1960s. I concluded that the biggest factor was the home-run rates; the more reachable the fences were, the more home runs there were, the fewer stolen bases there would be. About a week later Denny Matthews asked Whitey Herzog why he thought there were so many more stolen bases, and Whitey said, "Well, the biggest reason is the ballparks, Denny. They?re not building those bandbox ballparks like we played in in the '50s, so you've got to go out and get the runners around some other way."

. . .There are things that Herzog believes in a priori. He believes in building a team that is close-knit. He believes that you can't do anything unless you have players who want to win. He is never afraid to take a chance with an unproven player, if that player has ability and shows desire. He doesn't tell you those things flat out, but they come through plain enough. Those things he would carry with him no matter where he went. But the style of play? The shape of his ball club is the shape of his talent and the shape of his ballpark. Herzog is too smart to believe in building a ball club by trading, or building a ball club from free agency or building a ball club out of the farm system. He believes in building a ball club out of ballplayers. That's all.

Switching gears, James questions whether most ballgames are decided in the late innings or in the early innings and the relative importance of bullpens in the Milwaukee Brewers section.

I'm not saying the bullpen isn't important. It is; the question is whether it is especially important, more so than any other position. I hear people say all the time that somebody isn't going to win the pennant because they lack an outstanding reliever; I can't remember hearing anybody say that somebody isn't going to win because they lack an outstanding second baseman. I don't see any evidence to justify that distinction.

James stays on theme in the Minnesota Twins commentary and provides an interesting wrap-up:

The overrating of the late innings in contrast with the early, I think, is very much like the overrating of RBI and RBI men in comparison to the men who get rallies started. Early in the rally, late in the rally; early in the game, late in the game. People are always fascinated by "payoff" statistics, by wins and losses as opposed to ERA, by who caught the touchdown pass. Mazerkoski [sic] was the hero; who remembers Hal Smith? If the food is good you tip the waitress. Sabermetricians are an odd lot. We always want to know what the recipe was.

I believe a huge thank you is in order to Bill for providing many of us with the secret ingredients.

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[Part B: Originally published as a separate entry on September 26, 2004]

In the Player Ratings section, Bill James admits that he has yet to use the same rating system twice since its creation in the 1980 Baseball Abstract. The players are evaluated offensively based on runs created adjusted for the league average and park factor, expressed as a won-lost record and percentage by use of the Pythagorean method. The players are also rated on four defensive categories (which are different at each position) with adjustments for playing surface, ballpark and team factors, and, once again, expressed as a W-L record and %.

James repeats the calculations for the previous year and at the end of the explanations asks his readers to "please take my word for it." He adds the offensive and defensive won-lost marks together and determines the won-lost percentage. The players are then listed "according to the random chance that a .400 team would post their record in the same number of decisions" in order to adjust for the size of a player's contribution in relationship to a replacement-level player.

Pitchers are rated by the number of runs they saved as opposed to a replacement-level pitcher which James defines as "a pitcher allowing one run per game more than the league average," adjusted for the park in which he pitches.

In the section on catchers, James claims that Gary Carter had the best defensive won-lost percentage of any catcher in baseball and wonders whether Carter or Ozzie Smith saves more runs for their teams. He also points out that the Expos were 6-14 with Carter out of the lineup the past two years whereas the Tigers were 40-16 without Lance Parrish and sub-.500 by nine games with him during the same period. James mentions that there was "no tendency to have Fahey catch Jack Morris' games or anything like that." He says "we can prove that Parrish is an outstanding hitter, we can prove that he cuts off the running game, we can see how well he blocks the plate" but "we cannot prove that he is or is not an inept handler of pitchers."

James ranks Ted Simmons 14th and questions the importance of his 97 RBI "batting behind three players who had 616 hits and 155 walks." He sides with Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog for trading the popular catcher to the Brewers after refusing to change positions for the good of the team.

I don't know what you'd do, but I know what I would do. If I had to trade that man for five cents on the dollar, I'd trade him. You don't have to be in baseball to relate to that circumstance. Suppose that you are the new manager of an office, or a loading dock, or the new plant manager in a factory, and things aren't running worth a hoot, and people are bitching and moaning a lot intstead of working together, and you approach your highest-paid employee, who is also the most popular, visible man in the organization, and who is also a friend of your boss, and you tell him that you're going to assign him some different duties. And he tells you to stick it. What are you going to do?

De facto authority, that is the message. You either get rid of that son of a bitch, or you accept the fact that he is running the show and you are not. If Whitey Herzog didn't have the guts to run Ted Simmons out of St. Louis, he might as well have quit on the spot. Because if he didn't, from that moment he was not the man-a-ger of anything.

Enos Cabell, the 26th and last-ranked first baseman, draws James' most interesting comments:

When Enos Cabell was hot early in the year, you'd ask Sparky Anderson about him and Sparky would say "Enos Cabell is a we ballplayer. You don't hear Enos Cabell saying 'I did this' and 'I did that.'" I think that's what drives me nuts about Sparky Anderson, that he's so full of brown stuff that it just doesn't seem like he has any words left over for a basic, fundamental understanding of the game. I want to look at a player on the basis of what, specifically, he can and cannot do to help you win a baseball game, but Sparky's so full of "winners" and "discipline" and "we ballplayers" and self-consciously asinine theories about baseball that he seems to have no concept of how it is, mechanically, that baseball games are won and lost. I mean, I would never say that it was not important to have a team with a good attitude, but Christ, Sparky, there are millions of people in this country who have good attitudes, but there are only about 200 who can play a major-league brand of baseball, so which are you going to take? Sparky is so focused on all that attitude stuff that he looks at an Enos Cabell and he doesn't even see that the man can't play baseball. This we ballplayer, Sparky, can't play first, can't play third, can't hit, can't run and can't throw. So who cares what his attitude is?

When covering second basemen, James writes about players with colors as names in the Frank White comments as only Bill can do.

Did you ever notice that players named "White" are almost always black, and players named "Black" are usually white? Why is that? The last White major leaguer who was actually white was Mike White, who played for Houston in the early sixties. Since then we've had Bill White, Roy White, Frank White and Jerry White, all of whom were black; Mike White probably would have been black except that his father played in the majors in the thirties and they didn't allow you to be black then. The Royals also had a Black on their roster, Bud, who of course is white; in fact, the Royals had to set some sort of record by having four colored people on their team. White, Black, Blue and Brown. Scott Brown is not any browner than anybody else, Vida is definitely not blue, nor for that matter is Darryl Motley. I suppose that it is the nature of names, as with Peacekeeping Missiles and Security Police, to disguise the truth more often than they reveal it. Horace Speed stole only four bases in his career, Vic Power was a singles hitter, Bill Goodenough was not good enough, and Joe Blong did not belong for long.

Three of the four Whites playing today are white (Gabe, Matt, and Rick). Only Rondell White is black. There are no white or black Blacks. But there are three Greens (Andy, Nick, and Shawn), not to mention two Greenes (Khalil and Todd), as well as four Browns (Adrian, Dee, Jamie, and Kevin).

On the topic of names, James complains in "Somebody Named JOHNSON, Minnesota" in the designated hitter section:

What I want to know is just where the hell are all these Johnsons coming from? Is there a Johnson factory down there in the Sun Belt somewhere? In 1980 there were only four Johnsons playing in the majors--Cliff, John Henry, Lamar and Randy (John Henry is one Johnson), and Randy only batted 20 times. Last year we had at least five R. Johnsons alone--R. Johnson of Atlanta, R.R. Johnson and R.W. Johnson of Montreal, plus Randy Johnson of Minnesota (I think this is Randy I'm supposed to be writing about here) and Ron Johnson of Kansas City, with at least eleven total Johnsons around the majors. How are we supposed to keep track of all these people? Maybe we should start assigning them distinctive nicknames, Clicker and Turkey Shoot and stuff like that. Howard Johnson of Detroit, needless to say, is exempted from this requirement. And Drungo Larue Hazewood languishes in the minors. What a waste.

There are ten Johnsons who have played in 2004, including three R. Johnsons--the most famous obviously being the R. Johnson, as in Randy Johnson, the 6'10" lefthander who is vying for his sixth Cy Young Award and the fifth in the past six years.

James discusses the cost of stealing bases under Tom Herr, who was caught stealing second in the first inning of the opening game of the 1982 N.L. playoffs.

How many 2-run innings do you have to lose before the stolen base becomes a bad gamble? Damn few. People overestimate the value of the stolen-base gamble because they fail to make a reasonable accounting of the cost of a caught-stealing. It's an invisible loss; you don't really see the runs you don't get, whereas you do see it when it pays off. But I've noticed something about those big innings that win ball games. You hardly ever see anybody caught stealing in the middle of a three-run rally.

Sliding over to third basemen, James writes a noteworthy essay when evaluating Luis Salazar's defensive record.

I'll teach you a trick for trying to get a line on what kind of defensive players somebody out of the past was, somebody you didn't see play. If the player's position is at the right of the defensive spectrum, the less he played at some other position, the better defensive player he probably was.

James proceeds to give examples of modern-day shortstops such as Rick Burleson, Dave Concepcion, Mark Belanger, and Ozzie Smith--all of whom had played nearly every inning of their career at SS--as well as a few slick-fielding shortstops from the past (Luis Aparicio, Marty Marion, and George McBride).

On the left end of the spectrum, however, just the opposite rule applies; the great defensive first basemen like Vic Power and Wes Parker and George Scott were usually men who came from some other position and were continually shifted around to plug gaps. In the middle of the spectrum, as at third base, a good defensive player will have a few games when he is shifted rightward; a poor defensive player will have games when he is shifted leftward.

James mentions Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, and Buddy Bell as third basemen who played games at short and second but not at first. On the other hand, Bob Horner and Johnny Bench (who had become the Reds 3B by this time) were substituted for and moved to 1B or LF.

Sure, it's not a perfect generalization. But if I was evaluating a third baseman out of the past, and I could know one of two things, his fielding percentage or how many games he played at shortstop, I would a lot rather know how many games he played at short.

James labels John Lowenstein "the most effective hitter, per plate appearance or per out, in baseball in 1982. His .419 on-base percentage was 35 points higher than Robin Yount's and 20 points higher than Rickey Henderson's. His .602 slugging percentage was 34 points higher than Yount's. And those are the two most important offensive statistics." Yount was the MVP that year (with 27 of 28 first-place votes), leading the league in hits, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, runs created, slugging average and OPS while earning a Gold Glove at SS for the pennant-winning team.

In the Rickey Henderson and Dwayne Murphy discussions, James goes to great lengths proving that the former's "selfish pursuit of the stolen-base record" hurt his team and "detracted" from the latter's hitting by taking pitches and causing him to hit from behind the count more than would otherwise be the case. Murphy, a six-time Gold Glover, could run, hit with power, and draw walks--all of which led to him being rated the number one CF in the A.L. despite having the misfortune of playing in a big ballpark that favored pitchers rather than hitters and in the shadow of Rickey for a franchise that routinely lost more games than it won.

James argues that Dwayne's namesake Dale didn't deserve to win the N.L. MVP in 1982. He points out that the Atlanta center fielder created fewer runs per out than any other MVP candidate except Lonnie Smith "without adjusting for the fact that Murphy played in the second-best hitter's park in the league, where the runs he creates are less valuable." James makes a case for Carter, asserting that he plays a key defensive position "better than anyone else in the league and on top of that hits better than Murphy."

How can you not vote for him for the MVP? If the Expos were to trade Carter to Atlanta in exchange for Murphy, which team would that help and which one would it hurt? It's obvious, isn't it?

As far as pitchers go, James reports that Pete Vuckovich "demolished all the old records for mediocrity by a Cy Young Award winner" (worst ERA, strikeout-to-walk ratio, hits and baserunners per inning while pitching fewer innings and winning less often than any other starter to win the award over a full season). "I think it's just an incredibly bad selection. Dave Stieb pitched over 60 innings more than Vuckovich and pitched better."

James was hired by the Hendricks Brothers of Houston (Alan and Randy were early and loyal readers of the Baseball Abstracts) to work on Joaquin Andujar's salary arbitration three years ago, and he offers some insightful comments on the subject:

A lot of the public, I think, has the idea that arbitration hearings are sort of bullshit sessions in which the agent tried to convince the arbitrator that Joaquin Andujar is Steve Carlton's brother, and the club tries to convince him that he is Juan Berenguer's niece. It's not really like that. The first and foremost rule of an arbitration proceeding is that you never, ever, say anything which can be shown to be false.

The second rule of an arbitration case is that you don't start any arguments that you can't win. . .Stick to the facts. . .Tell the truth. It's the only chance you've got.

* * * * * * *

In the final part of the book (The Game), James uses his Favorite Toy to estimate the chances of players getting 3,000 hits or 500 home runs as well as breaking Lou Brock's career stolen-base record.

Any time performance levels in a given category rise to where the record represents less than 18 seasons of outstanding performance, the record becomes soft; less than 15, very soft. Almost all records become visibly soft 10 to 15 years before they are broken; most records which become soft will be broken. That is what is remarkable about Pete Rose's run at Ty Cobb's hit record. He is trying to pick off a record that shows no signs of being ripe.

As everyone knows, Rose broke Cobb's record in 1985. Pete accumulated 387 hits after the 1983 Baseball Abstract was written when he was 42-45 years old, ending up with 4,256 hits to Ty's 4,189. Interestingly, Rose had 2,788 more plate appearances and 2,619 more at bats than Cobb and yet he produced only 67 more hits than the previous record holder. More hits, yes. But he used up a lot more outs to get there.

In The Law of Competitive Balance, James reiterates the Plexiglass Principle and renames it The Whirlpool Principle: "All teams are drawn forcefully toward the center. Most of the teams which had winning records in 1982 will decline in 1983; most of the teams which had losing records in 1982 will improve in 1983."

A check of this year's standings shows that only six of the 18 teams with winning records last year are likely to improve upon their record this year (with the Yankees on pace for roughly the same number of wins and losses), while nine of the 12 teams with losing records in 2003 are likely to improve their record this season (with the Brewers on pace to repeat its record from the year before). Something to remember, especially for those who may be interested in making over/under bets based on the number of team wins next year.

James asks, "Why does this happen?"

The Law of Competitive Balance: There develop over time separate and unequal strategies adopted by winners and losers; the balance of those strategies favors the losers, and thus serves constantly to narrow the difference between the two.

James reprints the What Does It Take? (Discerning the De Facto Standards of the Hall of Fame) article from the 1980 Abstract, which I reviewed in July. James also provides Team Age Analysis in Graph Form with bars representing the young talent, prime talent, past-prime, and old for each team; takes another crack at Account-Form Box Scores ("I can build a better box score, and I have. I can't force anybody to use it."); and offers an advanced version of runs created in Tinkering With The Runs Formula by reluctantly including HB, SH, SF, and GIDP.

(H + W + HB - CS) (TB + .65(SB + SH +SF))
AB + W + SH + SF + CS + HB + GIDP
One of the most interesting things about this adaptation of the formula is its treatment of the sacrifice hit. . .Several sabermetricians have concluded that the sacrifice bunt is not a very good play, that generally speaking you'll score more runs if you don't bunt much than you will if you do. . .My problems with the studies is that they miss a key point, which is that most managers already know that, and thus don't use the bunt to try to increase their offensive production, but rather to try to preserve it through a weak spot in the batting order. Almost all bunts are laid down by poor hitters--65% of all bunts in the NL last year were laid down by hitters hitting less than .250. This knowledge changes the equation. . .It seems obvious, but the people who have tried to refute the logic of a sac bunt too often haven't dealt with it. Managers don't bunt with the middle of their lineup.

Through a series of calculations, James tries to figure out the advantages and disadvantages of bunting and raises two questions:

1) What is the theoretical point at which a player should be asked to bunt, and

2) What is the empirical level at which players are asked to bunt.

James concludes this essay by stating: "The world needs more sabermetricians; I'm never going to get this all figured out by myself."

Next up: 1984 Baseball Abstract

[Reader comments and retorts regarding Part A at Baseball Primer.]

[Reader comments and retorts regarding Part B at Baseball Primer.]


This is probably the single-greatest blog series in all of baseball blogs. You're doing an amazing job.

Thanks, Tom. Much appreciated.

Yeah Rich, I second Tom. We all might enshrine James, but no one has done him justice like you have in the past month(s). I just don't know what the hell you're gonna do when you get to the Historical Baseball Abstract, that'll be 9 articles by itself :)

These are beyond tremendous - thanks!

Great job, Rich. It's too bad James stopped the Abstracts in 1988, meaning we readers only have the pleasure of reading five more of your articles. Keep up the splendid work.

I would add that the rise and fall of basestealing was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the seventies and eighties.

I played for the California Angels organization at that time and teams heavily concentrated on signing and developing fast outfielders (to exclusion of other types of outfielders) due to the extensive use of artificial turf and the perceived success of "running" teams. Slugging white outfielders was horribly out of vogue. Every centerfielder in every organization was an Omar Moreno clone.

There was a stated organizational belief that speed was God-given; you can teach someone to hit. So they signed a bunch of guys who pounded 3-1 pitches into the ground to an OPS tune of .550.


A million thanks for your articles on the old James Baseball Abstracts. I had all of them after 1982, but I lent them out years ago and the guy died before I got them back, the nerve.

I have a request. In one of the Abstracts, James mentions that while Tito Francona was his favorite player growing up, Terry Francona was, at the time of the writing, his least favorite player. Francona had few of the necessary skills we associate with a good first baseman, and James was not shy about sharing his feelings on the subject.

Now that James is a fellow employee of Francona's in the Red Sox organization, and their team is fighting to get into the Series, I thought it might good mean fun to share that quote with the thousands. Can you make that happen?