By The Numbers: Some Pioneers In Sabermetrics

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

By Father Gabe Costa
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From the humble beginnings of baseball in 1839, reporters and statisticians have tried to “tell the story of baseball”. What “happens” at a baseball game can be expressed in words, and yet must be explained in numbers. In the first chapter of John Thorn’s and Pete Palmer’s classic book, The Hidden Game of Baseball, we read:

“…statistics are themselves the vital part of baseball, the only tangible and imperishable remains of games played yesterday or a hundred years ago.  Baseball may be loved without statistics, but it cannot be understood without them.”

It was Thorn and Palmer who introduced the so-called “Linear Weights” school. This popular method is well known and used in many discussions involving sabermetrics. The reader is invited to access the following web sites for more information about linear weights:

http://baseballevolution.com/keith/linearw.html

http://www.tangotiger.net/wiki/index.php?title=Linear_Weights

Alexander Cartwright, Henry Chadwick, Branch Rickey, and many others, all made invaluable contributions to what has evolved to be the ultimate quest: the search for objective knowledge about baseball. This, of course, is the very definition of sabermetrics, which was coined by Bill James himself.

In a real sense, it was because of Bill James, that we started thinking about baseball in different ways. He, more than anyone, popularized the sabermetrical approach. Often using elementary mathematics in instruments such as Runs Created, James revealed an aesthetic beauty in the simplicity of his analyses. This gifted guru has also developed other metrics, of a more complex nature, such as Win Shares. Finally, it was only after the Boston Red Sox hired James, that the Curse of the Bambino was shattered!

Listed below are four web sites regarding instruments developed by and related to James:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runs_created

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/RC_career.shtml

http://www.tangotiger.net/wiki/index.php?title=Runs_Created

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/2004-win-shares-have-arrived

Baseball has also been the object of study in the classroom and the laboratory. One school, Seton Hall University, has offered a course on sabermetrics (MATH 1011) for nearly twenty-five years. And because the National Pastime has had such a gripping hold on the baseball fan, many scientists have long looked at the game in very technical ways. Applied mathematicians, statisticians and engineers have published articles in professional research journals in which sophisticated mathematical models have been employed. For example, Thomas M. Cover and Carroll W. Keilers wrote an article titled “An Offensive Earned-Run Average for Baseball” which was published in Operations Research, Volume 25, Number 5  (1977). These researchers used concepts such as Markov Chains and Negative Binomial Expansions to bolster their conclusions.

Dr. Michael Hoban, Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York, recently wrote the following comments on a posting which is provided by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR-L Digest – 11 Jan 2011 (#2011-12)):

Bert Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame at last!!  It took fourteen years on the ballot to do it but the writers finally saw the light.  This was a true victory for sabermetrics – as recognized in the following clip from the Associated Press.

“The great curveballer won 287 games, threw 60 shutouts and is fifth with 3701 strikeouts.   This was his 14th time on the ballot and his career stats have gotten a boost in recent years by sabermetricians who have new ways to evaluate baseball numbers.”

Why have I been saying for years that Bert deserved to be in the Hall?  Because there has never been any question that he has Hall of Fame numbers.

Bill James’ Win Shares system is the most comprehensive tool available to understand how good a season a player had.  It includes offensive and defensive contributions and adjusts for all relevant factors.  The CAWS Career Gauge (Career Assessment/Win Shares) uses win shares to measure how good a career a player had.

According to the CAWS Gauge, Blyleven has two solid credentials for induction into the Hall.  First, Bert is one of only twenty-three (23) pitchers in modern times (since 1920) who have accumulated 300 career win shares in the major leagues.  And the CAWS Gauge suggests that any pitcher who has 300 win shares deserves to be in Cooperstown.  And, now that Bert has been elected, every pitcher with this distinction who has been eligible has been inducted.

Thorn, Palmer, James and Hoban are just a few of the recent “pioneers” with regard to sabemetrics. They, and many others, have only enhanced the appreciation of the game of baseball; a gripping, addictive, intoxicating, wonderful game!

The game, which its greatest star shortly before his death in 1948, so elegantly described:

“For above everything else, I want to be part of and help the development of the greatest game God ever saw fit to let man invent – Baseball.”

Next Blog: Gilbert James McDougald, A Quiet Yankee Legend

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