July 26, 2009

Bill Madden, Bill James & Dinosaurs

Bill Madden, Daily News, July 26, 2009 (my emphasis):
The stat geek Bill James, who has made a fortune taking credit for having invented on-base percentage, last week revealed to the waiting world his position paper on steroids in baseball, which, essentially says that there is no harm in steroids and steroids have had no harm on baseball. ...
First of all, James's article is here (pdf). It's probably best if you read it yourself. It's not James at his best, but he does raise many points for discussion. I want to focus on Madden's insults.

James is looking damn good for his age, because on-base percentage has its roots in a statistic called "Reached First Base", first used by the National League in 1879.

In The Numbers Game, Alan Schwarz outlines the genesis of the still-raging battle over which statistics are best at evaluating a player's performance. Henry Chadwick -- the man who invented the box score -- came up with what would much later be known as "Range Factor" for fielders in 1872.

In 1917, F.C. Lane -- the top writer at Baseball Magazine, sort of the Peter Gammons of the Deadball Era -- understood the value of simply getting on base, whether by a hit or a walk. He knew instinctively that a guy who batted .300 with no walks was far less productive than a guy who hit .260 with a ton of walks. Many players of the time, including Johnny Evers, agreed.

In the late 1940s, Branch Rickey hired statistician Allan Roth (Canadian!) to compute the Dodgers' batting averages in every ball-strike count, splits against left- and right-handed pitchers, spray charts for batters, bunting success rates, and pitch counts.

It's common sense: when a batter steps into the box, he has one goal. Not to make an out. Which means getting on base. Yet it is cement-heads like Madden who have, down through the decades, resisted the use of common sense in baseball.
I can only suppose James also agrees with Carl Everett that dinosaurs never existed and men never walked on the moon.
Madden here adopts the favourite debating tactic of nine-year-olds. (It's also amusing that Madden brings up dinosaurs while remaining ignorant of statistics that have been around the game for almost 140 years.)

Instead of discussing James's points with intelligence like an adult, Madden simply says that because James believes something that Madden thinks is nutty, then it follows that James must believe all sorts of silly things. Case closed. And as everyone knows, the average American is highly adverse to ever taking a pill of any kind to address a problem he or she might have. P.S. Baseball players have been taking certain kinds of "good" steroids -- like cortisone -- for decades.
Then again, didn't he just tell us a couple of years ago that teams would be more successful bringing their closers into the game in the seventh inning
No. He did not. And Madden should (and probably does) know this. Why he is pretending to look like an idiot before a national audience, I could not tell you.

It is not a stretch to say that Bill James has been the most important/influential person in baseball over the last thirty years. Madden, as one of the game's most veteran sportswriters, should make it his business to understand James's theories.

What James has always said -- and what anyone not already schooled/brainwashed in the "traditional" way of thinking about baseball would regard as common sense -- is that a manager should use his best available pitcher in the situation where he feels the game is most on the line.

That pivotal moment might come in the seventh inning, or the eighth inning, or the ninth inning. It probably would not occur in the sixth or earlier since his team would presumably have enough at-bats to potentially mount a comeback, if necessary.

Madden and other sportswriters understand this concept from other angles. We often hear that, in a pinch, a pitcher should go with his best stuff and not risk getting beat on his 3rd-best pitch. James's proposal is exactly the same. Why bring in your 4th-best relief pitcher at the most important part of the game while your top or #2 reliever sits in the pen? Why save "the closer" for the ninth inning, at which point the game may have been lost an inning or two ago?
and that bullpens-by-committee were the way to go?
You're getting warmer. The "committee" idea is not, as one former Red Sox manager seemed to believe, akin to pulling names out of a hat and putting whoever was picked into the game. It's simply another way of saying "use your best available pitcher in the tightest spot".

For example, if the Red Sox are up 2-1 and the Yankees have two men on and no outs in the eighth inning of a critical game, the best move for Terry Francona may be to bring in Jonathan Papelbon to try to keep the Yankees from tying the game or taking a lead. Then, in the ninth with no one on base, another pitcher -- Tito's 2nd-best arm -- could get the final three outs.

Of course, if Manny Delcarmen or Ramon Ramirez coughs up the game in the ninth, Tito likely would catch hell for not playing by "the book". But who knows? Maybe MDC would have done the same thing in the 7th or 8th, the Yankees would be up 5-3 by the ninth and Papelbon would have never taken his jacket off. ... And it's not like closers never blow games.


mattymatty said...

Do you ever wonder if Madden is just baiting us?

Excellent write up, Red Sock.

allan said...

Do you ever wonder if Madden is just baiting us?

It's Joebaiting -- in reverse!

That rascally bastard!

FenFan said...

Bill Madden - he's the retired football coach, right?

I second mattymatty's comment - another great post, Redsock!

CaKeY said...

I miss FJM =(

Gambrinus said...

The James article was good, although I think he probably led off with his weakest argument. I'm sure he's right that anti-aging drugs are gonna be huge in the next 50 years, but I don't think people are going to connect them mentally with steroids. Meanwhile, his whole argument was about what he thought would happen, not what he thought should happen. People often like to ignore this distinction.

But yeah, isn't the Bill James hate getting a little ridiculous at this point? People just seem to enjoy bashing him on principle.

The Omnipotent Q said...

Madden has made it his business to rip the Red Sox in the New York Daily News for years. It made my heart warm that he had to eat it when the Sox came back in 2004.

He's a hack writer, and read his attack on Bill James in yesterday's paper. Beyond laughable...

tim said...

Your example is preposterous.

The Red Sox losing to the Yankees? MALARKEY I TELLS YA!


Seriously though, I concur with matty. Good "morning" read for me.