Archive for Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Baseball stats pioneer Bill James says ‘Moneyball’ hits it out of the park

September 28, 2011


Bill James

Bill James

Bill James is a critic of baseball, not movies. But he’s got an informed opinion of the movie “Moneyball,” out in theaters nationwide this week.

“It’s terrific,” said James, who lives in Lawrence. “It’s a fun movie with a warm and original perspective on baseball. It’s got a really nice energy to it.”

“Moneyball,” based on a book by Michael Lewis, is the story of a corps of nerds trying to change the way big-league teams assess and acquire players. The system that the club, led by Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane character, uses is based on James’ system of sabermetrics, the analysis of player performance based on statistics.

There isn’t a Bill James character in “Moneyball,” but his name is used four times in the script, as well as his image.

James has been writing about baseball for nearly 35 years. Jargon in his world includes “win shares,” “similarity scores” and “range factor.” As in the movie, the baseball establishment shunned his early work until a new generation took over. James now has two World Series rings for his role as senior adviser of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox.

“I write to hard-core baseball fans,” James said. “Anybody else is an interloper. That’s part of what defines my books: the decision to write to the hardest-core, most knowledgeable baseball fans, assuming that the reader starts with a deep knowledge of the game. I’ve never tried to write to the casual fan.”

So it’s a wonder sabermetrics can be the basis for a Hollywood movie.

“The people who made the movie — all of them, I think — are nonbaseball fans,” said James, a towering yet soft-spoken figure. “That’s part of the reason it works as well as it does; they avoid the cliches associated with baseball because they don’t have a traditional view of the game.”

If there were a Bill James character in the movie, whom would James like to play him?

“John Wayne and Wally Cox would appear to be the logical candidates,” he said.


jonas_opines 6 years, 8 months ago

That was a really interesting book. It was recommended reading prior to starting the KU MBA program.

buffalo63 6 years, 8 months ago

I could see Wally Cox (LOL), but not sure how many people know who that person is/was! John Wayne maybe for the height.

Sigmund 6 years, 7 months ago

Fascinating guy, great story, mediocre article. Listen to Bill James interview on NPR.

I would love to meet James.

Sigmund 6 years, 7 months ago

BABBOY (anonymous) says… "I hate people who evaluate sports by memorizing stats. But, I played football and was undersized. So, people like this piss me off because in football it is your forty time, your height (that one got me) and blah blah blah......."

Anomalies and outliers aside, that is why they play the games. The Red Sox held a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race after Sept. 3, but a 7-19 record left them tied with Tampa Bay entering the final day of the regular season. They needed 9-18 and went 7-20. They needed 2-5 against Tampa and went 1-6. They got 10 starts from Lester and Josh Beckett this month and won two.

All this can't be explained by "it was a short series," the Red Sox collapse was a month long. I am curious how James would account for the 2011 season. What intangibles poked their asymmetric 6 sigma toes into the pool and ruined the bell curve?

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