Baseball’s Bill James turns 70

sabermetrics

Bill JamesBill James is quite a noteworthy personage in baseball. No, he doesn’t throw a 95 mph fastball or hit 30 home runs. His approach to baseball is to scientifically analyze the game to figure out why some teams win and some lose.

As someone who used to read the backs of baseball cards, I know the game has always been driven by numbers. James, though, uses what he calls sabermetrics, named for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). He came up with several categories that others hadn’t concocted; you can see them in the Wikipedia article.

“James began self-publishing an annual book… beginning in 1977. The first edition, titled ‘1977 Baseball Abstract: Featuring 18 categories of statistical information that you just can’t find anywhere else,’ presented 68 pages of in-depth statistics compiled from James’s study of box scores from the preceding season and was offered for sale through a small advertisement in The Sporting News. Seventy-five people purchased the booklet.” Eventually, Bill James found different outlets to present his broader look at statistics.

“Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane began applying sabermetric principles to running his low-budget team in the early 2000s, to notable effect, as chronicled in Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball.” I did see the Moneyball movie, with Brad Pitt.

“In 2003, James was hired by a former reader, John Henry, the new owner of the Boston Red Sox… During his time with the [team, he] has received four World Series rings for the team’s 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018 victories.”

In the office where I write this purple prose, on the closest bookshelf, resides The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (1985). It’s a reference book, suitable for a librarian. James provides “an overview of professional baseball decade by decade, along with rankings of the top 100 players at each position.” The book has been updated a couple times, most recently in 2001.

Bill James is more of a geek than I am. He turns 70 on October 5.