Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Bill James

I just finished reading an interesting interview with Bill James. It's most interesting if you're a fan of baseball, of course. I'm a mild fan of baseball, but a big fan of James' analytical style.

Here's part of an answer from James regarding standardization:
Standardization destroys the ability to adapt. Take the high mounds of the 1960s. We “standardized” that by enforcing the rules, and I’m in favor of enforcing the rules, but suppose that the rules allowed some reasonable variation in the height of the pitching mound? What would have happened then would have been that, in the mid-1990s, when the hitting numbers began to explode, teams would have begun to push their pitching mounds up higher in order to offset the hitting explosion. The game would have adapted naturally to prevent the home run hitters from entirely having their own way. Standardization leads to rigidity, and rigidity causes things to break.

And here's James on complexity and ways of knowing:
I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to really understand. Each of us has an organized way of thinking about the world—a paradigm, if you will—and we need those, of course; you can’t get through the day unless you have some organized way of thinking about the world. But the problem is that the real world is vastly more complicated than the image of it that we carry around in our heads. Many things are real and important that are not explained by our theories—no matter who we are, no matter how intelligent we are.

I created a good part of the analytical paradigm that the statistical analysts advocate, and certainly I believe in that paradigm and I advocate it within the Red Sox front office. But at the same time, the real world is too complicated to be explained by that paradigm.

It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage and self-confidence; it is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role on real-world baseball teams.
I've chopped off the quote before James says what he really thinks of people who fall into the latter category.

Read the whole thing.

Thanks to the Hardball Times for providing the link to the interview.

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