Writings

Looking Forward to Monday Morning
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
The Bill James Baseball Abstract
by Daniel Frisch
Posted July 30th, 2019

 

Anyone who has sat through a number of Monday Morning Meetings would have thought this segment would be titled “Money Ball” after Michael Lewis’ 2003 book titled the same. My memory is often jogged by a rebroadcast of the 2011 movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah HilI, and I frequently reference Moneyball and that team victories are ensured by position play.  For the record, my father introduced me to the subject while I was in high school.  He not only coached my tee ball and Little League teams, he also helped found the first Rotisserie Baseball group in our hometown.  From spring training through October, a bunch of academic (read: out of shape) middle-aged men would meet weekly, check on their players’ performance, compare notes, trade players and compute the standings of their teams.  Stats were looked up in the local paper and in “The Sporting News,” Al Gore had yet to invent the internet, and records were kept by hand on graph paper or ledgers, not on Excel spreadsheets.

On my bookshelf after all these years remains a lone copy of a paperback titled The Bill James Baseball Abstract, 1984 Edition. The tag lines on the cover are from Esquire Magazine and read; “A Must for Fanatics,” and “It’s a Whole New Ballgame!”  Inside the covers is a trove of statistics from the 1983 on every team and player in the Major Leagues, regrouped into such categories as left-handed starters, and leading hitters against left-handed pitchers.  He also made up whole new methods of combining statistics (formulas and simple algorithms) such as “Basic Runs Created Formula,” and “Isolated Power,” all seeking to compare specific strengths and weaknesses of individual players using Sabermetrics (the empirical analysis of baseball statistics).  This concept of statistical analysis may not sound strange to us today with the growth of on-line sports gambling and fantasy sports leagues, but it was in in the late seventies and early eighties.  While Bill James may have been popular to academics like my father and his cronies, and was without question the basis for Billy Beane’s success with the Oakland A’s in the nineties, the subject did not attain pop culture significance until Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball which Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill brought to life on the silver screen.

Baseball is a sport awash in statistics, and this appealed to the statistician Bill James, to my scientist father, to the baseball man Billy Beane, and to the author Michael Lewis.  It is not, however, just the statistics that appeal, it is how statistical analysis and position play can inform decision making and predict an outcome, whether for a major league or fantasy team, or for any organization.  On our team, we all have different strengths.  The extroverts enjoy project management, whereas the introverts enjoy their time designing and drafting.  When we are working at our best and most collaboratively, each member of our team gets to practice in the areas they excel, but also to learn and grow in the areas in which they may be weaker.  The sum of the parts creates a better whole, and together, we can put up a great win-loss record.