Friday, March 7, 2008

Bill James Q&A

Bill James talks to Time magazine about his new book, new website, etc. If there was ever a man who wrote just like he talked -- and vice versa -- it's Bill James:
You use some colorful language in the book, making the reams of statistical information much more reader-friendly. At one point, you basically compare teams that use the shift against Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz to "Polocks hunting landmines." You say they're "dumb." Though you are quick to point out that there are only "three Polish guys" who are "offended by Polock jokes." Why push the envelope?

Everybody who is my age, or everybody who is over 30, knows that joke. I mean, I'm not sure I get the point of the over-shift against David Ortiz. It helps you if he hits a ground ball, but if the bomb goes off, you can put those infielders anywhere you want to, it doesn't really do you any good. The damage that David does comes when he hits the ball 380 feet. It really does not matter much where you put your infielders when that happens.

This brings up an interesting dilemma. You work for the Boston Red Sox, yet you're basically telling teams they're not gaining any advantage shifting on David Ortiz. Are you conflicted? Did you ever think, "I don't want to tell people that information, I work for the Red Sox, I want them to win?"

Yeah, I have to engage in a balancing act as to what I can say, and what I cannot say, pretty much all the time. I did weigh it. 'Is this something I should say? Is this something I shouldn't say?' People are good enough to credit me with a lot of influence, but I think the next time some team reads one of my books and thinks 'Okay, we'll stop shifting on David Ortiz,' will be the first time that something like that has happened. I try to be careful. There are some things I can't say. But on the other hand, you're writing a book. Your responsibility is to the reader, not to the Red Sox.
I always found it odd whenever someone called James a "statgeek" or a "guru" or otherwise attributed some sort of esoteric qualities to him and his work. I mean, can you think of a baseball writer who is as plain-spoken and straight forward as James is? I sure can't.

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