Bill James’ Baseball Abstract 1985: a review

As James notes near the end of the book, this edition of the Abstract is the most technical book he’d produced to date. 1985 is the year Bill brought Major League Equivalencies of minor league players into Sabermetric discourse; comments are scattered throughout the text but the key discussion’s in the Dodgers section. Several of the team writeups were composed by Project Scoresheet participants, which lent some variety; in all cases, Bill added come critical comments. Strangely, Jim Baker seems not to have written any of the book, though he was still in James’ employ and is credited for some of the quoted research.

The Tigers essay begins with a (to me) unconvincing discussion of the differences between statistical significance and baseball significance; Phil Birnbaum handles the issue far better on his website, these days. The rest of the section about the World Champions is devoted to comparing them to teams who’d had similar seasons. In retrospect, he probably had this about right.

Every year it’s clearer that James doesn’t much like doing player comments, and that he’s got little to say about individual pitchers. That’s OK, but it ties up pages he could likely have used more constructively. However: The longest player essay’s on Jim Rice, where Bill comes close to retracting all his previous claims that Rice was an obvious Hall of Fame player. An interesting turnaround. Context, Bill’s decided, is more important than he’d previously thought.


This review was originally published on LibraryThing.