Solid Fool’s Gold, by Bill James: a review

This is selection of essays, culled from by editor Greg Pierce. At least one of these was (also?) published elsewhere (I first read the Verlander article on Slate), and the last essay is a reprint from the 1983 Baseball Abstract. Most, but not all, are about baseball. As always with Bill’s work, some are serious explorations, and some are just notions.

This is Bill James at his best, just playing with ideas. The best of these essays are about pitching–a change from the Abstracts, where he generally short-changed the pitcher essays. One–“Random vs. Responsive Performance by Starting Pitchers”–explores whether clutch pitching exists, and concludes it probably does. This is an excellent effort, though I’m not entirely convinced. Another pitcher essay examines “hot hands,” and concludes that, on the whole, they don’t exist, except that perhaps they do show in some specific tests. This is perhaps not conclusive.

Other pieces I enjoyed included the aforementioned Verlander piece (it’s an argument about nature versus nurture), “The Greatest Pitchers’ Duels 1980s” (just what it claims–and interesting mostly because it displays Bill’s habits of thought), and a short rant about the civil rights implications of stop light cameras (it’s more sophisticated than most such). “Battling Expertise with the Power of Ignorance,” originally written as a presentation for college statistics students, is an excellent review of James’ career, and was intended for folks who probably weren’t much familiar with it.

The book skimps on methods, as the essays were mostly written for folks who understand what a Game Score is (to pick the book’s most-used tool). This is definitely a shortcoming, but given the book’s provenance it’s likely unavoidable.

A fun, quick read, with just enough substance to get you thinking. I enjoyed.

This review’s also posted on LibraryThing.

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