The Baseball Analyst Issue 8, edited by Jim Baker: a review

Bill James published 40 issues of The Baseball Analyst in the 1980s. All are available on SABR’s website.

The eighth Baseball Analyst, dated October 1983, is quite strong. It featured six analytical pieces and a delightful “letter to the editor” by Dallas Adams commenting on Issue 7 (more favorably than I did, by the way). And this is the issue that Bill James used to launch Project Scoresheet, which eventually wrought a revolution in baseball analysis. All in all, it’s a difficult issue to fault.

The first “real” article in the issue was by Barry Mednick, who did some scoring sequence analysis of play-by-play data he’d collected during the season. The study of course suffers from sample issues–all the data was from A’s or Giants games–but it’s an interesting early pbp study, with a bit of analysis and a couple pages of numbers. Mednick finds some interesting differences reflecting the characters of the two ballclubs in the study. A good start.

Warren Johnson’s “On Handedness and Pitchers’ Fielding” was a followup on Mark Lazarus’ study reported in Issue 4 of the Analyst–specifically, Johnson was reacting to a question Lazarus raised about “junk-balling lefties” and team defense. Johnson concludes that some relationship exists–a result he’d not expected–but that the effect is both weak and different from Lazarus’ hypothesis. He also finds that there’s a league effect involved. This is an excellent study, far more than just an extension of the Lazarus paper, and worth seeking out.

Clem Comly–credited here as C. Comly–offers a single-page exploration of pitchers’ range factors which fits quite nicely as an addendum to the Johnson piece. Comly’s main intention is to show the shape of the data, so he (and we) would have a better grasp of the capabilities of individual pitchers.

Dick O’Brien’s contribution to this issue is a study of K/HR ratios for power hitters. This is similar to his work in earlier issues of the Analyst, but by now he’s discovered that adding more explanation to what he’s exploring is worthwhile, so the article’s easier to follow. One of his conclusions is that truly high strikeout rates cannot be balanced by production.

David Aceto’s short essay explores the mathematics of a single ballpark effect–the impact of an enlarged foul territory on batting average. The math looks OK, but the conclusion that it takes about 8 foul outs per game for a team to lose 20 points on BA seems, well, wrong–at best it’s the correct answer to the wrong question. The author notes the study is flawed because he has no data to test his hypothesis (which he apparently borrowed from Bill James). I’m guessing that the reality is more complicated than the author’s model. Perhaps someone followed up with real data.

The final sabermetric essay is John Schwartz’ very short exploration of the advantage a left-handed batter has on the basepaths. He’s mostly raising questions with this one, but the small table he provides is worth a look.

Jim Baker’s second issue’s far more interesting than was his first. Besides the notes from Bill James and Dallas Adams, mentioned at the top of this review, he’s sandwiched the issue with requests for material from the readers. The first reimagines the periodical as a supermarket tabloid paper; the other as a Max Patkin movie. They’re not really worth the price of admission, but they probably tell us something about Baker.