Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
Noted Baseball Author/Journalist to Highlight
Inaugural Box Live Chat Group Interview

As announced here last week, noted baseball statistician/author/historian Alan Schwarz will be appearing in Toronto shortly to talk about his new book, The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics. Also appearing on the bill with Schwarz will be a journeyman outfielder named Vernon something-or-other.

And as speculated during that announcement, Schwarz will be featured in the first-ever Batter's Box Live Chat group interview, this Thursday at 7:30 PM Eastern time; there is no game Thursday, so we will use the regular IRC channel and process, though it is likely that this chat will be moderated in some way; additional instructions, if necessary, will be posted to the site closer to the time of the actual chat.

To prepare for the group interview, let's use this thread to brainstorm topics and specific questions ... here are some starter points:

Batter's Box is very proud of its tradition of excellence in providing its readers with "behind the scenes" insights thanks to interviews with Toronto front office (Ricciardi, Law, others), Blue Jay players (Frasor, Bush, Gross, Lundberg, others) and coaches (Butterfield, then-coach Gibbons, others) as well as local (Baker & Griffin, Campbell, Wilner, others) and national (Sickels, Neyer, Verducci, others) media personalities. This new chat-function "group interview" is a real step toward putting some meaning in the "Interactive" part of this site's Batter's Box Interactive Magazine moniker.

Now what do we want to ask Schwarz?

  • Schwarz's personal Web site, which among other things, features this excerpt from his personal biography:
      Alan Schwarz, who writes The New York Times' "Keeping Score" column every two weeks, has covered baseball for the past 15 years, working for many of the most respected publications in sports media. Since 1991, he has been the Senior Writer of Baseball America magazine. He has written a weekly in-season column for since 2001 and contributed essays and book reviews to The New York Times since 1998.
  • Just in the last couple of days, for the many amateur draftniks out there among Bauxites, Schwarz wrote both From A-Rod ... to a guy named Chilcott and Ryan, Bonds, Beltran have something in common -- so clearly, your questions can run more topical to the draft if you wish, but keep in mind that he is not likely prepared to comment on individual prospects.
  • Twice, Schwarz's book has reached #1 on the sports list of the vaunted bestseller list. The page for the book features a number of excerpted reviews, including the following:
      Publisher's Weekly: " ... intelligent, smartly researched and often hilarious look at the use of statistics in baseball, which Schwarz definitively shows to 'date back to the game's earliest days in the 19th century.' It will delight any fan who memorizes the numbers on the back of trading cards or pores over newspaper box scores. The book's success is rooted in its focus on the people 'obsessed with baseball's statistics ever since the box score started it all in 1845,' rather than being about the statistics themselves.

      Verducci: "The language of baseball is statistics, and Alan Schwarz gives us an unprecedented look at one of the world's great romance languages. Schwarz deftly illuminates the history and relevance of baseball statistics and is at the top of his game introducing the people behind the numbers. The cast is an eclectic mix of baseball linguists, including an alcoholic pack rat, a military strategist and one of Albert Einstein's faculty colleagues. You don't need a slide rule or pocket protector to appreciate the tales Schwarz has unearthed -- gems such as Babe Ruth's long lost 715th home run abound -- but you will become more fluent in baseball."

Well, that seems like enough to start with! Ask away, Bauxites, and be sure to mark Thursday night on your calendar for the first-ever Batter's Box Chat group interview. An edited transcript of the chat will be published on the site for those who cannot attend "live" -- and of course, mark your calendars further for Schwarz's appearance in Toronto on the 18th, details in the original announcement.
Stepping into Da Box: Alan Schwarz | 22 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mick Doherty - Monday, June 06 2005 @ 11:21 PM EDT (#118790) #
And I'm happy to start. I'm checking the mail every day for my copy of the book, because I am fascinated by the idea of numbers pushing players in certain ways; in fact, you may recall a thread on this site some months ago called Chasing the Big Number which engendered some terrific conversation about players who long ago stopped just short of what are now seen as no-brainer milestones. Craig, I think it was, speculated that baseball cards played a role in numbers mattering more from a PR perspective, and I wonder if there's anything to that.

And, Alan, I put it to you on this site that is so Blue Jay-heavy ... Fred McGriff's unlikelier by the minute 500th career home run: does it matter?

Joe - Monday, June 06 2005 @ 11:32 PM EDT (#118793) #
Stats have always been part of baseball; I think, being a mathematician, it's one of the things that drew me to the sport. Since 'Moneyball,' though, there has been a real backlash against statistics gathering and use, mostly because of the perceived slight against the establishment.

Has there ever been a split like this in baseball? And was Moneyball (the book) the cause of it, or simply a catalyst to an ever-growing movement?
Pistol - Monday, June 06 2005 @ 11:57 PM EDT (#118797) #
Regarding the draft - would you make any of these changes and why or why not?

* Internationalize the draft

* Alter draft pick compensation (the system encourages movement - you lose one pick when a player is signed, but you get 2 picks when a player is lost. So this year for example the Red Sox lost their first pick for signing Renteria, but picked up two picks because Cabrera signed with the Angels)

* Strict slot money for specific picks (so teams don't have an advantage for throwing big bonuses around)

* Allow trading of draft picks

* Televising the draft (if the hockey draft can be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 why can't baseball - the players are just as far away).
Mike D - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 12:32 AM EDT (#118802) #
Alan, thanks for joining us!

My first question is kind of the flip side of Joe's: In your opinion, when, if ever, have "performance analysts" overused statistics, or drawn inappropriate conclusions from the numbers?

A couple more, if I may...What is the statistic or metric in most need of refinement? And which statistic remains the most underappreciated today?
Rob - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 12:36 AM EDT (#118803) #
Welcome to Batter's Box, Alan. Two questions:

What is the story behind Babe Ruth's "long lost 715th home run"?

Going from counting just outs and runs to counting hits and at bats in the past seems like it would be as unaccepted as going from the triple crown stats to OBP, SLG, DIPS, etc. in the present baseball atmosphere. With this in mind, what current mainstream statistic was the "least accepted" statistic several years ago?
Magpie - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 02:33 AM EDT (#118808) #
A question or an essay? Ah hell, just tell him what I'm like...

We know the numbers have long motivated players, and all other things being equal (like if the games don't matter), managers have often been willing to indulge them. This is usually a last week of the season thing for teams that aren't contending for anything anyway, and ranges from players sitting to protect a .300 average, or to avoid losing 20 games, or setting a new strikeout record. This sort of thing has been going on for at least 90 years.

However, the modern Save rule creates a situation where the player's interest may very well be at odds with the team's. It's good for Eric Gagne to get saves, because Saves are Money, at arbitration time or when he's a free agent. But it is nowhere near as certain that Gagne helps the team more being used for one inning with a three run lead, then (for example) in the eighth inning of a tie game.

In this way, a players numbers are driving managerial strategy all throughout the season, rather than as a favour in late September. Is it a bad thing? Has there been anything like it before? Will it continue? Are managers simply taking the path of least resistance, i.e. "whatever makes my big star happy is good for the team, and it's one less thing for me to think about."

Dave Till - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 08:07 AM EDT (#118812) #
Thanks for joining us, Alan.

I find baseball statistics fascinating because, as Bill James once wrote, they tell stories and provide insights into personality. For example: if I see that a player has hit .320 with no home runs, 52 stolen bases, and 20 walks in 600 plate appearances, I can make reasonable inferences about what this player is like (small, fast, intense, impatient).

My question: what are the most fascinating stories that statistics have told you? (For me, the most interesting story is Steve Dalkowski's minor league numbers.)

And, if I may be permitted another question: how do you see the game changing in the short term? For example, will there be fewer home runs, more walks, or less use of relief pitchers as dedicated ninth-inning closers?
Named For Hank - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 08:39 AM EDT (#118815) #
I'm only about 20 pages into the book, and I imagine that the answer to this is in there somewhere, but what's the most completely useless baseball statistic you've come across?
Gerry - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 09:51 AM EDT (#118828) #
Alan, thanks for stopping by and I enjoyed the book, I read it when it first came out last year.

Labels are applied to people that are sometimes incorrect. Years ago Tony LaRussa was considered progressive and a big user of computer stats. Now he is saying he is a traditionalist and never uses a computer. Similarly JP Ricciardi had a Moneyball label when he came over from Oakland but I think he is more scout than geek. Am I correct in suggesting both are mis-labeled (sounds like a grocery product)?
Jonny German - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 10:21 AM EDT (#118831) #
Alan, what's your personal Triple Crown? That is, the three stats you're most interested in when assessing a hitter's value.

A converse to Rob's question about stats becoming mainstream: Have there been stats that were widely cited in the past which have now fallen into obsolescence?
Rich - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 10:32 AM EDT (#118832) #
Thanks for joining us, Alan. Whether clubs are statistically inclined or not, it seems hard to argue that statistical analysis still has untapped potential in terms of projecting player performance. How do teams and scouts who are not statistically inclined imagine they might improve their own scouting techniques of visual observation and tools analysis?
Mike Green - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 11:34 AM EDT (#118840) #
Magpie has already asked Alan about the effect of the "save" statistic on reliever usage, and in particular the evolution of the modern closer. I would like to ask about the effect of the much older "win" statistic on starter usage.

We know that a starter's won-loss record is hugely influenced by their offensive, defensive and bullpen support. However, the won-loss record remains an important evaluation tool "on the ground", i.e. by the players themselves.

Some pitchers (usually "control pitchers") seem to be good for 4-5 innings and then fade. It seems to me that teams routinely attempt to stretch these pitchers out so that "they have a chance at the win", and that this has not worked. Some teams have attempted a "tandem starter" routine in their minor league system, where two pitchers are assigned to each game with the expectation that they will go 4-5 innings. My questions are:

"do you believe that a team will try a tandem starter routine (perhaps with 1 or 2 spots in their rotation) within the next 20 years, say?"

"is it fair to say that often the dispute between "traditionalists" and "sabermetricians" revolves not around whether numbers are important, but about the meaning of various statistical measures (such as wins, save, RBI, etc.)?"
Mick Doherty - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 12:09 PM EDT (#118845) #
The saves/wins/tandem starter topic leads me to a question I've always wondered about though it's not really statistically oriented.

Say it's 1990 and instead of sweeping the A's, the Reds have taken them to the seventh game of the World series. Unfortunate field tarpaulin injuries to Tom Browning, Jose Rijo and Jack Armstrong leave the Reds scrambling for a Game 7 starter.

Why wouldn't the Reds roll out Norm Charlton to start and schedule him to go three, with Dibble on for the fourth and fifth, Layana and Birtsas the sixth and seventh, respectively, and Myers to close it out in the eighth and ninth? (I suppose the manager's tendency would be to let Charlton go if he tosses four shutout innings, but that seems like the Peter Principle applied to baseball -- keep going until you fail.)

Teams do this in Spring Training all the time, and I know that's a completely different milieu, but you'd think in a must-win game, a team with a dominant and deep bullpen would just go there right awway for one day. I don't think this has ever been done.
Joe - Tuesday, June 07 2005 @ 04:43 PM EDT (#118978) #

Alan wants to let Bauxites know that he hasn't followed the draft and development of players closely for the last few years, and for that reason, he'd like to confine this chat to stats and related themes from the book. Basically, even though Alan's a Baseball America guy, this isn't going to be a "general baseball" chat.

It's not a quiz or group book review, either, so don't feel like you need to have read the book in order to participate. I'm sure Alan won't mind if Bauxites who participate leave the chat more curious about the book than when they started!

I don't really see problems in the questions already posted, so keep 'em coming!
Magpie - Wednesday, June 08 2005 @ 02:42 AM EDT (#119069) #
I don't think this has ever been done.

Jim Leyland did it in the last game of 1990 NLCS. He started RH Ted Power, and went to LH Zane Smith in the 3rd. The idea was probably to catch Piniella in platoon mis-matches, but it didn't really have much impact on the game.

Dick Howser sort of did it to the Blue Jays in 1985, but he wasn't pulling Saberhagen for Liebrandt because he was being clever but because the Blue Jays kept hitting rockets off Bret. But Leyland's 1990 move was definitely a kind of table-game gambit.

Mike Green - Wednesday, June 08 2005 @ 10:18 AM EDT (#119076) #
In 1985, Howser pulled Gubicza early in Game 6 for Black and Saberhagen early in Game 7 for Liebrandt. The Jays had a number of platoon combinations, and Cox made the early right for left switches to respond. That left him with nothing when Quiz came on late in each game. Both Black and Liebrandt were very effective (the Jays having a 1-4 combination of Garcia, Moseby against a lefty and Iorg and Upshaw against a lefty, contributing significantly to their success). In fairness, Garth had by far his best season in 1985 hitting .313 with medium range pop and reasonable plate discipline.

Which I guess leads to a question for Alan:

"How has the widespread availability of information in the computer age (we've come a long way since Earl Weaver's index cards) changed the way managers do their work?"
Thomas - Wednesday, June 08 2005 @ 12:43 PM EDT (#119109) #
Baseball fanatics are all very familiar with the impact Bill James has had on the game, even if many casual fans barely know his name. It was good to see some other lesser-known people have their story covered in your book. Can you point to a few specific developments or strategies that were advocated by James or other early sabermetricians, which found their way into the game prior to the Moneyball revolution (for lack of a better term)?

I'm unsure how strong your grasp of baseball history is. However, can you point to a couple of players that you wish had been playing during the current era, as they would have been given opportunities they were never given during their heyday?

Where do you think staistical analysis will go now? A pitcher's control of batted balls and advanced defensive analysis seem popular, but where will people go after breaking ground there?

Whose story did you have to edit out from the book due to length, but which you really would have liked to include?
StephenT - Wednesday, June 08 2005 @ 10:18 PM EDT (#119198) #
I got the book a while ago and read the chapter on Bill James. I hope to read the rest before SABR in August.

Are there any rule changes you would like to see? (not necessarily stats-related). e.g. I'd like to see the wildcard diluted (multiple wildcard teams who playoff for the #4 seed while the division winners get an extra couple days off to set up their pitching).
Mick Doherty - Thursday, June 09 2005 @ 12:43 PM EDT (#119220) #
All questions to this point are being forwarded, some in edited for brevity form, to Alan ahead of tonight's actual chat. Since tonight's chat will be moderated (see Joe Drew's discussion of what that means) you can continue to submit questions by posting them here or by e-mailing them to Joe, who will be the aforementioned moderator, at, but Alan will not see them ahead of time.
Mick Doherty - Thursday, June 09 2005 @ 07:32 PM EDT (#119268) #
JOE I have been trying to /msg you in IRC but have no way of knowing if it's working. Is it?
Mick Doherty - Thursday, June 09 2005 @ 07:37 PM EDT (#119269) #
Interesting comment from Alan: " Again, this is a very human book; it's not a bunch of numbers! (The hardback cover notwithstanding.)"

Followup question: did he have any say in the book design? What would he have preferred it look like?
Joe - Thursday, June 09 2005 @ 07:41 PM EDT (#119270) #
Yes, /msg is working. I am just getting into a groove here. :)
Stepping into Da Box: Alan Schwarz | 22 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.