Off and (Hitting and) Running
It all started with Bill James.
More specifically, it all started with an article introducing James to the world, written by Daniel Okrent for Sports Illustrated in 1981. I was an 11-year-old third-generation Dodgers fan riding the wave of Fernandomania. I devoured box scores for breakfast, bought packs of baseball cards with my allowance on the way to school and read every baseball book in sight, not to mention my weekly copy of SI. Good at math — I understood batting averages before I knew of fractions — I was fascinated by the ways in which the bearded bard of Lawrence, Kansas, made baseball statistics dance, built rational arguments that questioned conventional wisdom and brought order to a sometimes chaotic game.
A strange and wonderful destiny set in motion by that Okrent article has brought me to SI.com to create a new blog called Hit and Run. It will offer a mix of quick hits and substantial takes on news or issues of interest in the world of baseball, and will be updated daily, often multiple times.
Much as James has done, I will make use of, but not rely solely on, statistics. The lessons of sabermetrics —what James defined as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball” — have been ingrained in me since my days as a pre-teen stathead, when I computed Runs Created on my mom’s calculator every time I updated my stat sheet for the Salt Lake Gulls, the locally-based Triple-A affiliate of the Angels.
After mostly laying dormant during college, my love for the game was rekindled by my move to New York City in 1995, and when it came to reading about baseball, I veered toward the sabermetric bent. Inspired by Rob Neyer (a James assistant back in the day) and years of arguing about baseball with close friends and virtual strangers, I hung out my shingle at The Futility Infielder in 2001, setting in motion my evolution from graphic designer to full-time baseball writer.
Along the way, I’ve gotten to run in the famous Milwaukee Brewers sausage race, cursed the new Yankee Stadium’s high ticket prices in the Wall Street Journal, created a Hall of Fame evaluation system called JAWS (for the Jaffe WARP Score) that real voters actually pay attention to, gained entry into the Baseball Writers Association of America and got my mug on television in the service of a first-of-its-kind show about sabermetics, MLB Network’s Clubhouse Confidential. Some pretty cool stuff.
Most of those things wouldn’t have happened without the work I’ve done over the past eight years at Baseball Prospectus, a subscription-based site devoted to carrying on the sabermetric tradition, with an eye towards informed decision-making. My Hall of Fame analyses at Futility Infielder first brought me to BP’s attention, and I debuted the system that would become JAWS in January 2004. In 2005, I launched my first weekly column, the Prospectus Hit List, an objectively based power rankings driven by BP’s Pythagorean-based Adjusted Standings page. In 2007, I launched a second, more general column, Prospectus Hit and Run, and last year, I transferred power of the Hit List to our junior staff to focus my energy on multiple Hit and Run columns per week.
Though I am still contributing to BP, my regular home will be here at SI.com. Having waded into the mainstream, I’ll take the lessons I’ve absorbed from James and his disciples, and pass them along to a new readership — ideally without drowning us all in too many numbers. I hope you’ll follow along.