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Vol. III, Issue #3 - November 2015


** "Bill James is Worth the Wait" by John Dewan  **
      (John Dewan is the owner of Baseball Info Solutions, a key company that
provides the statistics from MLB that helps Strat-o-matic to create the baseball cards. 
In this article is a chapter from a book called: "How Bill James Changed
Our View of Baseball
"  written by John Dewan -- this is a reprint of the chapter entitled,
"Bill James is Worth the Wait".  Another look behind the scenes linked to Baseball History.)

(Notes from the Wolfman: We have met John Dewan before, in the August 2013 issue.  Of course many people have heard of Mr. Dewan, as the creator of STATS, Inc. which changed forever how we
keep stats on Major League Baseball.  John also was the creator of the idea of watching a player's
ONBASE percentage.  In the earlier interview given by John, he told us about his early days as a
Strat-o-matic Baseball Game player (he continues with his league in Chicago and has won many league championships) and also discussed a bit how he met Bill James. Now through their current company, Baseball Info Solutions, they help Mr. James continue to share his amazing insights about the game of Baseball and help him publish the his famous "Bill James Handbook".  We thank Mr. Dewan for sharing this chapter of his book with our members. He has always been supportive of this newsletter.

If you wish to read the earlier interview conducted with Mr. Dewan, by our member Chris Witt, feel free
to click on the link below:

http://www.ultimatestratbaseball.com/USBN-8-2013/JohnDewan-August2013.htm  )

 




Ultimate Strat Baseball Newsletter - Photo of John Dewan, President of Baseball Info SolutionsTHE BOOK:
How Bill James Changed
Our View of Baseball

Chapter: Bill James is Worth the Wait
by John Dewan

owner of Baseball Info Solutions
and co-publisher of ACTA Sports

John Dewan:  I put the book down and stared into space. I had just read an article that Bill James wrote in his 1984 Baseball Abstract, and I was mesmerized.

James was describing a grassroots project he was proposing. It was almost exactly one that I had dreamed about doing since my days at Loyola University -- no, since my days in high school when I dreamed about being the statistician for the Chicago White Sox. His idea was to put together a volunteer network of scorekeepers to keep score of Major League Baseball games around the country and send them all to a central location where they would be available to anyone and everyone. He called it Project Scoresheet. My head was spinning. What I could do with all that data! Put it into computer databases. Sort, search, analyze. Understand.

***

You see, Iíve always been interested in how to use statistical analysis to better enjoy the game of baseball. By the time I read that article in 1984, Bill James had already sectioned off an area in my brain. Itís the area where my love of numbers and my love of baseball overlap. That area had already been there in a small way. I'd been playing baseball board games (Baseball Strategy and Strat-O-Matic Baseball) since I was twelve, and I analyzed the numbers seven ways from Sunday. In fact, seven was the key number, as Iíll explain.

Here is an example of perhaps the first bit of analysis that I did at a very young age. My favorite player on the White Sox was an outfielder named Floyd Robinson. I loved him because the announcers told me that hitting .300 was magic, and Robinson was the only guy on the Sox who could do it at the time. In 1961, when I was seven years old, Robinson hit .310 with 11 home runs. In 1962, he hit .312 with 11 home runs. In 1963, he dropped to .283 with 13 home runs.  He returned to the .300 level in 1964 with a .301 average and once again hit 11 home runs.

I saw a pattern. When Robinson hit 11 home runs, he batted over .300. If he hit more than 11 home runs,
his average dropped. I began to root for Robinson to hit no more than 11 home runs. The next year he hit 1
4 home runs, and sure enough, his average dropped below .300. And in fact, with his highest home run total, his average dropped to his lowest level, .265.

Batting average was the key. The announcers told me so, and I could see it in the numbers. Until I played Strat-O-Matic (SOM) Baseball, that is. In 1972 I played in a Strat-O-Matic league and drafted players based on batting averages. I got rocked. The manager who had the home run hitters kept winning. His guys would get on with walks, and his home run hitters would knock them all in. Thatís when I invented my own formula to evaluate players, which I use to this day when I play SOM. Itís a form of todayís popular OPS formula (On-base average Plus Slugging percentage).

What became clear to me playing SOM was that getting on base was important and so was hitting for power. Batting average still mattered, because despite the old adage that says "a walk is as good as a hit", the truth is that a hit is better than a walk, It advances all runners, not just forced runners, and often advances them more than one base. I decided to mix one part batting average, three parts on-base average, and three parts slugging percentage. Divide the whole thing by seven, and you have one number for every player, I used
(and still use) this for both hitters and pitchers. And thatís why seven is the key number.

***

James caused the revelation in me that I could grow my baseball/numbers brain compartment. I had graduated from Loyola in 1976, and finally in 1982, after six years of intense study and ten exams, I received my Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries. I was exercising the insurance / numbers compartment of my brain. Then a fellow actuary friend, Jeff Schwarze, gave me a copy of the 1982 Baseball Abstract and said I might enjoy it. For the first time in years I finally had time to read something other than an actuarial textbook. I found myself reading this book cover to cover in every spare moment I had.

A light went on in my head. Here was a guy who was doing with baseball numbers what I had just spent the last six-plus years doing with insurance numbers. I really enjoyed analyzing insurance numbers, but I couldnít believe the same thing could be done with baseball numbers. Sure, the numbers of baseball already existed. In fact, there were already tons of numbers, more than any other sport.  A rich tradition of baseball statistics was part of the beauty of baseball. I'd been studying them since I attended my first baseball game in 1963 at the age of eight. James, however, took baseball statistical analysis to a whole new level. He was going deep into the numbers, just as I was doing every day in insurance. But he was finding things in those numbers that no one until him had a clue could possibly be there. I was hooked, and I have been addicted ever since, In fact, Bill James changed the entire trajectory of my life.

In 1983, I walked into the bookstore to get that yearís Abstact. I was surprised to find it right in the front of the store. In fact, it wasnít simply there on a table, there were copies piled in stacks. Several stacks. Chest high. It obviously wasnít just me who had discovered Bill James.  I bought my copy and read it voraciously In 1984, it was the same thing. Piles of books. But this year wasnít quite the same for me. I was no longer willing just to read about baseball statistical analysis. I wanted to do it. So when I got to the article on Project Scoresheet near the back of the book, I did my space-staring, walked from the kitchen table, and went straight to the phone. There was an actual phone number in the book to volunteer for the project. I figured I'd get some kind of recording. I dialed the number and a voice answered. Could this be Bill James himself?

It wasnít. But it was Jim Baker, Jamesí assistant at the time. He took down my information and I was suddenly an ofiicial baseball statistical scorer! I dove in. Baker put me in contact with Kenneth Miller, the executive director of Project Scoresheet. I told Miller about my background and my love of computers.  For example, I shared that I had programmed the entire Strat-O-Matic Baseball board game into my Apple computer and we were using it for my league. Miller realized what this meant: He had a computer geek on his hands. So he turned over the programming of the data-collection software to me. Now I was not only collecting statistics, I was figuring  out how to access and use them.

The first season of collecting scoresheets was very difficult, as with any firs-time project. The software wasnít ready until halfway through the season. The volunteers worked hard, but the "work" part was getting to a lot of them. After the 1984 season was complete, we realized that there was much more to do. We had all the games on paper, but the computer effort was massive. It became clear to me that to keep this thing going it would require a ton more work, and Miller had let everyone know that he was getting too busy with other projects to stay involved.

Suddenlyl realized that I had to step up personally or the entire project would die. I sat down and wrote
a huge document to Bill James. I laid out the status of Project Scoresheet and told him how we could still get this thing done. And I volunteered to head up the project. James took me up on my offer.

As of this point, I had two full-time jobs: actuary by day, baseball data collector/programmer by night (and weekends). I did this for two full years. Then, in  January of 1987, I took the plunge. I left my actuarial career to try to make it work in baseball. Sue, my wife, also left her full-time job as a computer programmer/analyst to work on baseball statistics as  well. We focused all of our time and
energy first into Project Scoresheet and then into STATS, Inc.  Bill James was one of the investors in STATS, but he was  much more than that. Without his help, STATS would never have made it. But it did, because he kept bringing his ideas to STATS, and the rest of us somehow began to make them work.

James still does this with me at my new company; Baseball Info Solutions, in which he is also an investor. Right now, we are cooking up perhaps the most innovative idea he has had yet: We are going to put Bill James online. I donít know what this will look  like, but I can promise you that it wonít be like anything else on the Internet today.

(
Wolfman's Note - at the time this article was written by Mr. Dewan for the book, the website called
"Bill James Online" was still in the planning stages.  However, it is now a reality and you are welcome to visit this marvelous site at: http://www.billjamesonline.com.  There is a great deal of information available for free and a very reasonable fee to become a member and have access to 10-20 times the free materials.
)

***

O.K. Iíll say it, because I know from personal experience that it is true: Bill James is a genius. As much as I have followed baseball, as much as I have done my own analysis, as much as I have gotten into the numbers, Bill (and I have to call him Bill because he is also now a friend) is always one step ahead of me and of everybody else. One of the more recent examples was when I was working on my book,The Fielding Bible about a year ago. I gave him a video comparing Derek Jeter and Adam Everett playing shortstop. Jeter was a Gold Glove shortstop, but all our numbers (and everyone elseís numbers) said Everett was the best and Jeter was, in fact, below average. I looked at the video a few times and knew that Everett looked better, but I couldnít pinpoint it.

Within one minute, Bill could see it. Everett was playing deeper. He was fielding balls on the outfield grass. Jeter was favoring his weaker throwing arm, having to play more shallow. Jeter was doing a good job on slow rollers, but not making the same, or as many plays as Everett on other types of balls. Jeterís patented and sensational jump throws were because of a weak arm, not because it was more effective than Everettís plant-your-feet and gun-the-ball throws. Sure, the jump-throws look great, but they are actually less effective most of the time.

I learn from Bill every time I talk to him. But talking to him can be a challenge. Geniuses are often eccentrics, and Iíll share one of Billís eccentricities with you. Donít call him on the telephone. When you meet with Bill in person he is a most charming person.  He gives you his undivided attention. He cares about you and your life. He shares his thoughts. But anyone who calls him on the phone is automatically his worst enemy. There have been times when I have just had a great visit with Bill and then called him shortly thereafter. All of a sudden, I had Mr. Hyde on the phone. In the middle of a sentence, he might simply say "OK, thanks, bye," and hang up. Iíve learned to avoid the phone with Bill, almost at all cost.

I think I know what it is. Bill is so intensely concentrated on whatever project he is currently working on that the phone is an absolute distraction to him. It takes his mind off what heís doing, and he canít stand it. Bill is always, always, always working on some kind of baseball analysis. Did I say always? There is never a moment when he is idle. So I donít interrupt him. I just wait to see the results of what heís working on.

It is worth the wait.
 



Wolfman: 
John if people want to get in touch with you, what is the best way to do so? Also what is the website for Baseball Info Solutions?

John Dewan The website for Baseball Info Solutions is www.baseballinfosolutions.com.  The best place to follow my work is called John Dewan's Stat of the Week at StatOfTheWeek.com.  I also have a twitter account as well called @FieldingBible where people can follow my work including Stat of the Week. 


 



Contained inside this exciting issue of Ultimate Strat Baseball Newsletter:
(to view the various interviews, articles, columns and special sections click on the links {underlined} and this will take you to the appropriate webpage)
 

  RETURN TO NEWSLETTER MAIN PAGE

  MLB STORY with BILLY SAMPLE, Talks about "Bat Flipping" and Willie Montanez while a Ranger.

  ARTICLE with CHUCK TINKLER, another special article by Chuck, one of our members about a real Strat Master he met in his early days of playing Strat-o-matic

  SOM BASEBALL LEAGUE REPORT with WOLFMAN SHAPIRO -- the editor of "The Ultimate Strat Newsletter" and 2012 CBA Champion, the "Wolfman" puts out a call to commissioners of various Strat-o-matic Baseball Leagues that he finds on the internet and three leagues respond to be interviewed and tell their stories!  To view any individual interview, click on the links below or start with Part I and finish with an in-page link to Part II for the two interviews, more interviews given in the December issue coming:

INTERVIEW with Kurt Meunier, FVSL, P-I (F2F League in Wisconsin)

INTERVIEW with Robert Latorre, 60's Decade Keepers League, P-II, (CDROM-email)

  SOM/MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL WORLD NEWS with WOLFMAN SHAPIRO, editor of "The Ultimate Strat Newsletter" shares the Special Fielding Ratings given by John Dewan's Group with Baseball Info Solutions and an update on the SOM Baseball Projection Sheets shared by the legendary Bruce Bundy, author of the periodic column called "Strat Thoughts".

  REPORT with TOM NAHIGIAN (1961 cards), Personal friend of the Wolfman, known in Guzzo's book as "The Collector", returns and we take a peak at some of the early strat cards printed from 1961.

  STRAT WISE with MARC WASSERMAN -- commissioner of the Cyber Baseball Association (CBA) renames his column to "Strat Wise" as he expands his sharing and reporting of our Strat-o-matic Baseball Community.  In this first part of his new column he talks about the recent MLB World Series and discusses the content of some of the special videos we have on our Ultimate Strat Baseball Video Channel on Youtube.

  ARTICLE with WOLFMAN SHAPIRO -- the editor of "The Ultimate Strat Newsletter" and 2012 CBA Champion, the "Wolfman" goes back into the far past and pulls out one of his first articles to the Strat-o-matic Review from 1973, when he really was becoming known as the "Wolfman" (the Skokie Wolfman) as he challenged one of the first female strat gamers, Donna Chevrette to a play against him via play-by-mail.  This is series used the MLB All Star players from 1971, with the Wolfman taking the National All Stars and Chevrette taking the American.  The series became known in the Review as "The Battle of the Sexes".  After this series was played, and a victor uncovered, the combats switched teams and played a second series (which is an article by Donna Chevrette) that will be reported in our December issue.

  RECOMMEND ON-LINE SOM RESOURCES -- On-line Strat-o-matic and Baseball related websites
that offer amazing information, special tools and products to improve your game play that we strongly recommend. In most cases, we have had personal contact with these sources who agree with the principle to work together and help promote each other.

  BOOKS TO DIE FOR and Become a BASEBALL GURU -- This page is specifically about special books we are finding that either will expand your insights about the game of Baseball, help you in the creation of your current league teams or with your replays and learn more about the Strat-o-matic Baseball Game and Game Company's history.  We have a special arrangement with Acta Sports, who is a publisher of a number of great baseball books (including Bill James Handbooks which the 2016 version is now released) to offer for our members a 10% discount. We will continue to add more books to this page in the future as we uncover other gems our members should know about.



 




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