Firstman: ‘Hidden Game’ Q&A with John Thorn

From SABR member Diane Firstman at Value Over Replacement Grit on March 31, 2015, with SABR member John Thorn:

ack in the mid-80s, if you wanted to think “outside the box” about how to evaluate players and teams, you had few choices.  Of course there was Bill James, whose annual Abstracts were a must-read.  But there were few books that made it into the homes of baseball stat nerds and deep thinkers.

Then came “The Hidden Game of Baseball” by John Thorn and Pete Palmer. Thorn was and still is one of the foremost historians of the national pastime. Amongst his many vocations, he is currently the official baseball historian of Major League Baseball. Palmer has been responsible for many of the baseball encyclopedia issued over the last 40 years. Together, they crafted a book that tore apart common notions regarding the value of RBI, batting average and pitcher wins. They introduced fans to “Linear Weights” and “Player Wins”, statistics that sought to tease out the contributions of each player in terms of runs created or saved.

Now, 30 years later, that seminal book has been reissued, with a foreword by Keith Law,  a reflective preface from the authors and an updated list of the 500 best players of all-time through 2014 (based on player wins).

I used the original book as the basis for a Operational Research paper back in Grad School. I applied the book’s concepts to analyze the performance of the 1985 New York Mets. When I heard the book was being reissued, I knew I wanted to ask Mr. Thorn some questions about it. He graciously (as always) accepted my request.  So here is a brief Q & A with baseball historian John Thorn.

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Originally published: March 31, 2015. Last Updated: March 31, 2015.