Vasile: Sabermetrics, past, present and future

From Joe Vasile at on December 16, 2013, with mention of SABR members Bill James, Brian Kenny, Jacob Pomrenke, Rob Neyer and C. Trent Rosecrans:

One early spring night in 1976, Bill James, a night security guard at the Stokley-Van Camp pork and beans cannery in Lawrence, Kan., sat reading the copy of Street and Smith’s Baseball Yearbook.  Beside him sat several other preseason baseball publications which he had bought – called annuals.

“Reading through them I realized, ‘These are terrible. Why am I wasting my time reading the analysis of people who know half as much about baseball as I do?’” James recalled in an email interview.  “So I just started writing my own preseason annual.”


Since then, sabermetrics has revolutionized baseball analysis and changed ways of thinking about the game.

Even among casual fans, batting average is replaced with weighted On Base Average (wOBA).  Traditional pitching stats like Earned Run Average and win-loss records are replaced with defense-independent pitching statistics (DIPS).  Runs Batted In are eschewed in favor of Slugging Percentage (SLG) and Isolated Power (ISO).

Age old rules of thumb are shown to be incorrect, leading to new theories on roster construction and lineup and bullpen management.

“Sabermetrics is a discipline, a branch of knowledge,” said Tom Tango, a co-author of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball.  “It has a certain set of methodologies, it gets to the truth through a set of assumptions.”

The Book, which Tango wrote with Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin, is one of the most-cited and praised sabermetric works of the past decade.

“My first exposure [to sabermetrics] was over 30 years ago, reading about linear weights from Pete Palmer in Baseball Digest,” Tango said in an email interview. “That led me to Bill James’ Baseball Abstract.”

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Originally published: December 16, 2013. Last Updated: December 16, 2013.