Bill James

From BR Bullpen

Note: This is the page for Bill James, the author; for players and others with that name, click here.

George William James


"The prose was colloquial . . . and full of non-baseball analogies . . . He could write descriptively . . . And he was almost always funny, if a little cruel. . . But what set the writing apart — and put the Abstract on the Times’ best-seller list — was the accessibility of the logic, the insistence on eliminating biases and ignoring illusions, the practical tone." - from an article called The Professor of Baseball, by Ben McGrath, which appeared in The New Yorker December 2003, about Bill James and his writing in The Bill James Baseball Abstract

Bill James is one of the most prominent authors on the subject of baseball from a statistical perspective. Though not a statistician by trade, James pioneered the field of sabermetrics with his insightful, articulate, creative, knowledgeable, occasionally comical and always idiosyncratic writings on a plethora of baseball-related subjects, many of which he invented himself. He is credited with coining the term sabermetrics, and is considered by most to be the father of the sabermetric movement. While many subsequent authors have refined and expounded upon James' theories, which often lacked citation and statistical rigor, it would be hard to argue that anyone has done more than James to advance the field of sabermetrics. He is currently employed by the Boston Red Sox as a Senior Baseball Operations Advisor.

He began writing The Bill James Baseball Abstract in the 1970s, and became quite well-known in the 1980s for his opinions. While his opinions were at first often quite scathing in regard to certain ballplayers, as time went on he began to have personal contact with more and more of them in his work, and he seems to have chosen to be less critical of many active players. He has acknowledged being involved in arbitration proceedings or other matters with a variety of ballplayers, including George Bell and Tim Raines. Still, he enjoyed taking strong opinions on both historical matters (his criticisms of Rogers Hornsby, Chuck Tanner and Dick Allen for personal failings were scathing), and particularly in the Pete Rose gambling controversy. On this point, his long, vociferous defense of Rose from gambling accusations in the Dowd Report that led to his banishment, has been followed by near total silence after Pete finally admitted his guilt.

James is the creator of the statistics Win Shares, Runs Created as well as analytical tools such as similarity scores, favorite toy, Teammate Score, Hall of Fame Monitor, etc.

He is the author of a number of books, including The Bill James Baseball Abstract series of books, the two editions of the Historical Baseball Abstract, and The Politics of Glory.

There are no similarity scores for non-players, but Henry Chadwick comes to mind as a comparison to Bill James. When Chadwick was creating statistical methods to evaluate baseball performance, most players had little power and drew few walks, so batting average was a relatively suitable measure of offensive performance. It was up to Bill James, over one hundred years later, to point out that the game had changed greatly, and that many new ways of evaluating performance were needed.

Although Scott Gray's 2006 book about James refers to him in the title as a "Complete Outsider", he was not really that. In other industries, it is not unusual for knowledgeable customers to have an impact on product development, and to borrow a concept from the computer world, one could easily refer to James as a "super user". Major league baseball, being very staid, simply took longer to adopt James' ideas than many other industries would have taken.

In 2010, James was among the inaugural class of winners of the Henry Chadwick Award.

More recently, Bill James has been authoring The Bill James Gold Mine and The Bill James Handbook. In 2011, he ventured from baseball for the first time, publishing the book Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, which he had been working on for the previous five years. It was described by Nate Silver as "sabermetrics meets the Coen Brothers". As a result of the book's publication, his opinion began to be sought out to comment on criminal matters, leading to some controversy, as he vocally defended disgraced Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno in the media. His main employers, the Red Sox, distanced themselves from his comments and asked him to refrain from making further public statements on the matter.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jimmy Golen (Associated Press): "Stats pioneer Bill James: Don’t blame us for boring baseball",, April 9, 2021. [1]
  • Scott Gray: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball, Doubleday, New York, NY, 2006.
  • Bill James: Solid Fool's Gold: Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom, ACTA Sports, Chicago, IL, 2011.
  • Daniel Okrent: "He Does It By the Numbers", Sports Illustrated, May 25, 1981. [2]
  • Gregory Pierce, ed.: How Bill James Changed our View of Baseball, by Colleagues, Critics, Competitors and Just Plain Fans, ACTA Sports, Skokie, IL, 2007.
  • Don Zminda: "Bill James", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 39, Number 1 (Summer 2010), p. 125.

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