A Bill James Primer

A Bill James Primer

Extracted from The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1988
Ballantine Books, New York
Copyright 1988 by Bill James

“What I wanted to write about… is a very basic question. Of all the studies I have done over the last 12 years, what have I learned? What is the relevance of sabermetric knowledge to the decision making process of a team? If I were employed by a major-league team, what are the basic things that I know from the research I have done which would be of use to me in helping that team?”

  1. Minor league batting statistics will predict major league batting performance with essentially the same reliability as previous major league statistics.
  2. Talent in baseball is not normally distributed. It is a pyramid. For every player who is 10 percent above the average player, there are probably twenty players who are 10 pecent below average.
  3. What a player hits in one ballpark may be radically different from what he would hit in another.
  4. Ballplayers, as a group, reach their peak value much earlier and decline much more rapidly than people believe.
  5. Players taken in the June draft coming out of college (or with at least two years of college) perform dramatically better than players drafted out of high school.
  6. The chance of getting a good player with a high draft pick is substantial enough that it is clearly a disastrous strategy to give up a first round draft choice to sign a mediocre free agent. (see note #1)
  7. A power pitcher has a dramatically higher expectation for future wins than does a finesse picther of the same age and ability.
  8. Single season won-lost records have almost no value as an indicator of a pitcher’s contribution to a team.
  9. The largest variable determining how many runs a team will score is how many times they get their leadoff man on base.
  10. A great deal of what is perceived as being pitching is in fact defense.
  11. True shortage of talent almost never occurs at the left end of the defensive spectrum. (see note #2)
  12. Rightward shifts along the defensive spectrum almost never work. (see note #2)
  13. Our idea of what makes a team good on artificial turf is not supported by any research.
  14. When a team improves sharply one season they will almost always decline in the next.
  15. The platoon differential is real and virtually universal.


  1. Major league teams still must surrender choices in the amateur draft in exchange for signing free agents.
  2. The defensive spectrum looks like this:
     [ - - 1B - LF - RF - 3B - CF - 2B - SS - C - - ]
     with the basic premise being that positions at the right end of
     the spectrum are more difficult than the positions at the left
     end of the spectrum.  Players can generally move from right
     to left along the specturm successfully during their careers.