Last November, Sheenie and I were in Duluth for a wedding and wandered around town. We stumbled upon an antique store that had a massive collection of books on the second floor. Eventually, we ended up leaving with about $40 in books (which mean about fifteen books). Among the ones I snagged was The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1987. I slowly flipped through it in recent months and found a few items particularly interesting.
First, in writing about the 1986 St. Louis Cardinals who had stumbled to a 79-82 record the year after narrowly losing the World Series, he was skeptical about their chances to bounce right back into contention. (Obviously, he ultimately was proven wrong.) His explanation made a lot of sense and were particularly fitting for the 2012 Twins trying to undue the disaster of last year. He wrote:
Some will argue that if the Cardinals can go from 101 wins to 79 in one season, it must be possible for them to get back to 101 in one more season. Maybe, but if a man is thrown from a horse in a half-second, does that mean that he must be able to get back on in another? If you wrap your car around a tree, can you put it back together as quickly? It is a rule of nature that the processes of destruction, such as fire and violence, act more quickly than the processes of growth and development.
I think it’s time Billy Smith starts getting known as The Process of Destruction.
Here’s the very first sentence James wrote in his section on the Twins: “In contrast to the comic ineptitude of Hawk Harrelson, with his ridiculous clothes and mock profound pronouncements, there is something sad, something almost sinister about the ineptitude which guides the Minnesota Twins.” Seriously, he wrote that passage about Hawk twenty-five years ago. James then suggested the Twins would “win quickly” from acquiring one of three men: Whitey Herzog, Lou Gorman, or Joe Carter. He explained the Twins struggled with racism within its front office and said, “The Twins’ problem is that they’re a collection of smooth-faced suburban kids with no instinct for the jugular.” Holy crap, that actually sounds like the type of situation Dan Gladden would have fixed.
James also evaluated the 1986 rookie crop extensively because even after one year it was already being proclaimed as one of the best of all time. He rated the top 1986 rookie performances as: Todd Worrell, Mark Eichhorn, Jose Canseco, Wally Joyner, Robby Thompson, Pete Incaviglia, Danny Tartabull, Cory Snyder, Bruce Rubbin, and Kevin Mitchell. That list doesn’t even include: Barry Bonds, Jamie Moyer, Barry Larkin, Will Clark, Bobby Bonilla, Ruben Sierra, Chuck Finley, Doug Drabek, Dan Plesac, or John Kruk. That’s a pretty spectacular group of rookies.
However, the part that interested me the most was his career projections for current players. For some reason, he listed his career projections for all the Twins specifically.
Well look at those projections for Hrbek. Looks like it expected him to stick around for another year or two, but he completely nailed those final numbers for homers, RBIs, walks, and batting average. He also pretty much had Laudner’s career pegged. He overestimated Lombardozzi and Mark Salas and underestimated Gagne and Gaetti. Not a bad projection for Kirby considering he made it when Kirby had just hit 31 homers in 1986 despite having just four career homers in 1200+ plate appearances entering the season.
He didn’t list projected career numbers for anyone else, but he did list likelihood of reaching certain milestone accomplishments. Here are some interesting ones:
Don Mattingly had a 84% chance of 2,000 hits (check!), 64% of 2,500 (nope), and a 4% chance of 4,500 (whoops). He also had a 82% chance of 300 career homers (nope). Mattingly fell off a cliff right when I really started following baseball so I am unable to remember just how good he was in the mid-1980s.
Keith Hernandez had a 77% chance of 2,500 hits (nope). Those NY first basemen really just fizzled up in a hurry.
Wade Boggs only had a 27% chance of 3,000 hits (barely got there). That made me look up his Baseball-Reference page. What in the world was Boston doing with him? He hit over .300 in AA as a 20 year-old so they . . . make him repeat AA?! Then, they finally promote him after two years of hitting .300 at AA, he hits .300 at AAA. So they make him repeat it again?! What was that all about?
George Bell had a 61% chance of 2,000 hits (nope), a 68% chance of 300 homers (nope), a 21% chance of 1500 RBIs (nope). Another guy who fizzled out.
Tim Raines had a 75% chance of 938 career stolen bases (Lou Brock’s record). He didn’t quite make it. In fact, James gave him a 2% chance of 1600 career steals. He also had a 45% chance of 1500 runs and did make that.
Rickey, on the other hand, was given a 6% chance of 1800 career steals. He ended up with 1406, and he was given a 36% chance at 1400. Oh, he had a 90% chance at the career steals record by 1987. He also had a 48% chance at 300 homers and ended up hitting 297. Strangely (because he was always going to be limited as a leadoff guy, James projected him with a 90% chance of 1500 RBIs and he fell far short of that total.
Ok, I lied. He posted projected statistics for a couple other players:
|George Brett projected||2803||10180||1682||3093||641||131||331||1554||1284||.304|
|George Brett actual||2707||10349||153||3154||665||137||317||1596||1096||.305|
|Mike Schmidt projected||2856||9673||1784||2573||468||64||621||1805||1719||.266|
|Mike Schmidt actual||2404||8352||1506||2234||408||59||548||1595||1507||.267|
|Buddy Bell projected||2683||9687||1284||2674||470||59||218||1179||933||.276|
|Buddy Bell actual||2405||8995||1151||2514||425||56||201||1106||836||.279|
Anyway, if you’re ever browsing through a used bookstore or an antique store and come across some old Bill James stuff, I highly recommend buying it. It was interesting to go back and get a snapshot in time of Spring Training 1987 and the thinking in baseball at the time.