Baseball statistician, Bill James, spoke at the University of Kansas last night as part of the James Naismith Lecture Series. I had the privilege of attending the lecture, which centered around “Transitioning from Naïve to Professional Research.” The talk was delightfully engaging, thought-provoking, and amusing.
If you’ve never seen him in person, Bill James is a big man. He stands over six feet tall with noticeably broad shoulders, and he a full head of hair and a large beard that only seems to add to his enormity. He is, of course, even bigger in the baseball world.
But James actually didn’t talk a lot about baseball. He couldn’t entirely avoid it, being such a prolific baseball writer and the founder of sabermetrics. He did talk about the determination of strong versus weak MVP pools, mentioning this article, which, among other things, argues that Eric Hosmer deserves to rank second in the AL MVP race over Aaron Judge. His statement noticeably surprised a lot of folks (and delighted a lot of folks; Lawrence is only about an hour from Kauffman Stadium, after all). “Eric Hosmer’s contribution to the Royals,” James said, “was greater than Aaron Judge’s contribution to the Yankees.” When he puts it that way, it makes sense.
James’s primary discussion, however, revolved around ideas. He compared ideas to seeds on a tree. The seeds of a tree scatter, and though there are thousands upon thousands of seeds that can come off any given tree, if just one of them takes root and becomes another fully-grown tree, that is an astonishing percentage. 99.9% of tree seeds scatter and all they do is become food for animals or clog our sewers and gutters. In the same way, we as human beings come up with hundreds of ideas every single day, and the vast majority of those ideas are throwaways. But if one of those ideas takes root, it can potentially change the world.
Everything around us, he said, once started as an idea. “The Kansas Union was once an idea that somebody had. The University of Kansas was once just an idea that somebody had.” It’s a perspective-altering thought.
This thought has direct relevance to James’s own life. When he graduated from KU in the 1970s, James says he knew his job prospects weren’t great. More than anything, he just wanted to find a job “that didn’t involve taxi cabs, heavy lifting, or armed robbery.” Spending his spare time working with baseball statistics, he said, was something that folks around him would comment was interesting, but that not enough people in the world were interested in it enough for him to ever make a living off it. We know now that those folks’ assessment was proved wrong, and James’s work with statistics became the idea that not only changed his own life, but revolutionized the world of baseball.
This isn’t everything that Bill James spoke about last night, but these are the ideas that particularly struck me. It was one of the more engaging lectures I’ve had the opportunity to attend, and I like to attend these kinds of things whenever I can. The fact that I’m a baseball fan certainly influenced my perspective, but as you can probably tell, it was the kind of talk that even non-fans could appreciate.
This past weekend saw the conclusion of the 2017 MLB regular season. Today, there is no baseball. Tomorrow, October 3rd, the Twins will be in New York to take on the Yankees for the American League Wild Card. Then on Wednesday, October 4th, the Rockies are headed to Arizona to compete with the Diamondbacks for the National League Wild Card.
The postseason has begun.
For my team, the Kansas City Royals, there is no postseason this year. And with the futures of players such as Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer now up in the air, things are definitely changing.
Ned Yost has agreed to return for one more year, and mainstay Alex Gordon is signed for a few more years, but Royals fans are in agreement: we are at the end of an era.
I just hope we aren’t staring down the barrel of another 30-year stretch of “rebuilding.”
Yours truly finally made it to Kauffman Stadium for a Royals game this year! My first of the season — yes, I’ve been slacking. Need to get back on that. A lady at work had tickets, but then realized she had another obligation, and was kind enough to pass them on.
Yesterday had been a challenging day at work, which gave me the perfect excuse to splurge on a dog and an overpriced beer.
The crowd was small, just over 25K, as it usually is at Kansas City baseball games — unless, of course, they make it into the playoffs. I had forgotten what a stress release being at the K always seems to be for me. Even though I am very much an introvert, sometimes being in a crowd can be nice. I think I like the opportunity to blend in and become relatively anonymous.
I enjoy some of the distractions that being at the stadium can present. The hot dog derby, for example, never fails to bring out my inner little kid. Relish won this round, but ketchup is still leading the standings — at least at Kauffman. Go ketchup!
I love being able to see I-70 from the stands:
And the fountain display at the K is always worth taking a look.
However, none of this beats the excitement of sticking around to watch Eric Hosmer blast a walk-off home run off Greg Holland. No, I didn’t get any pictures of the celebration that followed that event. I found that I was much too happy and excited to do anything other than grin like an idiot and cheer. I will say, though, that oftentimes when I go to Royals games, I feel like I rarely get to see a win. It sure was nice to feel like I brought them a little bit of luck for once.
For the World Series this year, I decided to do something I’ve never done, and I scribbled down some thoughts/notes about the games as they were being played. Granted, I didn’t jot down every single thought that popped into my head as the Series went on — I’d have a small novel on my hands if I did — but rather, I focused on moments that seemed (relatively) big or interesting to me at the time.
I will mention a couple things about this note compilation, however: First, for anyone who isn’t already aware, I have been a Royals fan since I was ten years old, and that bias is all over these comments. Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve been objective about this World Series if I tried. You’ve been warned.
Second, one note that I nearly made over and over again, though I managed to restrain myself, was a thought about the broadcasters of the game. More specifically, my wish that we could just cut out all commentary and keep it strictly to the play-by-play and statistics. For example, how many times did we really need to question the decision to allow Harvey to return for the ninth inning in Game 5? Mention it once, maybe twice, then move the hell on already.
~ Escobar with the inside-the-park home run! Awesome start to the Series. Wish I knew what happened to those guys out in that outfield.
~ FOX with the technical difficulties. WTF?
~ Granderson homer… ouch. Mets up 2-1.
~ Some impressive defense in this game. From both sides.
~ Zobrist doing a fun little tarantella out on the base paths against Harvey.
~ RBI Moooooose! 3-3 tie after six innings.
~ Volquez’s father passed away prior to the game? Oh man, that’s tough.
~ Misplay by Hosmer. Nooooooooooooo……. 4-3.
~ Gotta figure out that Clippard change up.
~ Glad we got replay back for that caught stealing.
~ Bottom of the 9th. Time for a rally!
~ Aaaand… into extra innings. Wouldn’t be a Royals game if it didn’t get interesting late.
~ I have a feeling I won’t be getting much sleep throughout this Series.
~ Hos redeems himself! What a game. 14 innings, 5-4 Royals!
~ Sure hope the effective Cueto shows up tonight.
~ I think deGrom has more hair than I do. Cueto definitely does.
~ Low strike zone tonight. Will make things interesting.
~ What’s up with all the throwback photos in this WS?
~ Bats finally come alive in the 4th.
~ Rally! Royals up 4-1 after five.
~ Cueto still looking good. Thank goodness.
~ Another rally in the 8th! 7-1 Royals.
~ Complete game two-hitter! Sure wish this version of Cueto would show up more consistently.
~ Can’t say I’m surprised that Syndergaard would throw at Escobar’s head, but it’s still dirty as hell.
~ Blown coverage at first. Early Royals lead!
~ And a homer by David Wright. 2-1, Mets on top.
~ Wow, Salvy broke two bats in that AB.
~ Holy smokes, Ventura has some wheels.
~ Royals back up 3-2 after two innings.
~ Homer by Granderson puts Mets up 4-3. This game is crazy.
~ Raul Mondesi becomes the first player in history to make his Major League debut in the World Series.
~ Morales doesn’t know where to throw the ball — should’ve just gone to first if he didn’t know.
~ Ouch. Mets up after 6 innings, 9-3.
~ And that’s the final score. Mets dominate.
~ Mets score first in the bottom of the 3rd on a Conforto homer.
~ Rios forgetting how many outs there are. No room for mental errors in the World Series…
~ Gordon RBI to put the Royals on the board. 2-1 in the middle of the fifth.
~ Score stands at 3-2 after seven innings. Royals need a rally.
~ Error by Murphy! Tie game!
~ RBI Mooooose!!
~ And Salvy follows up with an RBI of his own! Royals up 5-3.
~ After a much-too-exciting ninth, Royals hang on! Now leading the Series 3 games to 1.
~ Mets strike first with a Granderson homer.
~ Volquez gets a hit! Nice.
~ Save for the homer, both pitchers are rockin’ it tonight. Harvey looks especially sharp.
~ Still 1-0 after five. What a game.
~ Volquez escapes a jam giving up only one run. 2-0, Mets, after six.
~ Royals tie it in the top of the ninth!!
~ And now into extra innings…
~ Dyson scores in the twelfth! Royals up 3-2.
~ Royals now up 7-2 in the middle of the 12th inning…!!!
~ And that’s the game!! ROYALS!!!!!!! Fireworks already going off here in town. There is no way I’m going to sleep tonight.
As a follow-up I managed to get about 3-4 hours of sleep before I had to get back up for work on Monday morning, but the lack of sleep didn’t really affect me. Even now, I’m still running on the adrenal high of it all. In my baseball literature class yesterday, we didn’t discuss literature at all — the conversation revolved completely around the Series and the playoffs as a whole.
The decision to name Salvador Pérez the Series MVP, I think, was a good one. To be honest, had I been asked to make the decision, I don’t know whom I would have chosen. The thing about the Royals is that they really don’t have a superstar, no single, go-to player in their lineup. Several players made significant contributions to their success. I do believe Salvy was an appropriate choice in the end due to his work with the pitchers especially. Watching him work with the Kansas City pitchers is impressive to behold. He clearly has a rapport with all of them, and serves as a calming influence when things start getting out of hand. The fact that he’s bilingual allows him to do this with the entire staff. Furthermore, I’m impressed by his ability to take a beating and yet continue to play well. Multiple times throughout the month of October, I found myself worrying that the latest foul ball off his body would take him out of the lineup, and yet he persisted.
All in all, this note jotting exercise proved an interesting experience. And reading back over my random scribbles, it feels like fast-forwarding through the games all over again. I had considered keeping score throughout the Series, but decided I would become too excited to stick with it, and I think that was probably a good call. The notes, however, were perfect.