January 10, 2002
The Imbalance Sheet
Crossing the ChasmThis is a bittersweet column for me, as I write now to announce to the Baseball Prospectus readership my departure from the writing fold. On January 2, I joined the front office of the Toronto Blue Jays, working for General Manager J.P. Ricciardi on matters of player evaluation.
For me, this marks the end of one of the more unusual journeys into the world of baseball analysis. For BP, I hope this marks but the first of many graduations into full-time positions in the baseball world.
The fanaticism I've brought to the BP school of thought on player evaluations masks how little time has passed since I first was introduced to the core concepts. Unlike the other BP authors, I didn't read anything by Bill James in the 1980s, and was raised to believe in the RBI, the won-lost record, the save, the clutch hitter, and the importance of bunting. (Phil Rizzuto hammered that last one into me, but it's hard to bear a grudge against the Scooter.)
My conversion came as a direct result of the 1994 strike, oddly enough. When Judge Sonya Sotomayor threw out the owners' declaration of an impasse--perhaps the only Sotomayor decision with which I've agreed--I headed to the bookstore to buy something to prepare me for the upcoming season. Scanning the shelves, I noticed a slim volume called 1995 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook, by Eddie Epstein. Feeling quite confident in my knowledge of the major leagues, I flipped through a few pages while standing in the aisle at the Braintree, Massachusetts Barnes & Noble. Then I flipped through a few more. Twenty or so pages later, I was hooked.
Eddie did for me what Bill James did for most of the other BP writers, and probably for most of you: He put the basic principles of player evaluation into a form that almost immediately convinced the reader of their value. The center of the game is the strike zone. Tools are worthless without skills. The stolen base is overrated. Power arms have the highest ceilings. Did I mention the strike zone?
After reading the Notebook a few times, my thirst for more writing in a similar vein led me back online, over to the rec.sport.baseball discussion group and to the old Davenport Translation files. These included translated stats for hitters and comments by all measure of r.s.b readers, some of whom are now in the BP fold. I bought the first edition of Baseball Prospectus (The White Album) and offered to use my publishing industry knowledge and scant contacts to land the team a contract. I started writing in the fall of 1996 and never really stopped, moving from fantasy analysis to baseball economics.
My new job is an indication of the respect that BP has earned in the baseball community. The annual books and the Web site are both regularly read by members of about a dozen front offices and by sportswriters from around the world. At the winter meetings last month, I was floored by how many of the people I met immediately offered compliments to the BP crew on the work we've done. (A list of the people who had never heard of us would probably surprise none of you.)
Baseball Prospectus has always been bigger than any one contributor, and I walk away from it confident that the growth of the book and the site will continue unabated, particularly as more and more of our friends in the mainstream media use us and promote us through their work. To all of them, I offer my gratitude for amplifying our small voices across the country. To the front office people who have registered their approval with us, letting us know how much they value our work, I thank you for your encouragement and support.
To all of our readers, I thank you for making my time with BP such a rewarding experience. Especially to those readers who have taken the time to challenge my views, to offer more evidence on a subject I've covered, or to just say you liked the column, I thank you for making me a more effective writer and debater, as that experience has already proven valuable in my new role.
And finally, to the members of the BP team, I offer my deepest gratitude. To Gary, for bringing me into the project when I was just a name and an e-mail address; to Joe, for tireless editing and for fixing that one horrid team chapter I handed you for BP99; to Chris, for your partnership on business matters and your acumen for steering the ship in the right direction; to all of the BP authors, for allowing me to write alongside some of the most talented, witty, and curious minds ever to attack the game of baseball and all of its false idols. You may rest assured that the small voices of BP just got a little louder.
Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.