March 14, 2013
15 Questions I've Been Asking Myself Since the SABR Conference
There were, by my count, 25 talks, panels, or presentations at last week’s SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix. I couldn’t attend all of them, since some overlapped, but I made it to as many as possible. I’ve already written about the most interesting thing I heard, but the Indians’ sabermetric approach to marketing was just one of many intriguing topics that made me start scribbling notes during the three days I spent listening to smart people talk about baseball. (Many of those topics were brought up by Bill James, which probably isn’t surprising.)
Below I’ve listed some of the questions asked (either explicitly or indirectly) at SABR that are still on my mind a week after the conference began. I don’t have the answers to all of them, but that’s okay, because, as James said, “The key is to find the questions.” (Note: Only a few of the events are available online, there was no convenient place to put a computer, and I scribble only so fast, so I may have mixed up a detail or two.)
Should teams pamper their players?
It’s not as if most major leaguers have it hard, but it’s reasonable to suggest that a team could distinguish itself by offering players more and more off-the-field perks, simultaneously optimizing its current players’ performance and making itself more attractive to potential acquisitions.
Bill James wasn’t buying it. Speaking the next day, James admitted that he’d had the same thought himself, and that what Kenny had proposed was literally true: “If you do more to make sure your employees are comfortable, you’ll get better results.” But according to James, any advantage derived would be short-lived. James believes that happiness adheres to the “Law of Competitive Balance” he formulated in the 1983 Abstract, which states that certain forces tend to conspire against strong teams and in favor of weak teams in ways that reduce the difference between the two. He cited the findings from this study, which were summarized in a Forbes piece last November: