My role model growing up around baseball was a man by the name of Branch Rickey. To me, Mr. Rickey was God. Most Pirate fans know him simply as the man who drafted Roberto Clemente, but to me he was a statistical wizard.
While there are a lot of number crunchers around the game of baseball today, only one is known in almost every household – Bill James. Recently listed as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Time Magazine, James is also an author of many publications including the ever popular Bill James Handbook, which is mandatory reading for any baseball fan.
Currently a Senior Baseball Operations Advisor in the Boston Red Sox organization, and a long-time member of The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Mr. James was kind enough to answer a few questions for Bucco Blog.
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Bucco Blog: The Pirates just added Adam LaRoche to the roster and Pirate fans are clamoring to know how he projects out. What kind of numbers do you see him putting up in 2007 with the Pirates?
Bill James — I would expect him to hit about .275 and drive in more than 100 runs, maybe 28 to 32 homers.
Bucco Blog: One retired NLED scout I spoke to recently suggested LaRoche might be viewed as a platoon player in some circles. In your opinion, is that an accurate statement? If so, does that change any now that he will be playing in the NLCD and with the Pirates?
Bill James — The scout might have been a year or two behind the times on LaRoche. I think a lot of people thought about him that way until 2006. You can make him a platoon player if you want to, but I wouldn’t. I’d make every effort to see if he can stay in the lineup.
Bucco Blog: With LaRoche added to the roster, can you give us a general feel for the number of runs scored we are looking at this year and how that figure might compare to the other NLCD teams? How about runs allowed with the current roster?
Bill James — Well, the Pirates haven’t scored 700 runs the last three years. With any luck, LaRoche gets you to 700, over 700, but that’s not going to make any real difference. Making a real difference depends on two things, in my opinion, which are:
- How Paulino develops, and
- Getting more than they did last year out of the center field spot.
Bucco Blog: The Pirates four main starting pitchers – Duke, Maholm, Gorzelanny, and Snell – are all young and still learning to pitch. Who would you consider to be the sleeper of the group overall and, which one do you feel might have the best year in 2007?
Bill James — Whichever one stays healthy. It’s an issue of health. Most young pitchers get hurt. Any of these guys is likely to get better if he can stay on the mound.
Bucco Blog: Losing Mike Gonzalez was a blow to the strength of our bullpen, especially closing out games. Salomon Torres did a fine job last year stepping in for Gonzalez but there has been some concern expressed that he is better suited to pitch in a setup role than to close out games. Matt Capps and Jonah Bayliss have popped up as possible replacements for Gonzalez, and we also have Damaso Marte. Who do you see as a potential closer on the Pirates roster?
Bill James — I really don’t have any idea. I think Marte would be alright in that role, but probably not more than alright. It becomes an issue of "is there one of the younger guys who is going to step forward and be special in that role?" And that relies on real knowledge of these guys stuff, their makeup, etc. I’m not that much into the Pirates, that I would know that.
Bucco Blog: Everybody wants to know if Freddy Sanchez can replicate his 2006 season offensively in 2007. What’s your opinion?
Bill James — I believe that he can. I think Freddy is a very legitimate .330 hitter, and I wouldn’t bet at all that he has had his best year.
Bucco Blog: There has been a lot of talk the last 14 months about how weak the NLCD is, yet the Cardinals won it all last year. Is that a myth?
Bill James — Is it a myth that they won? I don’t think so. .. . I think they really won.
I don’t think it’s a myth that the division has been a little weak, and I don’t see that the Cardinals winning the series conflicts with that. But the thing that people sometimes don’t get is, when you’re talking about a weak league, a weak conference, those are very small distinctions compared to the differences between players. In other words, if you compare the teams in a league and the players in a league, the difference between the best and worst teams is far, far less than the difference between the best and worst players.
In the same way, if you compare conferences and you compare teams, the difference between a strong league and a weak league is far less than the difference between a strong team and a weak team. So the difference between a strong league and a weak league is really nothing on the scale of the difference between a strong player and a weak player. It’s something that people like to talk about, and it’s not imaginary; it’s real. But it’s importance is hugely overstated.