How the Baseball Forecaster Happened

Thanksgiving 1985. Houston, TX. 

I am sitting at a large table in a small house located just outside the Inner Loop. I am surrounded by 3,000 in-laws of all shapes and sizes. There are old ones and young ones, large ones in both size and presence, vegetarians and carnivores. New Yorkers, and Coloradans, and Floridians, and one or two Astros fans. There are only two decibel levels – loud and louder. 

I have been married for eight months.

I am invisible, mostly because I believe that communication should be thoughtful and measured, not driven with a jackhammer. I don’t know what the heck all these people are talking about anyway. Who are these people? I think I’ve made a huge mistake.

So I wander off in my head, recalling the disappointing results of my first Rotisserie Baseball league. A bunch of high school teachers, a psychologist, a tech executive and I were dipping our toes in the Roto waters, drafting players out of each league’s Eastern Divisions. I finished fourth, led by Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays and his league-leading 2.48 ERA. Fourth place wouldn’t have been so bad had there been more than six teams.

I had to do better. 

“Ron? Ron?? Did you hear me? Wouldja pass the potatoes?”

No, I didn’t hear you, dammit. How can anyone hear anything? 

Where’s my bag? Those books I brought to read on the plane… the Bill James Abstract, The Hidden Game of Baseball, How Life Imitates the World Series. Would anyone miss me if I slinked away?

I am convinced that the answer to winning this Rotisserie thing is hidden somewhere inside those three books. But Bill James, Pete Palmer and Thomas Boswell all have different measures to evaluate talent. Which one is best – runs created, linear weights or total average?

It would be pretty valuable to see all the players listed with those three “new statistics” presented side-by-side-by-side. Hmm.

There is plenty of time to think; I am unemployed. I just completed the worst 15 months of my career, taking a job in a New Hampshire bank as my ticket out of New York City traffic. This is my third forced job departure in the seven years since graduating from college. There would be three more unceremonious exits before I’d finally tell Corporate America where they could put their pink slips. It took me awhile to figure out that I was not cut out to be an employee. 

I figure, what the heck, I’ll just write a book. How hard could it be? I had worked for publishing companies before. I had learned how to do direct marketing. I was a good writer and a magician with LOTUS 1-2-3. And I was a control freak. 

Piece of cake.

* * *

Thanksgiving 2015. Port St. Lucie, FL.

I’m sitting at this big desk in a small house, surrounded by 3,000 books of all shapes and sizes. There are old ones and new ones, large ones in both size and presence, covering analysis, strategy and game theory. I’ve written some of them, in New York, New Hampshire, Virginia and Florida.   

I am still married, but that first Rotisserie league ended after 10 years, a casualty of the Great Strike of 1994. I took home titles in the final three seasons. 

Dave Stieb was the first player to teach me great lessons about baseball statistics. After that terrific 1985 season, I drafted him again in 1986, only to be blindsided by his 4.74 ERA follow-up. What I didn’t know at the time was that his 2.48 ERA in ’85 came along with a command ratio of only 1.7, down from 2.3 the previous season. 

Undaunted (or more likely, stubborn), I went back to the well again in 1987. And again he disappointed, with a 4.09 ERA (and a 1.3 Cmd). After 1984, Stieb’s meager strikeout rate was never high enough to drive even a 2.0 Cmd. However, he did manage a few more good seasons, which was another lesson in statistical volatility.

In some ways we’re smarter; in many ways, we’re not.

Bill James wrote his final Baseball Abstract in 1988, unsuccessfully tried his hand at fantasy-centric books in the mid-1990s and was eventually forced to take an office job with a Major League ballclub that had not won a World Series in over 80 years.  Pete Palmer waited 30 years to publish a follow-up edition of The Hidden Game, but the only thing he changed was the Introduction. Thomas Boswell’s Total Average metric never caught on. 

I graduated from Dunkin’ Donuts and now do “online” at Starbucks. I’m not proud.

Since 1986, I’ve been convinced that the answer to winning this Rotisserie thing is hidden somewhere inside this book. There is no question that the Baseball Forecaster has helped immensely – and still does. However, I’m still searching for the Holy Grail. For some unknown, unfathomable reason, I still can’t predict the future with 100 percent accuracy. There must be something wrong with me.

We can put a man on the moon but I still can’t tell you exactly how many home runs Mike Trout is going to hit next year. 

There is more work to do.