Not all of James'
analyses are lucid. He has come up with a system for grading a player's
offensive ability that he feels is a good yardstick for measuring the relative
contributions of the speedster who walks and steals a lot, the high-average
singles hitter and the low-average slugger. More or less on a pragmatic basis
(it works, he argues), he devised a rating called Runs Created, the formula for
Translated, it means that Runs Created equals hits plus walks minus times
caught stealing multiplied by total bases added to seven-tenths of bases stolen
divided by the sum of at bats plus walks plus times caught stealing. The
formula's elements—why .7 stolen bases? Why caught stealing both above and
below the line?—seem hopelessly arbitrary, but James says that if you apply the
formula to any team's season statistics for the last 20 years your answer will
likely be within 3% and virtually always within 4% of the actual number of runs
the team scored that season. It didn't work with the 1980 Red Sox, who were 7%
below the number of runs the formula said they should have scored, but James
blames that on the Red Sox ("No lefties, no speed, what's a bunt?")
Created seems to work. Apply the formula to the records of individual batters
and you can evaluate a player's true offensive worth to his team. James is
proud of Runs Created, and his devotees love it. They also like his VI-RBI, or
Victory Important Runs Batted In, his VAM, or Value Approximation Method, his
EV, or Established Value, and his HOFPS, or Hall of Fame Prediction System.
technical-minded readers get their kicks from James' judgments. On ball parks,
for instance. Everyone knows that some stadiums are said to be "hitters'
parks" and others "pitchers' parks." James goes a step further and
says the differences between parks are so important that "unless you play
for Boston, Minnesota, Kansas City or Detroit, you have very little chance of
leading the American League in hitting; unless you pitch in Baltimore, New
York, California or Oakland, you have very little chance of leading the league
in ERA." What surprises him is that club managements don't seem to catch on
to such things. "Shea Stadium is a horrible hitters' park," he says.
"All new hitters in Shea see their averages drop. Yet the Mets trade off
promising youngsters because they don't hit as well as they were expected
to." Invariably, the youngsters live up to their earlier expectations after
they depart Shea (Amos Otis and Ken Singleton are two notable examples). And it
isn't just Shea. In 1978 when Ron Fairly, coming off a .279 year in Toronto,
was traded to the Angels, James wrote that Fairly would be lucky to bat .220 in
Anaheim. He hit .217.
He made a similar
remarkable projection last year for Pitcher Tom Underwood, acquired by the
Yankees from Toronto. The lefthanded Underwood had been only 9-16 with the Blue
Jays in 1979, but the Yankee front office was hoping he might blossom into a
star in Yankee Stadium. James surmised that the combination of Yankee Stadium
and Yankee defense, coupled with the better run support he could expect, would
improve Underwood's record to 15-11, four games over .500. Underwood finished
with a 13-9 record, four games over .500.
This season James
relishes the textbook cases he expects will develop from the big
Boston-California switches of the past winter, when players shuttled between
the best hitters' park in the league (Fenway) and the third-worst (Anaheim).
"One is tempted to say," he writes, "that when you put Carney
Lansford in Fenway he will inherit Fred Lynn's statistics, and when you put
Lynn in the Big A, he will pick up those left behind. That could very possibly
happen, and I've hung myself on cruder scaffolds."
James then made
the following bold declarations:
•Lynn, over a
period of years, will not even approach in California the offensive production
he had in Fenway. If he hit .300 two-thirds of the time in Fenway, it might be
one-third of the time in California. James admits that Lynn is unpredictable,
but he estimates that in the long run he will be a .285 hitter in Anaheim, with
18 to 24 home runs a year.
Lansford, a .261 hitter in Anaheim with 15 homers last year, is pegged for a
.310 season in Boston with 25 home runs, but, says James, "that doesn't
represent the upper boundary of his ability."