Sabermetrician Bill James on Objectivity

I was forwarded this excerpt, which apparently first appeared on Victor Niederhoffer’s site from a contributor. It is Sabermetrician Bill James speaking, from his 1981 Baseball Abstract, on the difference between sports writing and sabermetrics:

1. Sports writing draws on the available evidence, and forces conclusions by selecting and arranging that evidence so that it points in the direction desired. Sabermetrics introduces new evidence, previously unknown data derived from original source material.

2. Sportswriting designs its analysis to fit the situation being discussed; sabermetrics designs methods which would be applicable not only in the present case but in any other comparable situation. The sportswriter say this player is better than that one because this player had 20 more home runs, 10 more doubles, and 40 more walks and those things are more important than that players 60 extra base hits and 31 extra stolen bases, and besides, there is always defense and if all else fails team leadership. If player C is introduced into this discussion, he is a whole new article. Sabermetrics puts into place formulas, schematic designs, or theories of relationship which could compare not only this player to that one, but to any player who might be introduced into the discussion.

3. Sportswriters characteristically begin their analysis with a position on an issue; sabermetrics begins with the issue itself. The most over-used form in journalism is the diatribe, the endless impassioned and quasi-logical pitches for the cause of the day–Mike Norris for the Cy Young Award, Rickey Henderson for MVP, Gil Hodges for the Hall of Fame, everybody for lower salaries and let’s all line up against the DH. Sports writing “analysis” is largely an adversary process, with the most successful sportswriter being the one who is the most effective advocate of his position. I personally, of course, have positions which I advocate occasionally, but sabermetrics by its nature is unemotional, non-committal. The sportswriter attempts to be a good lawyer; the sabermetrician, a fair judge.

James objective decision making process dovetails nicely with the objective decision making of his current boss trend following trader John W. Henry.