We’ve talked a lot about data over the years here, but this episode offers a unique view of data-driven decision-making. EconTalk host Russ Roberts hosted Bill James, an American writer whose work includes baseball history and statistics, has been extremely well accepted. His application of Sabermetrics and creation of the “Moneyball Theory” transformed the landscape of baseball. James also worked as a senior baseball operations advisor for the Boston Red Sox for 17 years, winning four World Series rings during his time there.
Roberts and James talk about shortening baseball games to preserve their entertainment value, with James concluding that there will always be time to prolong trade-offs with small-scale changes, like the pitch clock. The data and the different approaches to winning are constantly changing, and James and Roberts offer their insights into the intrigue that the world of baseball has to offer. Perhaps unlike many other things in life, it may be possible for someone to understand baseball’s closed system. James stresses the importance of connecting all the dots and prioritizing science over expertise when concluding, which can be applied far beyond baseball.
We’re glad you joined us to revisit this episode, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on it today. Share your answers to the prompts below in the comments or use them to start your own conversation offline. We are always happy to continue the conversation.
1- What is the difference between science and expertise, according to James, and how can science protect against the lies brought and by expertise? Roberts discusses people seeking reassurance and following whatever stems from their reliance on an expert’s credentials with the example of someone who has to agree with FA Hayek on the validity of social security. Roberts argues that people have become blinded to the reassurance they seek in dealing with controversial topics, and that a person’s credentials do not necessarily make their words true.
What should be the role of expertise? How should “followers” interact with the information they receive from experts in a thoughtful way?
2- At the time this episode was taped, Bill James offered incentives that he believed would more effectively address the issue of accelerated baseball than the rule changes that are present today. James identifies rule changes like the pitch-clock as “pulling out the biggest weeds” as opposed to “mowing the lawn”, where weeds will lead to more weeds – more monotonous moments on the diamond.
It’s James, isn’t it? Would incentives like draft picks, extra television compensation, and home-court advantage put pressure on the team’s self-interest? Do today’s rule changes create more slowdowns, or do they work as agents not only for shorter games, but also for games with more engaging action?
3-James’ conception of baseball as a mini-universe is particularly striking. He argues that people are attracted to baseball because they can make up their minds.
Following James, how does the plot for baseball’s closed system and its intricacies relate to the issues we all face every day? What other “closed systems” or mini-universes are of interest to humans?
4-James and Roberts discuss the prevalence of narrative construction where people only connect the dots that serve their particular point.
What kind of approach should individuals take when disseminating information to protect against ignoring unlearned knowledge? Why do people trust experts so much, and how can curiosity help protect the validity and pursuit of knowledge?
5-James argues Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame because there were no specific rules against steroids at the time he was using them. Should Barry Bonds enters the Baseball Hall of Fame?
Can rules such as the current drug policy be retroactive, or should Major League Baseball recognize that players were encouraged to use steroids and there were no rules against them? When the rules are not strictly enforced, and would you agree with Roberts and James that they are not rules, even if later they are enforced?