Some excerpts from an interesting interview of Bill James by Sean Gregory of Time magazine.
You often show that conventional baseball statistics aren't as important as they appear. In the book, you write "every year that passes, the ERA (Earned Run Average) becomes a little more irrelevant." Why is that?
The reason the ERA is becoming a little more irrelevant every year is that pitchers don't pitch whole innings anymore. Relief pitchers anyway. If you go back to 1915, 1920, really, all pitchers pitched full innings 99% of the time. And you could measure a pitcher's effectiveness by how many runs he allowed in those whole innings. But modern pitchers, in particular modern relievers, pitch portions of an inning. And in a situation where each pitcher pitches a portion of an inning, who you charge the run to becomes critical. And the rule on whom we charge the run to is so careless and sloppy that it doesn't work. It often leads to pitchers having ERAs that do not reflect how they really pitch, either because the reliever allowed a bunch of runs to score that were charged to somebody else, or because the starting pitcher who left guys on base got hurt by it.
Your archrivals in the American League East, the New York Yankees, have a new manager, and with George Steinbrenner's sons taking over the day-to-day operations, new owners running the show. What's your gut reaction to what they've done, and where you see them going this year?
Well, the Yankees are kind of moving on to the future. There's something I call Sam's Law — after Sam Rich, an attorney from Pittsburgh who has been a friend of mine for many years. Sam's Law is that young pitchers will break your heart. I think that when teams go into a pennant race depending on young pitching, it very often it takes a year or two for that young pitching to be as good as you thought it would be. The Yankees have that problem, and we have that problem — we're depending on [Jon] Lester and [Clay] Buchholz and some other guys to be useful to us. It's going to be interesting to see how many of those young pitchers live up to those expectations.