SSTN Interviews Derek Bain
SSTN: Today we are here with author Derek Bain. Derek is a passionate baseball fan who has authored Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises and Hardball Retroactive. Derek writes for Fangraphs, Seamheads and Baseball Analytics. His latest blog series focuses on retro reviews of classic baseball computer games. He recently published the first of a two-volume series entitled Hardball Architects. The American League Teams (Volume 1) is available now and the National League Teams (Volume 2) is tentatively scheduled to be released in the spring of 2022.
Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News. It is great to have this discussion with you.
DEREK: I appreciate the opportunity to talk baseball with you!
To begin, please tell us how you became a baseball fan.
Some of my earliest recollections are watching the Mets on television (channel 9 – WWOR in New York) with my great-grandmother in the early 1980’s. Her favorite players at that time were Mookie Wilson and Joel Youngblood. My cousins participated in Little League from an early age so I learned the basics from them. I started collecting baseball cards and following the California Angels (my cousin’s favorite team) in 1984. The Halos had a team full of veterans such as Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson and I quickly became fascinated with Carew’s ability to hit the ball anywhere on the field along with his mastery of bunting. My father and a family friend purchased a ticket plan for Sunday home games at Yankee Stadium so we attended a lot of games during my teenage years.
Please tell us about Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises.
I’m a huge fan of computer baseball games, particularly those that included a “manage-only” option along with the ability to edit teams. My parents supported my interest in personal computers from an early age with the acquisition of a Commodore 64 in 1983 and an Apple IIe several years later. I spent many hours with Micro League Baseball on my C64 and Earl Weaver Baseball on the Apple. I would tweak the lineups and pitching rotations on every roster and play games against my friends or the computer. Eventually I grew tired of the standard teams supplied with the games and started to create all-time great rosters for every franchise. In the Nineties I acquired my first IBM PC clone and migrated towards the Tony La Russa Baseball series and APBA Broadcast Blast with Ernie Harwell. Present-day, I alternate between Digital Diamond Baseball and Out of the Park for pure simulations.
The idea for Hardball Retrospective evolved from toying around with those computer games and rosters. As I was trying to come up with a concept for my first book, it dawned on me that I could utilize sources such as the Lahman Baseball Database,
Retrosheet Transactions and the now-defunct Baseball Gauge website (which offered Win Shares and Wins Above Replacement data) to place every ballplayer on their original teams. By my definition, I assigned them to the first professional Major League team that signed the player to a contract. For the purposes of the book, each player would remain on their original team for the duration of their career. This allowed me to calculate standings based on the revised rosters and make assessments regarding transactions throughout the history of baseball. In essence I could evaluate which teams performed the best and worst in terms of scouting, free agency, trades, etc. during the past 150 years.
It sounds like you put a tremendous amount of work into this project. How long did it take you to figure out the formulas you used and to complete the necessary research for this project?
I started writing articles for Seamheads in 2010 and my uncle suggested that I should write a book. I utilized any “spare time” over the next several years to develop the formulas, research and write Hardball Retrospective. I am extremely grateful for my family’s encouragement (especially my wife and children!) as I pursued my passion over the last decade.
Based on your research, which baseball franchises seem to do the best with drafting and developing players?
I devoted a chapter to this subject in Hardball Retrospective and recently checked the data through the 2019 season. Assigning the career totals of every player selected in the Amateur Draft to their respective teams, the top 5 teams are the Red Sox, Athletics, Cardinals, Angels and Dodgers. A dozen players drafted by Boston recorded at least one season with 30+ Win Shares – Jeff Bagwell, Mookie Betts, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, Fred Lynn, Roger Clemens, Carlton Fisk, Jacoby Ellsbury, Nomar Garciaparra, Anthony Rizzo, Dwight Evans and Brady Anderson. The Marlins, Rays, White Sox, Orioles and Diamondbacks round out the bottom 5. This information is available on my Baseball Analytics website, divided into 3 posts (amateur draft picks, amateur free agents, and players acquiring via other transaction types). There is a link to the top 10 players for each franchise / transaction type.
What projects are you working on currently? Do you have another book in the works?
I am presently working on the second half of my Hardball Architects series. Volume 1 (American League Teams) was published in July 2020 with Volume 2 (National League Teams) targeted for an early 2022 release. Unlike Hardball Retrospective which employed a “what-if” scenario and discussed teams as if the “original” players actually remained with their respective clubs throughout the duration of their MLB careers, Hardball Architects takes a deeper look into the transactions that shaped organizations
from year to year. I’m looking at performance by decade, drilling down into the “hits and misses” by front offices, and presenting the data in a variety of tables and charts to highlight best/worst trades, free agent signings and draft picks. Gains and losses in WAR and Win Shares are assessed on a yearly basis. Hardball Architects – Volume 1 features an interview with former Dodgers’ GM Fred Claire while Volume 2 incorporates conversations with former Angels GM Mike Port and current Reds VP/GM Nick Krall.
What statistics do you feel are the most valuable when determining a player’s overall value?
I’m partial to Win Shares in terms of comparing historical contributions over the course of a career or a subset of seasons. When I’m drafting players or making deals for my fantasy teams, I’m looking for players who are durable (plate appearances or innings pitched across several seasons) along with OBP, SLG, WHIP, BB9 and SO9.
Much of your work is very statistics based. As someone who understands the meaning behind so many numbers, which of the following players, if any, do you feel belong in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame: Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich, Roger Maris, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Tommy John, and/or Don Mattingly?
You could potentially make a case for Mattingly, Randolph, John and Nettles but ultimately I believe each of them fall just a bit short. All were excellent players and deserve high praise for their careers.
Why, do you believe, are people so drawn to baseball and its stories, legends, and people?
People can relate to the amount of work involved as ballplayers strive to become the best in their field and overcome the odds to play in the Major Leagues. They can cheer for a top prospect or a career minor leaguer. You can become deeply involved, following every transaction along with your favorite team’s minor league system, or simply kick back and enjoy a day at the park, listen to a radio broadcast or follow your ball club on TV. Fantasy leagues can enhance the experience, enabling the fan to become an owner / general manager of their own “team”. The day-to-day grind of the 162-game season requires commitment on a deeper level than most of the other major sports and therefore the fan develops a greater respect and knowledge of the game.
There’s a lot of talk about baseball needing to be “fixed.” Is baseball broken? If you were the Commissioner of Baseball what change(s) if any would you make to the current game?
I always enjoyed spending a day at the ballpark. Many of the attempts to speed up the game don’t really appeal to me and haven’t made a significant difference in the average time of game. I am in favor of earlier start times, especially during the playoffs. Implement the designated hitter in the National League. One of the best rule changes in recent memory is the change in 2020 to the suspended-game rule which allows a game to be suspended and resumed at a later date. Previously, the rule stated “if a regular season game was terminated early before becoming official, the results up to the point of the termination did not count and the game was started over at a later date.” The old rule was patently unfair in my opinion as a number of home runs and other feats vanished from the official record (Retrosheet has a list of “lost home runs” due to weather here -> https://www.retrosheet.org/losthr.htm#Weather).
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?
I enjoy reading books in which many players are interviewed, such as The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter or We Played the Game by Danny Peary. Particularly I love to read stories from some of the more obscure players. I would like to read more about players who spent most if not all of their careers in the minor leagues. Another subject of interest is managerial strategy. Weaver on Strategy and 3 Nights in August come to mind. I have read all of the Baseball Abstracts and Bill James’ classics multiple times.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
Who was your favorite player?
Rod Carew. When Carew retired, I became a Wally Joyner fan. Currently it’s Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
What is your most prized collectible?
I collected autographs through the mail for my three children back in the mid-2000’s. Fred Lynn personalized each card and a number of my childhood heroes responded with signed cards as well.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
Raised on MTV in the Eighties – my big three are Duran Duran, Journey and the Police. My wife introduced me to Depeche Mode so they are also featured on my playlist now.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
I’ve always been a fan of breakfast foods – scrambled eggs and bacon, pancakes, or anything with peanut butter!
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –
I would encourage your audience to check out my Baseball Analytics website and join my Facebook group of the same name. We have daily trivia posts and converse about Sabermetrics, collectibles and baseball history.
Thank you so much Derek. This was great. All my best to you, always. Please keep in touch!