Lonnie axed us, on one of the podcasts, how Dr. D begins thinking about a player. "Suppose you've got a new player, Casper Wells. Where do you start?"
We offered a (very) little parable. "Suppose that you heard the Seahawks drafted a player who ran a 4.6 forty," we sez. "What would you think of the player?"
"I'd want to know whether he could catch the ball," sez Lon-man.
"Oh, but we didn't say he was a receiver. He's an offensive lineman. What do you think about a 320-lb. tackle who was clocked at 4.6?"
It's kind of important to know a player's position, ain't it? If there were such a thing as a 4.6 offensive tackle, he'd get drafted 1-1 and inducted into the Hall of Fame before his first game.
... and in baseball, the first thing we want to know is his template. That's not the last thing we want to know, but it's step one.
In the 1985-88 period, Bill James introduced a brilliant concept. He sorted the 100 best pitchers ever into a dozen or so "pitcher families." These families helped us organize our thinking about the processes that these great pitchers used to produce great outcomes. His hope was that --- > by understanding the family to which a young pitcher belonged, we might understand that young pitcher better and predict him better.
James' idea was not to group pitchers by outcomes. You could say that 6k, 3.5bb, 1.1 HR pitchers are a family, I guess, but would you learn anything? Charlie Furbush might be in it, and Trevor Cahill, and Carlos Zambrano, and R.A. Dickey. But is 6/3.5/1.1 a "family"?
What James had in mind was to find skill templates. Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax were "blow 'em away lefties." This family of pitchers tended to jell later, and to hit higher peaks, and to hit and field poorly ...
In Dr. D's mind, this template-grouping was a major breakthrough in sabermetrics. It's the basis of SSI's shtick on player forecasting.
There is an emerging interest, right now, in the Hitter / Pitcher Family paradigm. If you don't mind my saying, as many bullets are zinging backwards into the store as are zinging out into the target range. It seems that it would be helpful to publish a little gun-safety education pamphlet on the subject. ;- )