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Neyer's methods differ from his mentor's in other ways. He draws substantial traffic to his Web site, robneyer.com, on which he supplements his ESPN work with follow-up pieces on his books and a Royals-related commentary shared with Baseball Prospectus editor Rany Jazayerli. James has never created a Web site.
Whereas James releases his observations in the off season, ensuring that he has a 162-game sample from which to draw his statistics, Neyer comments at least twice a week on the Royals' activities. This gives an immediacy to his recommendations. "I'm angry because a pitcher with a 7.00 ERA [Chris George] has started 17 games for the Royals and is, by all indications, still in the rotation," Neyer wrote on July 6. "I'm angry because the Royals continue to employ a medical staff that's displayed absolutely zero ability to keep baseball players healthy. And I'm angry because the 'fans' in Kansas City don't seem to have noticed the standings lately."
Neyer's pace also gives him plenty of occasions to admit he's wrong, something James seldom has to do because he has all the facts by the time he writes his year-end player critiques. Months ago, Neyer called for pitcher Darrell May's release. Recently, he called the team's fifth starter "pretty damn impressive."
With two opinionated baseball experts sharing one Lawrence office for years, sparks could have flown, but Neyer says heated baseball disputes seldom occurred. When they did, James preferred to solve them with impromptu studies rather than passionate rhetoric.
"I remember when the Royals picked up Kevin McReynolds in a trade, and I thought this was one of the great moves ever for them because they needed a left fielder who could hit," Neyer says. "Bill was very skeptical. He disappeared into his office for the afternoon and came out with a giant printout of this study he'd done in that four-hour period that showed players like McReynolds don't age well and that at his age he shouldn't be expected to do much. That's exactly what he did -- not much."
Such studies could have helped the Royals avoid expensive mistakes. But the team's front office never wooed James -- a fan since the team's inception.
So James went to the Red Sox, the owner of which, John Henry, had read his work and was willing to try radical approaches. Henry, who was overseeing the Florida Marlins at the time, makes a cameo appearance in Michael Lewis' best seller Moneyball as a rare example of an enlightened owner. A self-made millionaire who created his fortune in the financial sector, Henry wrote a letter to Neyer in 2002, which Lewis excerpts, about the inefficiencies in baseball and the stock market.
"People in both fields operate with beliefs and biases," Henry wrote. "To the extent you can eliminate both and replace them with data, you gain a clear advantage."
Last fall, Henry attempted to make Billy Beane, the stat-savvy Oakland A's general manager on whom Moneyball is centered, the highest-paid GM in the history of the game. Beane rejected the offer, so Henry hired Theo Epstein, a 28-year-old Yale graduate who was also receptive to James' work. Over the winter, the Henry/Epstein/James brain trust acted on such unorthodox concepts as a "bullpen by committee," which follows the principles James outlines in a Historical Baseball Abstract section titled "Valuing Relievers." James concludes that relievers are most valuable pitching in a tied game in the eighth or ninth, when allowing a run is most costly. "The traditional construction of bullpens in recent years has been focused on protecting the lead, when the most important situation a bullpen faces is a tie game," James writes.