Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Would Bill James Say?

It's been a week since the 2010 landslide, which seems to have put me in the mood for playing political consultant to both parties.  I can start not with wisdom from political science, but from the great baseball analyst Bill James, who had useful observations about both winners and losers that I think are worth learning from in the political context, even though it's obviously quite different.

About winners, Bill James noted their tendency to invariably keep everyone.  That means not only keeping the good players who would help win the next year, but also the bad players that made winning harder (because you can always remember at least one positive contribution, and you're going to be far more aware of the positives than the negatives); it also meant keeping the players who were useful now, but unlikely to be helpful in the future.  Translated to politics, this suggests that Republicans need to be wary about assuming that everything they did was successful just because they had a good year.  James counsels baseball teams to be ruthless in their self-assessments against the tendency to settle for what worked last time.  Republicans now should do the same.  

For losers, James identified the tendency of fans, and sometimes management, to focus most of their criticism on the stars, on the perceived (or even real) flaws of the very best players.  In the baseball context, this is usually insanely self-destructive.  Does the same thing happen in politics?  Yup.  Is it self-destructive?  Yup.

Now, there are, of course, big differences between sports management and political management.  A team can easily dump a bad outfielder and look for another one; the Republicans can't exactly dump the people who gave them O'Donnell, Buck, and Angle, and the Democrats can't dump the incumbents who made it difficult for mainstream Dems and the White House to carry out the economic recovery program they would have chosen if they had full party discipline.  (Granted, many of those incumbents did get dumped, by voters who seem to care more about economic outcomes than spending restraint).  Still, I suspect that the general advice is useful.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget The Plexiglass Principle, James' colorful way of describing regression to the mean. The republicans seemed to have encountered some lucky breaks & (mostly) avoided injuries this time around which helds explained why they outplayed their Pythagorean record.


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