I was also happy to find some of the early articles by Bill James, the father of modern baseball stat-geekery. James had trouble selling articles to mainstream baseball publications, eventually starting his self-published “Baseball Abstract” to write the essays and studies that Sporting News and Baseball Digest wouldn’t publish. But before that, he did manage to get a couple of articles into BD, including two that deal with very important stat-head subjects: how to compare statistics from different eras in the game, and how to evaluate fielding performance.
A 1975 article about a statistical method for judging a player’s performance relative to the overall standards of the league. (This is, of course, the only way to compare performance from different eras: a .300 average in one era means something very different from a .300 average in another.)
This 1976 article called “Big League Fielding Stats Do Make Sense!,” where he argued (as Branch Rickey and others had already argued; James didn’t invent these ideas, just helped to mainstream them) that errors were basically meaningless as a measure of fielding skill, and that a more important measure was how many plays a fielder does make, which he called the “range factor,” an estimate of how much ground the fielder covers. James and other stat-heads later admitted that this too was a very flawed measure, since the number of plays a fielder makes is partly dependent on who the other fielders are and what kind of pitchers the team has — but at least it was a start.