the alternative to good statistics is not “no statistics,” it’s bad statistics. People who argue against statistical reasoning often end up backing up their arguments with whatever numbers they have at their command, over- or under-adjusting in their eagerness to avoid anything systematic, Bill James
On his blog, Gelman notes two characteristics of James approach
– Controlled comparisons: Instead of comparing simple aggregates, be more careful and make comparisons on pairs or groups of similar players or teams. … From the standpoint of applied statistics, controlled comparisons combine the averaging that you get from having a moderate or large sample size with the insight that comes from understanding individual cases
– Conceptual models used as guides to comparisons: James has written many times that he does not study statistical questions, he studies baseball questions. Each analysis is grounded in some goal.
There is more of interest. A take home point is that James understands the domain, thinks about the domain, and builds conceptual models. Statistics is not just about the numbers, it’s about the relationships.