Still basking in the new-season smell of Opening Day 2008, I thought it best to start with a book that certainly has the power to affect how you look at baseball past, present and future: The Bill James Goldmine 2008.
If you’re not familiar with Bill James, well, shame on you. OK, enough with the chastising.
James – currently the Senior Baseball Operations Advisor for the Boston Red Sox, and who some consider to be the architect of the Red Sox’ two World Series victories – has been in the baseball numbers game since the late 1970s. (Not that numbers game…the stat numbers game.)
He first began by doubting the numbers that the baseball establishment had considered to be indicators of talent — win-loss records, ERA, batting average and so forth. While he passed time as the night watchman for a food manufacturing plant in Kansas, he crunched numbers and looked for trends that other people weren’t seeing.
Fast forward to 2008, and James has kept at the number crunching, revisiting topics and exploring new ones – which thus has produced The Bill James Goldmine 2008, a 317-page volume that will definitely give you something to think about.
For instance – which team had the best batting average in games that they lost? Or which team had the worst batting average when they won? James will tell you – and he’ll also share what he thinks it means – which is of course subject to change with more research and analysis.
There are lots of topics that James discusses – which are interspersed among team-by-team analysis, which bring James’ work home to your favorite club. Sometimes he’ll confirm your suspicions, sometimes he’ll deny them, but most times he’ll give you new things to be suspicious about. Or at least some fodder for the next rain delay you find yourself sitting through.
Did you ever find yourself wondering if players try and reach certain numerical plateaus? For instance, hitting .300, driving in 100 runs, or striking out 200 batters? Are there certain ones that matter more than others? So has Bill James – and the answers are in the book.
Likewise — which players accumulated the most “Cigar Points” in history — an unofficial award given to the player that comes “close, but no cigar” to as many significant statistical numbers in a season.
The information in the book is not only thought provoking, but it’s insightful and for the first-time Bill James reader, will expose you to a new way at looking at the game with an eye for statistical analysis.
This is definitely not something that will appeal to the casual fan. If you don’t know what the score is without having to looking at the scoreboard when you’re at a game – most of James’ writing will be met with a “huh” or “so what?” And that’s fine — there’s nothing wrong with that. But if after reading some of the questions above and you don’t find yourself interested in the answers, this isn’t the book for you.
However, if you are interested in the answers — you’ll get a thoroughly enjoyable read out of The Bill James Goldmine. As like most of James’ work – this will appeal to the seamheads and stat freaks that want to delve into the numbers and look at trends potential relationships between the way players perform and ultimately their team’s results on the field.
If you lean towards the casual fan end of the spectrum, I’m challenging you to at least take a look through the book and see what you think and if it interests you. Some, maybe even most of the book won’t make sense right out of the gate – and that’s fine. But maybe one of the articles will peak your interest, and you’ll delve into the topic a little deeper. I think you’ll find that if you’re ultimately interested in determining why teams win ballgames and what each individual does to contribute to those wins, you’ll enjoy this book at one level or another.
For the stats fans – this is a definite addition to the bookshelf. For the casual fan who isn’t afraid of some numbers and analysis, it’s my hope that you’ll pick it up and peruse the pages.
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