Tag Archives: ACTA Sports

The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009

The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009

Here we are mired in the middle of the off-season, constantly checking our team’s pots and pans on the Hot Stove to see if anything is cooking, done, or in some cases, smells fishy.

While players are only a few weeks away from reporting to Spring Training and are undoubtedly hard at work in the weight room, baseball fans who think that there is more to baseball than what h-appens in between $8 beers and wiping your kid’s nose will want to check out The Hardball Times’ Baseball Annual 2009.

It’s not fair to compare this to say, the Bill James Handbook, but it is crafted in the same vain – trying to provide analysis of the game that will give everyone from MLB executives to fans new and improved metrics by which to evaluate players and their performance.

What is different about this from James’ book is simply the sheer volume of text. I like to consider myself a fairly quick reader, and this seemed to take me quite a while to get through – and don’t even think of jumping into it without having had a stiff cup of coffee prior and eliminating any and all distractions and interruptions. This is some serious heavy lifting.

But that’s not all bad provided you’re up for the task of taking it on. There are articles that will have more relevance to you than others – depending on how much you want to read about your favorite team versus other teams, or take on topics such as Mike Piazza’s career numbers and his Hall of Fame credentials, or an in-depth look at Pat Gillick, former GM of the Phillies, Blue Jays and Mariners.

The bottom line here is that if you read the book – or even just parts of it, you will learn something, which is something I require of almost every book that crosses my path in order to get a recommendation. There is a wealth of information and insight in its 380 pages – some might even say there is too much, or at least too much for one sitting. This is closer to the equivalent of a college course than a day read, if you ask me. Just be glad they don’t require quizzes and a final exam at the end of it.

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The Bill James Handbook 2009

Time to get back on the horse and talk about some new baseball books…and what better to end the playoff hiatus than the world famous Bill James Handbook 2009.

So assuming you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past 30 years or so, and you have even the slightest interest in statistical analysis and/or fantasy baseball, you know who Bill James is. Hopefully you’ve picked prior versions of this book so it isn’t a completely new topic to you.

But If it is your first encounter with Mr. James’ work – don’t do yourself the disservice of just picking TBJH2009 up and flipping through it. The majority of pages contain statistics and you’ll probably just dismiss it as being an encyclopedia of players’ performance. Not that this isn’t entirely true…but the real key is to understand why the book contains all this data.

James has been at work for 30 years trying to figure out the correlation of numbers to winning. He knew that it wasn’t all about the “traditional” statistics – batting average, win-loss record, and ERA to name a few…he sensed that there was something more out there that could be used as a gauge of a player’s ability to contribute to his team’s ability to win ballgames.

It’s James’ thinking about the relation of statistics to winning that is what deliver the punch of the book. Even though it only occupies a dozen or so pages, his analysis and introduction to certain statistical categories give the numbers context and meaning, and turn them into things that should be thought about as opposed to just looked at.

The first thing that really captured my attention – and this is on page 321, mind you  – is his article on bullpens, specifically his assigning of positions to the pitchers who comprise a bullpen. It’s not fair to compare a utility reliever to a closer – yet the current mainstream thinking does just that. Each pitcher in the bullpen comes into the game in different situations, and James argues that we need to look at their performance on an individual basis while in the context of their role. The Bill James Handbook 2009 provides the tools and instructions for doing just that, and the result is a smarter and more educated fan.

In the same vain of understanding what affects success, James and the crew at Baseaball Info Solutions have provided a tremendous amount of data on managers – how many lineups they use, how quick they are to pull their starting pitchers, and one of my favorites – how successful they are when they call for an intentional walk. Managers tend to be either overlooked or somewhat unfairly criticized, and James reminds the reader that he is there “trying to pollute the discussion of managers with actual facts.”

To James, it’s one thing to suppose something, it’s quite another to actually have numbers and facts that can be used to support tendencies.

What James and his collaborators ultimately are trying to do with The Bill James Handbook 2009 – besides sell books, of course – is to challenge your way of thinking and to take the shackles off your brain and allow you to look at statistics and numbers in a whole new light and not only learn what they think, but possibly discover your own correlations.

For instance – James suggests the possibility of MLB teams “employ(ing) platoon players like Las Vegas employs comedy acts.” He takes two players at the same position who have such polar opposite lefty/righty splits that combining them would be a dream come true – and he subsequently renames the tandem to elicit a decent chuckle from the reader.

The book concludes with two sections that ultimately challenge the reader the most – league leaders and 2009 projections. The former encourages you to look at the top 10 leaders in an array of statistical categories and see which tend to have the most influence on winning; while the latter gives you a glimpse into the future through the eyes of James and his team. You can’t argue with the leaders, yet you can debate the projections until everyone is blue in the face – that is a big part of the appeal.

Not to be left out are the Fielding Bible 2008 awards and a realtively new project that Mr. James has shared with his readers – his Young Talent Inventory, where he attempts to rate the best young players in baseball as well as which team has the best young players in their system. Depending on how your team came out, it could either be a bright spot for the future, or signs of conern if you believe in developing talent and bringing up the future from within your organization.

The Bill James Handbook 2009 is another heavy hitter, particularly when it comes to off-season reading both to recap the 2008 season and look ahead to the 2009 campaign. I’m glad to have my copy ready to go, knowing that it’s assuming it’s rightful position on my desk’s reference shelf.

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Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs – by Bill Chuck and Jim Kaplan

Even though there are still a few weeks to go in the season, the end is coming, and so I’ve gravitated to a few titles that deal with putting a season under wraps.

The first is Walkoffs, Last Licks and Final Outs, by Bill Chuck and Jim Kaplan, a title from the good folks at ACTA Sports that looks at how some of the biggest games and names called it a wrap.

The book, which has chapters looking at pennant races, World Series, perfect games, streaks, stadiums, final goodbyes, Hall of Fame farewells and “The Last Chapter,” does a fairly nice job of summarizing how some big games ended and some big names walked away from the game.

As it recaps some of these stories, the book can lean a bit to the dry side – simply recapping the basic notes that made the games memorable. With stories dating back to the early 1900s, there is a decent amount to sift through, since almost every year is represented.

It took a while to find something a bit deeper that reached my philosophical side — it was page 86, which highlights game 6 of the 1975 World Series between the Reds and Red Sox, where Carlton Fisk hit a 12th inning homerun to win the game, and created a lasting replay of him bouncing up the first base line waving his arms in an attempt to keep the ball fair. It worked, and the game became known to some as the game that saved baseball, as it brought the entertainment value back to the game that had been angering fans with rising free agent salaries.

The authors deflect some of the attention from that game, saying baseball “always survives the sins of those who play it, the men in blue who umpire it, those of us who cover it, those of you who watch it, and especially those who run it.”

It was a shining moment in the book that got me through the balance of it; the lack of analysis or explaining the importance of some of the games left me wanting to understand more about them. Sometimes I want to see major historical importance in every event, even though it’s not always there.

The book came across a bit dry to me just too much – there are a lot of games that just don’t have the significance I look to provide deeper thought and analysis about the game.

One major benefit of the book – it provides a tremendous amount of trivia and “do you remember?” moments. As someone who is always in need of more trivia and talking points, this did provide a nice addition to my inventory and will keep a place on the shelf close to my work area. I don’t doubt for a minute that I’ll be able to reference this book regularly with good results.

Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs would be a fun read for history buffs and those wanting to be reminded of the ways that games, players, and even stadiums ended throughout baseball. I wouldn’t say it’s a must read, but I don’t think you’d be disappointed if you did.

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The Bill James Goldmine 2008 – by Bill James

The Bill James Goldmine 2008

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.

Jump in and join the discussion!

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