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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Book Review: The Bill James Handbook 2006 

“Isn’t this stuff available on the internet?"

My wife asked me that when I told her that I wanted The Bill James Handbook 2006 for my birthday two weeks ago. Yes, baseball stats are abundantly available on the internet. For free. So why plunk down $19.95 for a book containing 70-80% of stuff I could get off ESPN.com?

Simple. The Bill James Handbook is the only source for all of the information that is relevant to a baseball fan like myself because the book doesn’t merely contain information, it contains the essence of sabremetrics, the rigorous analysis of numbers telling the observer the ways a player contributed (and how well) to his team’s fortunes. No other source, either in books or on the ‘net, contains more information about the game. This is the bible of the sabremetrician.

I waited a little later to get the Handbook this season (the '05 was a Christmas gift from my wife, and I did get the Handbook for my B-day), but it was definitely worth the wait. Baseball Info Solutions, also the author of the excellent Fielding Bible, has done great work once more. As usual, the core of the book is the career register for active players, updated to include the 2005 campaign. Flip ahead a little and you get to the really fun info: park factors, manager stats and player projections.

I trust James Park Factors more than any other source, including ESPN’s Park Factors page, because James deletes inter-league games that skew numbers because of the use of the designated hitter in AL parks. As always, this year’s park factor numbers will be heavily scrutinized by bloggers and pundits eager to argue about Citizens Bank.

I also love James player predictions section, which this year include pitcher projections. I note that James begins the projections by noting how badly it failed to predict how the Phillies actually turned out in 2005.

Last year the big thing with the 2005 Handbook was James decision to re-do his classic Runs Created stat to give a more sophisticated analysis of how a player contributes runs to his team by emphasizing the idea of advancing runners. This year the big addition to the handbook is James base-running analysis. This is one of those things in the game that tend to be over-looked but are very important. e.g., when I was in little league, during one of the rare times I got on base, I was called out running to second on a pop fly to the centerfielder. Assuming it would be caught, I remained at first. Naturally, it wasn’t (that happened a lot in little league), and I was forced out at second. Bad base-running.

James analyzes all sorts of situations: opportunities to advance from first to third, from second to home, from first to home, and overall how often the individual scored when he got on base, along with the number of times he was thrown out. The numbers for the Phillies yielded some interesting facts. e.g., here is the overall percent of times a Phillies base-runner advanced when he had the opportunity:

Rollins: 51%
Rowand: 50%
Abreu: 48%
Utley: 44%
Bell: 35%
Lieberthal: 35%
Howard: 34%
Burrell: 31%

Some grist for the mill.

This sort of thing is something that is always evolving, always changing and the Handbook is the only place where you can get this stuff. To me, the eight or nine pages dealing with base-running is the poetry in numbers. They tell me volumes about how players perform on the field and they make me think critically about the game that I love.

After I explained all that to my wife, she smiled. And I got the Handbook for my 29th birthday.

Read and enjoy.

Notes: Sorry for the lateness of my post yesterday. I tried publishing at 7 as usual but there was some sort of problem with blogger.

I'm mildly amazed that there was only one home run hit yesterday. Nice 6-5 win to kick off a four game set against the Rocks. I'm eager to see what Gavin Floyd does tonight: he's given up eight earned runs in roughly eight innings at Citizens so far this season. I want to see him get off to a good start and the Rocks are a good team to do that against.

Tomorrow: I'd wade back into the debate over Citizens Bank Ballpark. Should be fun.

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