Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Book Review: The Bill James Handbook 2007 

I am not entirely sure how to go about reviewing the new Bill James Handbook. There is precious little writing on James part and the book itself doesn’t change that much from year-to-year. It would be tempting to simply reprint my review from last year and see if anyone would notice, but I won’t. The 2007 Bill James Handbook does contain a number of critical differences from the 2006 edition. The Handbook is a product that James refines year-after-year to make it more informative, more interesting and a better tool for bloggers.

I’ll focus in on a few things of note to me. First, the Phillies own Ryan Howard is on the cover. So you ought to buy it.

Second, the data sets are familiar to anyone who has read the Handbook in the past. Little changed, they give us the core information about each player very well.

Third, every year James refines what he’s written and expands on ideas he’s developed. This year James has expanded on something he first added in the 2006 book, an analysis of base-running. Gone are the confusing percentage information, replaced by bases gained in a plus / minus format and a fuller analysis of base-running outs. I enjoyed the amendments and found them easier to understand. My only beef is that James lists what everyone did as individuals. I’m dying to know how teams did at particular phases of base-running. Are the Phillies a good base-running team? I have no clue, because I don’t have the energy to sit down and tabulate up all of the pluses and minuses each team has.

Another section James fleshed out is Manager’s tactics, which I actually found to be almost as interesting and informative as base-running. James kept the same stats he’s kept track of like defensive substitutions, relief pitchers used, etc., but also added a section breaking down thoughts on what each stat can suggest about a manager’s thinking (e.g., making a number of defensive substitutions can suggest an interest in defense), and he also added “runners moving” at the pitch, which is a good clue as to whether a manager is a small-ball hit-and-run guy or not.
Fourth, James added a new section which I trust he’ll expand upon into the future: manufacturing runs. This is sort of the new, cutting-edge piece of information James is exploring and I am very eager to see where he goes with in the future. I’ll let everyone else read James definitions of “manufactured runs” and decide for themselves if they like the definition or not. I generally do and I found it to be enormously informative. In the future I’d like to see James expand his definitions and tell us what teams have done historically.

Along with those additions are James usual pearls of information, including Park Factors, Lefty/Righty stats, 2007 projections, etc. Where else can you learn that Ryan Howard has a 2% chance of breaking Hank Aaron’s record of 756 home runs?

Are there things I’d like to see in the Handbook? Absolutely. James reworked his Range Factor stat to be more accurate and deal with many of the problems associated with RF, like pitching tendencies. Relative Range Factor (RRF) was included in the Fielding Bible, which was published last February, but is absent here. As I noted before, I’d like to see base-running and manufactured runs expanded a little more. Blink at the start and you’ll miss John Dewan’s brief talk about fielding stats which goes by far too briefly.

But that said, I find more reasons than ever to recommend the Bill James Handbook to those who read this blog. Nowhere else can you get this kind of information, this kind of knowledge that the casual fan simply doesn’t care about or understand. So read the Handbook and revel in the knowledge that you are one of the select few that see a different game than what everyone else sees.

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