Friday, January 19, 2007
Why do I like The Hardball Times? Interesting information presented in a well-written format on a lot of different subjects, as well as a reservoir of stats and information I cannot get anywhere else. So you can imagine my absolute joy when I opened my gifts on Christmas morning and discovered that Santa (a.k.a., my wife) had decided to buy me The Hardball Times 2007 Annual. Jam-packed with graphs and information, it took me days to devour and compress. I have a few thoughts:
The book is written by The Hardball Times staff, with contributing material from people like ESPN’s Rob Neyer and Baseball Information Solutions (BIS) John Dewan, amongst others. The book itself is divided into several sections, starting with overviews of the 2006 season, analysis of the season, some interesting historical data, followed by non-season specific analysis, and then stats.
The stats are generally what you are used to getting on The Hardball Times website, with much more depth. Interestingly, they list month-to-month FIP and DER, stats I would love to have access to during the heart of the season.
The real heart of the book however is the analysis in the preceding pages. Particular pieces I found of interest: Dave Gassko’s piece starting on page 94 about the most valuable pitchers of all-time (note, four Phillies appear in the Top 25: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and Curt Schilling); Bryan Tsao’s "Anatomy of a Champion", a fascinating look at how the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals were created; and John Walsh’s piece on the best outfield arms of all-time. All informative, all interesting, all added to my understanding of the game of baseball. But there is something missing here.
What do I mean? I think Michael Lewis in Moneyball correctly identified what set Bill James apart from everyone else when he wrote about James’ outrage at the fielding percentage stat in the original Baseball Abstract in 1977. James’ outrage and eloquent assault on fielding percentage was what made him different from everyone else, he saw through the surface of the problem and grasped the corruption at the core of the idea and, in eloquence and with great clarity of thought, he proposed a radical idea that both shook the foundation of our understanding of the game and proposed a bold new direction.
I’d like to see more of that outrage from The Hardball Times. I’d like to see that kind of bold thinking. Don’t get me wrong: I am a huge fan of the work that The Hardball Times crew did with their Annual this season, but I think they are capable of that sort of work, that sort of thinking. I want to see a piece of such clarity and passion that I am blown away by what I read, rather than nodding my head and being pleasantly informed.
Recently Robert Kaplan, a journalist and military affairs expert I read often, wrote an article praising the famous Greek historian Herodotus, an emotional historian with a definite, biased point of view over fellow Greek historian Thucydides, the more traditional, scientific student of history. (see, "A Historian For Our Time") Kaplan argued that Herodotus captured the passion that helps history tells us what the past was really like, and that Herodotus’ world of bigotry and religious hatred is more relevant to us today than Thucydides world of reason and restraint. Kaplan wrote: “Thucydides gives us a distilled rendition of the facts, Herodotus a sparkling impression of what lies just beyond them.” I’d love to see that sparkling voice here in the pages of The Hardball Times Annual in 2008. Some sort of passionate, angry voice would engage readers and set The Hardball Times Annual apart from nearly everything else on the internet or sitting on the bookshelves. Bill James wrote his Baseball Abstracts with a biased point of view that grasped the essential facts that lay at the core of the game. The Hardball Times Annual is well-written, reasoned and insightful, but I wish it had that voice that James brought to baseball in the 1970s and 1980s, and that Herodotus brought to history 2,500 years ago.
More Herodotus, less Thucydides. Have a good weekend and see you on Monday with a look at the Phillies minor leagues in 2006.