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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Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Review: The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 

For the second year in a row I got The Hardball Times Baseball Annual for Christmas. This is a book that I love getting and find very interesting but (and I think I made this point last year) it just doesn’t get where it is aiming.

The Hardball Times is the primary website I read for information, argument and stats on baseball. I like THT stats more than ESPN.com or Yahoo! Sports (ESPN.com lost credibility for me by never updating their formula for Runs Created and by removing fielding stats for the longest time) and I find many of THT essay’s to be insightful and interesting. The Baseball Annual is THT’s effort to put out a piece of work that calls to mind the glories of Bill James Baseball Abstracts in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when James dazzled baseball readers with fun, interesting and always insightful writing. I can’t say the same for THT, although this year’s Annual is a little bolder, a little more fresh in its writing. James wrote in a vernacular that the average fan could understand while still talking to the hard-core baseball fan. The Baseball Annual is still a book for the hardened fan, by the hardened fan.

The Baseball Annual begins with a lengthy overview of the 2007 season division-by-division before moving into analysis, some history and commentary, before we get the stats. The analysis and commentary sections are interesting if a little dry. Don’t pass up Bill James essay on clutch hitting, which is thought-provoking and interesting all at the same time.

I really liked the historical section once more. Last season featured a terrific essay on the Federal league, the short-lived league that competed with the N.L. and A.L. in the mid-1910’s (largely causing Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s juggernaut to collapse) before failing. This season features an interesting profile of 1940’s St. Louis Cardinals skipper Billy Southworth, noting Southworth’s tendancies and skills (although the profile, authored by Jon Daly, oddly seems to end in mid-sentence) and also has a terrific – and timely – article about the MLB Players Association and its struggles in the aftermath of the 1994 players strike. The article, written by John Brattain, is insightful, well-written and very interesting with a dynamic point. This is the sort of writing that I wish the Baseball Annual would always feature.

Statistically, we get to take a look at a few new things in 2007. A welcome addition is the tabulation of Base Runs, a stat developed by Dave Smyth that is generally considered to be Bill James Runs Created’s primary competitor. What I don’t like: I’ll say this again, I’m not sure what THT’s Pitching Runs Created is supposed to measure, so it is a stat that I typically ignore.

This is the second year in a row I got the Baseball Annual. I intend on buying it again in 2008. The information it contains is interesting and valuable, and I think the quality of THT’s writing in the Annual is getting better and better. As they continue to find their voice, I’ll keep reading and some day, maybe next year, I’ll give their work an A instead of a B+, which is what I am giving them this year.


Mike, thanks a lot for the review. Great feedback.

Pitching Runs Created is the total contribution of a pitcher, expressed as if he were a hitter. It does what RSAA of ERA+ is supposed to do, only the methodology is much more solid. It's expressed as Runs Created, so that you can compare a pitcher's contribution directly to a batter's.

If I only had one stat to rate a pitcher, this is the one I would pick.

Let me know if you're still not sure what the intent of the stat is.
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