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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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

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.


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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Faces, Part I: So Taguchi 

Time to look at some of the Phillies new faces and new reserve outfielder So Taguchi is a great place to start. The 38-year old Taguchi was part of the St. Louis Cardinals 2006 World Series winning team and might help to bring some veteran leadership to a team that is comparatively young.

What are the Phillies getting in Taguchi? Well, they are getting a guy who is versatile. In 2006 Taguchi played 63 games in centerfield, 41 in leftfield, 8 in rightfield, pinch-hit 38 times, pinch-ran 8 times and also played a game at second base. Not bad. Defensively Taguchi is pretty solid, making a lot of plays on balls hit near or outside of his zone in 2007. Expect to see Taguchi a lot in 2008 as a defensive substitution for Pat Burrell in left.

The Phillies also are getting a guy who is a solid contact kind of hitter. Taguchi struck-out just 9% of the time he strode to the plate, about twice as good as the N.L. average. To be sure, the Phillies aren’t getting someone who is going to swat 30+ home runs – Taguchi’s isolated power at the plate registered just .078, which is pretty bad. Taguchi got some hits and drew some walks in 2007. Taguchi’s biggest plus is his speed. In his career to date he’s swiped 36 bases in 48 tries, a good 75% success rate.

One red flag: 50% of Taguchi’s balls put into play were groundballs in 2006 (MLB average: 43%). As a consequence, Taguchi grounded into ten double plays in 2007, a relatively high number for a guy who had just 340 plate appearances.

Finally, the Phillies are getting a guy who isn’t white or black. The Phillies were the last N.L. team to integrate and their refusal to do so crippled the team and prevented it from contending in the 1950’s. The team’s historical race relations haven’t been good. Asian-American fans and Asian markets are going to be enormous in the coming decades in baseball and it makes sense for the Phillies to be a part of that and recruit Asian players. I’m not laboring under the delusion that millions of Japanese baseball fans are going to be at bars in Tokyo shrieking: “Taguchi!” but it is nice to see the Phillies diversify their lineup a little.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Book Review: The Bill James Handbook 2008 

I got the 2008 Bill James Handbook for Christmas and spent the ensuing days after Christmas tearing through it, checking out what is new and interesting. This is my review …

For those curious, the Handbook is very unlike the Baseball Abstracts that James used to write in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Whereas the Abstracts were full of little written blurbs by James on various topics, the Handbook is wall-to-wall information. There is very little in the way of actual writing, but it is, for me, the indispensable tool that I utilize to make this blog happen. There is information and new ways of looking at things that are vital to my blogging.

The main section, the player register, is largely unchanged from years past, listing hits, runs, RBI, Wins & Losses, etc. although with some sabremetric information (Runs Created for position players, Component ERA for pitcher, for example), before the book moves onto the stuff that really interests me:

Player Baserunning is in the book for the third year in a row and James continues to refine his research. James separates base-stealing from base-running (advancing from first to third, making outs on the basepaths, etc.) and actually gives us team totals, something that I complained that the 2007 book lacked. This is an interesting topic and I look forward to seeing where James goes with it in the future.

For the second year in a row, James has a discussion on the idea of Manufactured Runs, which looks at how many runs teams score off of Small Ball strategies like bunting and base-stealing (Type-1) and off of strategies like aggressive base-running and sacrifice flies (Type-2). This is an interesting section chiefly because James now notes how many Manufactured Runs a team surrendered and how many the Top 3 individual players contribute from each team. I hold out hopes that in the future James will give us the Manufactured Runs for each player individually.

After that, James made adjustments to the Manager Index, now noting how manager’s intentional walk strategies turn out (Good, Not Good, and Bomb). I think it is an interesting way of trying to give the reader concrete results of strategies that Managers embark on.

After that, player projections for 2008, park factors (always an interesting topic for Phillies fans because of Citizens Bank Ballpark), fielding stats, etc.

This is not a book for the average baseball fan. James is pitching this book to one market only – the hard-core baseball fanatic who wants to know how often Charlie Manuel utilized pinch runners in 2007 (A: 56, most in the National League). I find the information invaluable because it gives me real insight into the strategies of teams, what works and doesn’t work, etc. Without the Bill James Handbook, this would be a very dull blog.


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