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November 07, 2007

The Bill James Baseball Handbook 2008

For 13 years, STATS Inc. published the STATS Major League Handbook. However, in the fall of 2002, STATS Inc. all but suspended its publishing operation. At that time, it had appeared that 2002 would be the end of the Major League Handbook (that so many had grown fond of over time). However, in June of 2003, thanks to the good folks at Baseball Info Solutions and Acta Publications, The Bill James Handbook (as this grand annual was renamed) reappeared on the scene - and it has continued to be available in the years to follow.

On November 1, 2007, The Bill James Handbook 2008 was released.

As usual, this version of the Handbook contains team statistics from last season - including Bill James' Team Efficiency Summary, a register of career stats for everyone who played in the majors this past year, 2007 fielding stats - including the 2007 Fielding Bible Awards, manager records and tendencies, park data, player splits, leader boards, win shares data, and 2008 player projections.

In addition, this version of the Handbook contains some new and expanded features. These include:

* Bill James' Young Talent Inventory - with good grades for the Rockies, D-Rays and D-backs...and bad grades for the Astros, Cubs and Tigers.

* Bill James' Manufactured Run Analysis - which notes that, last season, manufacturing runs was slightly more a trait of successful teams than preventing teams from scoring them.

* Bill James' Player & Team Baserunning Analysis - that shows why Mike Cameron is the king of going first to third and why Jason Varitek is a station-to-station guy...and that the Angels, as a team, will first to third you to death whereas the Astros killed themselves on the bases as a team.

Granted, in the past, the STATS Major League Handbook had an edge that is no longer available for The Bill James Handbook. Both books provide reams and reams of great baseball data and were/are the earliest "baseball annual" each year. For the STATS Major League Handbook, these two wrinkles were a major draw as, at that time, there were not web-sites that provided (both traditional and sabermetric) baseball data on a real-time basis. Nor, for the most part, were there software programs that contained this information. Therefore, if you wanted baseball data like this, and you wanted it "ASAP," the STATS Major League Handbook was your source.

However, while not having an edge in terms of exclusive data and publication timing, The Bill James Handbook does provide you with something unique - call it a serendipitous benefit - with its retro-style media format. In simple words: It's a book!

Being a book, you can do something with The Bill James Handbook that you can't do with a web-site or software program - meaning you can read it...like a book.

You can sit with it for an hour, or just a few minutes, and no matter how much time you spend when looking at the Handbook, you will find abundant nuggets of baseball enlightenment and amusement. With every turn of a page - albeit if you start at the first page of it or just pick a starting page at random - you can begin a fun journey into the land of baseball statistics. And, again, because it's a book, The Bill James Handbook lends itself towards being used in locations and/or times, and in a way, that web-sites and/or software programs cannot provide the same satisfying results.

Think of it this way: You need a screw-driver. You know where to find it. It's in a tool-box on a shelf in your garage. So, you go exactly there, and get the exact screw-driver that you need. That's nice and satisfying feeling. You have a need, you know the best place to address it, and it's easy to complete that need at that place.

Now, think about this situation: You have some time to kill. Just for the heck of it, you go for a walk in the neighborhood. As you are strolling, you run into an old friend that you haven't seen in years. You talk to them and start to realize how much they had to offer in terms of enjoying their company. Then, as you're talking, someone that you never noticed before comes by and joins your conversation - and you start to realize that this new person also offers insight that is something that you never thought of...and, you find it useful and enjoyable as well.

Both of these situations benefit you. But, going for that screw-driver is not going to deliver the same benefit that you get from that random and chance meeting with old and new friends. And, chances are, if you needed a screw-driver, the best route was that direct line to that tool-box on a shelf in your garage - rather than hoping you might find one, or run into someone with one, if you went for a walk around the block.

Still with me? What I'm trying to say here is that using a web-site or software program to get baseball data, is like the screw-driver situation. If you know what you need (or want), specifically, and you know the quickest place to get it, then going there makes sense. However, if you're looking to take some time, and allow yourself to find something - that you're not specifically looking for - and want it to be a positive experience, then a more indirect and broader route is the better way to go...like taking that walk and rolling with chance meetings...or like picking up The Bill James Handbook, reading it, and seeing what you'll find out.

It's for this latter reason that I highly recommend The Bill James Handbook 2008. Just don't get it for all the great data and analysis that's inside it - get it because of the way in which it can be used...and enjoyed...in a manner that only a book can provide.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at November 7, 2007 09:25 PM


Bill James is very informative and intelligent and his principles have helped the Boston Red Sox win 2 World Series in 4 years(albeit with non-Sabremetric adjustments made by Epstein and company).I have always found the "monkeyball'(coined by Brian Sabean to be fundamentally flawed because it is one part of an entire picture.Where is the psychological element that helped build the 96 Yankees (that Stick emphasized)?A bunt can be a productive out AND unsettling psychologically to an American League team,witness American league team's defense in reference to bunt or infield single type of situations(in interleaugue or the World Series) and see how much that can effect a team.On the whole,James is a very fascinating read and I believe has enriched the minds of GMs everywhere,the caveat being is that his philosophy is only one side of the coin,but what a side it has become!

Posted by: butchie22 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2007 10:31 AM

Based on the interview excerpt below, James seems to indicate that, to some extent, he agrees with you on the sacrifice bunt. James has shown himself to be significantly more flexible and less dogmatic than some of his followers:

[T]he general argument against the bunt seems unpersuasive to me. The essential argument against the bunt is that the number of expected runs scored after a bunt attempt goes down in almost all situations when a bunt is used, and the expectation of scoring one run goes up only in a few situations.

But this argument is unpersuasive, to me, because it assumes that there are two possible outcomes of a bunt: a “successful” bunt, which trades a base for and out, and an “unsuccessful” bunt, which involves an out with no gain. In reality, there are about a dozen fairly common outcomes of a bunt attempt. The most common of those is a foul ball, but others include a base hit, a fielder’s choice/all safe, a pop out, a pop out into a double play, an error on the third baseman, and a hit plus an error on the third baseman, or the second baseman if you’re talking about a drag bunt.

Some of those outcomes are reasonably common, and others are quite significant even if they are statistically uncommon. For example, if there is a 2% chance that the third baseman will field the bunt and throw it up the first base line, that has a huge impact on the calculations, even though it is only a 2% chance. It seems to me that the argument against the bunt is unpersuasive unless you account for the entire range of reasonably common outcomes.

... [W]e are in danger of replacing one dogma with another. And the analysis is not strong enough to justify that.

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 8, 2007 11:34 AM