December 16, 2007
The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008
Being a big fan of The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2007, I was truly looking forward to reviewing the The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008. And, once done, I was not disappointed.
Following the format of the two annuals that preceded it, The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 provides an extensive review of the past season, essays related to baseball history, features deep-rooted in statistical analysis, and, pages and pages of stats, stats, and more stats.
If The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 was a baseball bat, clearly, the content therein centering on statistical analysis would be the fat part of the bat.
Don't take this to mean that the features on the 2007 season and baseball history were not enjoyable. On the whole, I found them to be interesting and worth reading.
In particular, Dave Studenmund's "The Story Stat," where Dave uses the 2007 season to explain "Win Probability Added" (WPA) and "Leverage Index" (LI) - at a level where the old woman down the street would understand it - was excellent and recommended reading for anyone who does not understand WPA and LI.
And, Will Leitch's "The Deadspin Spin on 2007" was very entertaining - as was "The Months of 2007 in History" by Richard Barbieri.
Further, Chis Jaffe's "Manager Grinders and Boppers" (where Chis, via the stats, shows us who are baseball's true 'small ball' and 'moneyball' managers) is a must read. (Spoiler Alert: Buck Showalter would rather lose a finger than risk giving up an out.)
More so, it's a matter of the (deep) "statistical analysis" features being so off-the-charts in terms of value that they bring cause for you wanting more of them and less of the other (non-stats based) content in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008.
Mitchel Lictman's "Signals and Noise" (where he shows us which teams under- and over-performed in 2007), Tom Tango's "With or Without You" (where he uses the stats to determine the best fielding catchers in baseball history), David Gassko's "Do Managers Matter?" (where he details which skippers actually help or hurt their teams), and John Walsh's "The Origin of the Platoon Advantage" (where he shows us that it's actually the fastball and the slider that lead to large platoon splits - and not the not the curveball or the change), were so outstanding that they alone make The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 a worthy purchase.
To be fair, not every feature in the analysis section was as attention-grabbing as those noted above. Personally, I found Tom Tango's "With or Without...Derek Jeter" (where he uses a new look to show Jeter's lack of fielding skill) and Vince Gennaro's "The Dollar Value of Player Development" (where he makes a case for player development being "the lifeblood of an MLB franchise") to be somewhat like beating old drums, albeit using a new stick, and playing a song that we've all heard before...many times.
However, again, the "great to good" to "O.K. to boring" ratio for the statistical features in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 is very heavy on the "great to good" side. By far, these features put a great swing on the ball and make solid contact many, many, more times than not.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the "stats" in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 - as more than half of the book is pages full of statistics.
In a nutshell, the "Statistics" section of The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 is, well, it's the data that you pray the G.M. of your favorite baseball team has at their fingertips, understands, and uses when making decisions. The statistics provided are both ground-breaking and illuminating.
For example, as noted in the book, Jose Contreras had an ERA of 5.57 in 189 innings pitched last season. Ask 99 out of 100 baseball fans and they will tell you that Contreras was a terrible pitcher in 2007.
However, as the statistics in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 show us, Jose's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) - meaning strikeouts, walks and homers allowed - was not very out of line for him. Also, his Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) - meaning the percentage of times a batted ball was turned into an out by his fielders - was third worst in the league. Further, 68% of Contreras' ground balls allowed went for outs - compared to the league average of 74% - and Jose gave up more runs per grounder compared to the average big league pitcher. Via the stats in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 you can see that Jose Contreras was not a very lucky pitcher in 2007.
You just can't get stats like these in very many places - which makes The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 incredibly unique and useful.
When you factor in the retail price of $19.95, there's really no excuse for a zealous baseball fan not to pick up The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008. (And, if you know a baseball fan, and are looking to buy them a gift this holiday season, you will do no wrong by getting them this book.)
In 2005, I wrote:
I highly recommend The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006. I've read many books like this over the last 25 years and this one is right up there among the best of the group.
And, in 2006, I wrote:
The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2007 is batting 1.000 - in terms of providing great and ground-breaking baseball analysis. It's a worthy pick-up.
Having now read The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008, in summary, I have to "borrow" from what I wrote about its predecessors and say:
I've read many books like this over the last quarter-century and this one is right up there among the best of the group. In terms of providing great and ground-breaking baseball analysis, The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 is an excellent learning tool and valuable resource. I highly recommend it.
Posted by Steve Lombardi at December 16, 2007 09:41 AM
Thanks for the review; I put it on my list!
It's amazing how well the numbers match up and work themselves out in baseball. It's a very tidy game.
I couldn't agree more. This book is a remarkable achievement: cutting edge work in sabermetrics presented straight with no smug arrogance. It bothers me that this book seems to be overlooked as the inferior Baseball Prospectus gets the mainstream attention.
You can get it for $13.57 on Amazon; at that price especially, there's no excuse for a serious baseball fan to not own this book.