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Always a great read ... but what happened to the index?
on February 16, 2009
The "Baseball Prospectus" is the best book of its type on the market. It carries on the tradition of the old Bill James "Baseball Abstract" much better than do similar books, including even the new "Bill James Gold Mine." The "Prospectus" contains an overview of every team, reviewing the 2008 season and looking ahead to the likely impact of offseason moves on the 2009 season. It also contains profiles of every player on each team's 40-man roster as well as the team's more promising players in the lower minors. "Lineouts" at the end of each team's entry give brief comments on more marginal players, such as minor leaguers who were once prospects, but whose careers have stalled because of injuries or poor performance. The conventional statistics are given for each player, as well as "translated" statistics that correct for the effects of playing in particular ballparks - such as the boost hitters get from playing in Coors Field in Denver - and several statistics that attempt to provide an estimate of the player's overall value. They also forecast what each player will do during the 2009 season using their PECOTA system. Finally, one fun thing is each player has a list of the four most comparable players in major league history. For instance, the four most comparable players to Ryan Howard are Mike Epstein, Cecil Fielder, David Ortiz, and Jim Gentile. What no Boog Powell or Frank Howard? Overall, it's hard to imagine a more complete overview of major league teams and players.
I have a few quibbles, however. Because different writers handle different teams, the assessments lack the single voice of the old Bill James "Abstracts." For instance, the comment on Edgar Renteria in the Detroit entry offers the opinion that: "The Giants surprised a lot of people by giving him $18.5 million for the next two years, but we've all but given up trying to figure out what the Giants are doing of late." Well, the author of the Giants entry has apparently figured out what the Giants are doing: "While it's easy to laugh at the move because of Renteria's mediocre 2008 season with the Tigers, it's also important to note that even if he's merely adequate again, that's an enormous improvement, perhaps as many as three or four wins, over what they suffered through at short last season."
Then there are the problems with rushing the book into print in early February. They have corrected some of the huge editorial problems of a few years ago, when the book was riddled with typos and some of the team comments were so poorly written as to be almost incoherent. But there are still problems. The most glaring one this year is the failure to include an index. Page ix of the Introduction reassures us that: "If you can't quite remember where a player ended up last September, there's an index in the back." Alas, presumably because of the rush to publish, there is no index this year. I also think some of the entries must be written before the translated statistics, defensive statistics, and comparables have been calculated. This was a problem a couple of years ago when the player comments would refer to a different list of comparables than the ones printed in the book. This year the comments seem to avoid references to the comparables, presumably because the comments were written before the comparables were calculated, but there are still some inconsistencies between the evaluations in the comments and the printed stats. Once again, take the entry on Edgar Renteria. The comment says that in 2008 Renteria had "what was the worst season of his career once you factor in his rapidly declining defense." But Renteria's entry shows a Defense rating of -9 in 2006 and 0 in both 2007 and 2008. So, rather than rapidly declining, Renteria's defense apparently improved significantly between 2006 and 2007, and then held steady in 2008.
But these are really just quibbles. Whether you need a good set of player ratings for fantasy baseball or are just a baseball fan wanting an entertaining read, the "Baseball Prospectus" is easily the best book out there.