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Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters Hardcover – March 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Baseball is a game of numbers, and if you look deeply enough into them, they begin to speak in truly mysterious ways. For Schell, a professor of biostatistics, the numbers sing in an enigmatic language that lets him rank and compare hitters from different eras with a self-concocted, time-tested mathematical certainty--albeit a certainty that is as subjective as the next in an arena filled with formulas and number crunching. Less a volume to read than one to muck around in and develop a dialogue--or argument--with, Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters is heavy on the stats, charts, and theories that explain why and how averages must be adjusted over different eras to accommodate different styles of play, rule changes, and ballparks. Using the various adjustments he's come up with, Schell works to make his baseball cabala understandable; then he sends out a lineup of rankings that are as surprising as they are, in fact, logical--if you buy the logic. So who is the best hitter of all time? Well, it's not Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Joe Jackson, or Ted Williams. He is alive at this writing, though, and the shock is that he's still playing in 1999, patrolling right field for the San Diego Padres and rapping line drives with astonishing consistency. --Jeff Silverman

From Library Journal

Schell (biostatistics, Univ. of North Carolina), a professional statistician, here turns his attention from his field of health science to a lighter but more contentious subject, baseball. The rating of players has been an unending argument among diehard fans and specialists, such as those dedicated aficionados of the Society for American Baseball Research, which has given statistical debate more credibility. Now this book from Princeton University Press is a signal that the academics have entered the fray, too. Schell's book, however, makes some strange claims. He ranks current player Tony Gwynn as the best all-time hitter, well ahead of the modern batting king, Ted Williams, and no doubt outraging the ghosts of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Schell's statistics "level" the playing field because they downplay the importance of power, thus favoring Gwynn. Schell is on more solid ground when he proposes players who should be included in the Hall of Fame. All in all, this book is for the hardcore baseball fan, especially one comfortable with complex statistical analysis. For comprehensive baseball collections.APaul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691004552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691004556
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,469,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Michael R. Chernick on February 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Most baseball fans like statistics, so it should not be a disappointment to them to find out that this is an elementary statistics book where the statistical methods are taught to explain how to adjust batting averages in order to compare players in terms of their batting averages. The average baseball fan would be interested in comparisons of Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, Ted Williams and others who are acknowledged as the best hitters for average in the game. Schell considers factors that make direct comparisons unfair and he provides methods to adjust for these factors based on the vast amount of statistical data available to him that has been gathered throughout the history of major league baseball.
Key effects include the home ball park, stage of career and interventions such as the lowering of the pitcher's mound after 1968. To adjust for players whose abilities decline substantially in the latter years of their career Schell uses only the first 8000 at bats to gauge the players hitting ability. This helps players like Mickey Mantle whose performance declined appreciably at the end of his career due in part to injuries.

Schell provides a lot of interesting statistics and comparisons. Ty Cobb had the highest lifetime batting average but after all the adjustments finishes second to Tony Gwynn, a result that will surely create controversy.

Nevertheless Schell's approach makes sense and his results are not too surprising. As he notes his adjustments move many of the modern players whose numerical averages are lower than the players from the late 1800s and early 1900s, ahead on the list.

Schell relates how he showed up to meet and congratulate Gwynn on the date of his 8000th at bat when he clinched first place based on the Schell adjustment system.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
Baseball fans love to engage in "who's the best" debates. When I was young, that was the primary topic of conversation between the boys in my neighborhood. Since we did not have a great deal of knowledge concerning the history of the game, our debates were primarily over the current teams and players. Occasionally, we did delve into the "of all time" areas, but our arguments were always weakened by issues such as the differences in the ballparks and how the game had changed over the years. We always considered these issues to be ones that we could not resolve, so little time was spent on them.
In this book, statistical techniques are used to adjust for the differences in the era, different ballparks and how the rules have changed over the years. The conclusions are somewhat surprising and while they can be controversial, it is difficult to argue with the methods used to arrive at the conclusion. Schell's conclusion is that Tony Gwynn is the best hitter of all time. Tables abound, demonstrating statistics adjusted for the appropriate changes. Some of the most astounding statistics are those regarding the effect that a ballpark can have on a career. On page 190, there is a synopsis concerning Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox. It was a park that favored the pitchers until 1934, when there was a major renovation. Since 1934, one-third of the American League batting champions was a member of the Red Sox. Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies, is the best park for hitters, a conclusion easily supported by the data. For all three years covered in this book, the Rockies won the team batting title and the individual title was a race between Tony Gwynn, Mike Piazza and someone from the Rockies.
As a lifelong baseball fan and a teacher of statistics, I loved this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Burk on March 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Schell's methods are an excellent approach to putting individual performances in context. Those criticizing the book because it is statistically oriented are not Schell's audience: if I didn't like baseball poetry, I wouldn't buy a poetry book. If you don't like baseball statistics, don't buy a statistics book.
Those criticizing Schell's use of batting average haven't read the book carefully: Schell freely admits that batting average isn't the best statistic to measure players. But batting average is easily understood and known to most fans. How many typical fans can name the career leaders in on-base percentage or slugging average or explain how they are calculated?
Anyway, Schell's methods have lit a path that others may follow with other statistics like on-base percentage and slugging average. Indeed, toward the end of the book Schell applies his methods to on-base percentage and briefly discusses the results. Just because he chose a more popular statistic to introduce his methods doesn't undermine the usefulness of those methods. I found the book a little hard to read without a strong background in statistics, but I understand what Schell is trying to do, and it makes sense to me.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By King Yao on June 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting look at how to adjust for batting averages and compare players throughout baseball history. Schell uses a few methods to adjust the raw batting averages, such as adjusting for late career declines (he only uses the first 8,000 at bats), adjusting for eras, adjusting for league talent, and adjusting for home parks. Although these techniques are described in detail, I'm afraid most people won't appreciate it. The results of this book could have been written in a 5 page essay, but Schell decides to explain exactly how he went about the process. This is fine if you do care about the details, but not if you don' keep that in mind. I rated the book based on thinking the reader is interested in those details.

The other problem with the book is simply the topic. In this day and age, we understand that batting averages isn't the best measure of a hitter's contributions. Slugging percentage and on-base percentage are far more important. Schell does add a chapter on OBP near the end of the book. I suspect Schell understands this too as I see he has written a second book on Baseball's All-Time Sluggers. In Baseball's All-Time Best Hitters, he ranks Tony Gwynn as the best hitter of all-time. He defines hitter as one that gets hits. But the best hitter is not the best batter nor the best baseball player, so to me, this is almost a moot debate. Still, I appreciated the detail of how a statistician goes about looking at this issue. If you appreciate that kind of stuff, get this book. If not, avoid it.
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