The Hardball Times reliably puts out a great annual, but this year's is my favorite. Here's why:
They replaced the huge stats section with more analysis. Yes, it was nice to have all the stats on every team and player, but if I actually wanted to look up a stat, it was pretty easy to do on the Net. For the first time, those stats are replaced by more articles and a shorter, more-fun "quirky stats" section. I'm a fan of "odd" stats, so I liked these and the piece "Fun with Other Numbers," an equally quirky look at pitchers.
The new size. The old 8 1/2 x 11 size was just clunky--this new version is much easier to read on the train. And the pages are packed with content--in addition to articles, there are short pieces running on the side margins. It's hard to describe the layout but its really enjoyable; like reading the site with multiple tabs open in your browser.
And there are articles that every baseball fan should read, especially "Down With Other People's Players," an analysis of the free-agent market with some surprising conclusions. Don't even try to talk "Money Ball" without reading this article. And my fave piece was "Diary of a Mad Sports Bettor," an autobiographical account of a professional baseball gambler.
My other fave pieces were "In All Probability," which puts into numbers the enormously improbable end-of-season upsets; "Quantifying Excitement," which cogently argues the Reds-Mets 13-inning battle was the most exciting game of the year; and "GM In a Box," which puts Theo Epstein under the microscope.
When THT first began publishing these titles that are essentially the year in review, I was skeptical of how much they'd really contribute to my enjoyment and understanding of the game given that the season is barely finished before this one hits the shelves. However, they quickly proved my skepticism unwarranted and with this latest edition they have continued their habit of offering what is easily the best, most comprehensive commentary and analysis of the past season.
As always the commentary is extremely well-thought out. I enjoy examining the stats as much as any baseball fan, but I think the analysis that great baseball minds like Neyer and Dewan bring is invaluable. Even the straightforward reviews of the 2011 season are fantastic reads, and the newly added emphasis on minor league systems is a welcome addition.
One final comment that has little to do with the content, but which is nevertheless important, is the size change. They've made this title much more portable than in past years, and as someone who likes to read while loafing on a couch/bed I have to say that it's very much appreciated. Great work as always from the THT guys.
This is a book so packed with information, insight, and informative stuff it seems to sometimes spill off the page.
Really interesting and pieces by the always brilliant Rob Neyer, Steve Treder, Sam Hendrickson who wrote a fun piece attempting to quantify excitement, and one of my faves, David Golebiewski. As good as David G's piece it is hampered by the book's weakness: horrid design. In Golebiewski's piece he uses graphics that can only appreciated in color not in the washed out black and white that is presented here. Other articles in the book are crowded by sidebars that leaves us much breathing room as if you are in an elevator with CC Sabathia and Prince Fielder. But don't let the the desktop published look of the book dissuade you.
The strength of the book are the commentary, history, and particularly the analysis sections. The review of the 2011 is particularly weak and does not reflect the quality of the writing elsewhere in the book. Grab the Annual, pick it up at any point and read one of the many articles and learn and enjoy!