58 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2011
The whole premise that stats based analysis tries to fully predict all outcomes in baseball is absurd and nobody, especially not Billy Beane or Bill James, holds it.
The funniest thing is that when stats based analysis of baseball first came out, it was ridiculed precisely BECAUSE they liked to say a lot of baseball is pure luck. The old school train of thought was that there was little luck in baseball and that a .300 hitter was almost always better than a .285 hitter.
The writers of this book seem to be mainly writing for a crowd of individuals who don't understand statistics, don't like anything that's not pure "gut instinct" and hate, without ever having read, Moneyball.
Basically this book is the equivalent of the following conversation:
Stat person: well, ERA isn't a good measure, because a lot of it is based on luck. We should use this other stat that takes into account only things that the pitcher can control, so that we can better understand what is skill and what is luck.
Short Hop person: Wait, you're not taking luck into consideration with your statistical analysis!
Stat person: Did you listen to anything I just said?
Short Hop person: what about when a ball hits a pigeon? How do your stats take that into account?
Stat Person: *walks away, shaking head*
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2012
Really, this book is two books. The first is an academic criticism of how the Sabermetric community has gone off the deep end in their use to advanced data to try to predict and simulate baseball outcomes. The second is diary of the 2009 season from the perspective of two Red Sox fans of why the game of baseball is unique and wonderful...but Tim Kurkjian, George Will or Bob Costas, they are not.
Half of this book is written as criticism of using a Social Science approach in studying baseball. Unlike books written by baseball "lifers" like John Scherholtz's Built to Win, which praises tobacco-stained, traditional methods and scouting...This criticism from two academics looked promising. Their attack of the collection and classification methods used to input data in advanced fielding metrics has merit. But those who create and use these methods, don't claim their new tools are infallible, they are just trying to bring more information in a game of uncertainty and incomplete information...Bill James, the Godfather of this movement states as such, to paraphrase "Just because a new metric isn't perfect, doesn't mean we should stop trying to search for more knowledge." The discussion of the LaRussization of the bullpen and how even Sabermetrically inclined GMs have to designate an established closer is also worthwhile.
Yes, we get it...baseball, sports, like the weather is unpredictable. But to close your eyes to new avenues of information, technology and data, the authors instead suggest an approach that would be akin to saying that all meteorologists should just embrace the uncertainty of the weather and not try to find scientific trends, reasoning, technology and analysis and just give limited forecasts.
Also, to many Sabermetrically inclined baseball fans, they lose a lot of credibility when there are glaring errors in the book...There are plenty mistakes in the book that an editor or baseball fan would notice. For instance, The Detroit Tigers did not win the 2006 World Series...St. Louis did. Also while attacking Jeremy Brown, the pot-bellied catcher that Billy Beane coveted in Moneyball, he didn't go to Arizona State as they stated, he was the catcher for Alabama.
Their diary, musings and observations of the 2009 season amounts to fodder that you could find in average baseball blog.
Overall, you want a well-written book about baseball..this is not it. So to the casual fan or causal reader..save your time. If you are a well-educated fan who regularly plays Fantasy Baseball and spends plenty of time pouring over WAR, VORP and UZR numbers, this is worth your time, so that you can properly understand the applicability and limitations of data. Also this will help you carve out good counter-arguments to those who have Dinosaur-like resistance to Sabermetrics.
38 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2011
How did this naive, poorly argued and illogical book get published? The basic premise of this book seems completely wrong. It's not that statheads ignore chance, as this guy claims, but that statheads *stress* the role of chance in ERA, batting average and esp pitchers' wins and RBI. The laws of probability still apply even when a large number of random events are included. Old-school guys lament that X or Y didn't drive in enough runs; intelligent baseball fans know that there is a lot of luck involved in any RBI total. Old-school guys say that Bert Blyleven didn't win enough games, and that Jack Morris was a big winner; intelligent baseball fans know that Morris was pretty good, but lucky, and that Blyleven was great. This book reminds me of one of Ronald Reagan's more notorious sayings: "Facts are stupid things." The book argues against things that no one believes: the classic "straw man" approach. Don't waste your money.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
As a statistician & baseball fan I don't buy the whole Moneyball thing. I'm happy there are people out there willing to disprove it
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Starts off slow with all the stats but really enjoyed the second half of the book with all of the inner quirks of baseball in just one season
16 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2011
I have read this book and followed the polarized debate about it, here and on baseball blogs. The book seems to have touched a raw nerve in the numbers community, uncivil reviews that often lack any evidence that the reviewer read the book.
Curiously, the naysayers seem at odds with each other. One person says that everything in the book is "total nonsense". Yet Mr Rabon (in a comment) writes: "It's not so much that the authors are wrong about anything they say, it's that they're attacking a straw man".
All that's confusing: Are the Short Hops guys completely wrong, or are they right but not saying much that everyone doesn't already know?
I suspect that numbers guys come in "different packages". Short Hops actually lauds the numbers approach, but not what it calls eventual excesses and, I guess, over-reliance and over-confidence. If that's nothing new to Mr Rabon, I'd bet the authors would applaud his agreement. On the other hand, it seems like there are many others out there who have weighed in angrily, claiming that there is zero wrong with sabermetrics, no excesses, no flaws, everything is great. For those folks, the book does not seem a straw man, but a real challenge to their dogmatism.
That's the way I see the back and forth!
I am a good baseball fan, a Moneyball reader, I'm fine with numbers, and there was a lot in this book that was new to me.
16 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2011
A very narrow viewed walk through of modern sabermetrics, this book misses the mark entirely. The authors make a number of outrageous claims about modern baseball statistics that are completely unsubstantiated. To suggest that sabermetrics aim to take away a fan's enjoyment of the "little things" is ludicrous. This false dichotomy that they try to push on the reader has been rendered completely irrelevant in the days since the release of the book.
Do not waste your time with this irrelevant piece of baseball writing.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2012
In order to set things straight against all these other 1 star reviews that talk about ERA and whatever else, I want to say this book is great. Baseball has slowly become a battle of numbers, where your best hitter is known for his home runs but not for his technique or finesse. Unfortunately this is simple American corruption, as other sports like European soccer have absolutely no rating systems and thus are widely viewed and talked about across the world because of the WONDER!
Back to "Short Hops," this book simply posits the idea that sabermetrics has been bad for baseball, and that we're forgetting why we like to watch and enjoy baseball. The day that baseball trading cards died was when ESPN and the internet took over to really drive runs batted in and number of errors.
Sabermetrics is utterly and completely an honorable and okay thing to do for baseball, and it really gives that great depth to teams and players as an analytical practice, BUT baseball should not be controlled by it in any form.
The Babe is rolling in his grave.
4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2011
This is a terrific book (referred to here as BSH); any baseball fan who has read or at least heard of Moneyball should read this ASAP. The authors utterly show the Moneyball story to be a gross distortion of reality, but they don't stop there. They argue for an entire new way of looking at the game of baseball. They argue that numbers-obsessed analysts (widely called sabermetricians) are ruining the beauty of the game by treating it as a social science, where everything can be broken down into numerical formulas.
Ignore the negative reviews on this page: they are shrill, but short on details. Sabermetrics is their religion; they cannot abide any criticism of it. It is disappointing that baseball fans who believe in sabermetrics--an approach that claims to be scientific-- would be so closed-minded.
BSH is critical of sabermetrics, true, but it is not unfair or hostile to the "science". It gives credit to analysts like Bill James for introducing statistical data and evidence, e.g. on base %, into a game whoses decisions were often made strictly on intuition. The authors, however, also persuasively argue that the sabermetricians have gone to the other extreme--not conceding their general ideas do not always work in different circumstances. (A great example the Hirschs give is Babe Ruth's attempted steal; every analysis of that play has concluded that Ruth's decision was terrible, as he was only a 55% stealer when generally 70-75% is the cutoff. They show that it was in fact (probably)the right play; their analysis is on pp.45-47).
The authors are attacking rigid thinking from the sabermetric community, not saying sabermetrics is useless. Kevin Youkilis is a great example of sabermetric inflexibility: by doing the "non-Moneyball" approach to hitting--taking less walks and being more aggressive--Youkilis becomes a much better hitter. (He more than doubles his HR total in three years--see p.94 for a statistical breakdown). Another great part of BHS was their critical analysis of Bill James' incomprehensible (by his own admission!) "Win Shares" and Voros McCracken's crackpot pitching theory(see p.190). If you have read Moneyball and buy into it, please take a look here. It might change your way of thinking.
8 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Can baseball, over the course of a season or a fiscal year, be reduced to a battle of mathematicians and statisticians? The answer, according to Sheldon and Alan Hirsh, is a resounding no.
It is hard to imagine baseball without its great array of statistics: ERA, OBP, RBI, and the rest. Baseball's episodic and layered structure allows for a statistical base unrivalled by those of other major sports. But experienced baseball people have long debated the weight to give each number.
In recent years, a new breed of statistics-hounds has labored to produce new, more meaningful statistics, and some of these have shaped the way that baseball teams are built. The book Moneyball is the standard-bearer of the new approach. But how well does it all actually work?
Not very well, according to Sheldon and Alan Hirsh, authors of The Beauty of Short Hops. They argue that new numbers do have some value, but baseball places inherent limits on what can be garnered.
This is a clear, well-argued, and witty book. It concedes one point, that there IS value in "science" of Sabermetrics, but holds fast on another: no statistics can do what Sabermetrics aspires to and the Moneyball approach is a single case of success with many counterexamples.
Baseball is a finely balanced game with rules layered on rules to keep players from gaming them in various situations. (The bunted third-strike rule is the classic example.) These complications, and their effect on play, are often masked by the standard statistics. Why NOT try to do better?
The science and art of statistics consists of gathering data from similar situations to discover small but consistent differences. But can you gather enough similar situations in baseball to create what is called "statistical significance"--the grounds on which you can believe that what you are seeing is real, and not just the random fluctuations that the mathematics is supposed to shuck from the reality beneath?
Baseball's situations reflect its many levels of structure: pitch, at-bat, play, out, inning, game, series, season and career. These create a mathematical explosion of possibilities. It is the sheer number of possibilities, argue the authors, that limits the meaning that can be extracted from the numbers. Lump too many cases together and their differences limit the meaning; divide them too finely and you don't get enough cases to achieve statistical significance.
According to the Hirsches, in about one game out of three, the most experienced announcer, player, manager or coach can say "I've never seen that before." That seems about right to this fan, and the authors present just one season's array of strange, never-before-seen plays. Some are sparkling, most are absurd. All are presented with a dry wit that left me laughing heartily.
Do the authors make their point? I think they do. But I also think that, in the competitive world of baseball, the search for the magic statistical elixer will continue. Baseball demands it.