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Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong Hardcover – March 6, 2006
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Who deserves recognition as the best baseball player of all time--Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth? The stuff of endless debates among baseball fans, such questions come into sharp focus when the experts of Baseball Prospectus start parsing their trove of statistics. Looking, for instance, at the Bonds-versus-Ruth issue, the BP statisticians systematically adjust the two stars' numbers to reflect changes in parks, in level of competition, and in training technology as they establish that although Ruth still holds the overall edge, Bonds could overtake him with a couple more good seasons. But these baseball mavens look beyond the performance of individual players, as they examine entire teams (the '04 Red Sox and '01 Diamondbacks, for instance) and even whole epochs (the golden era of 1949--57). BP numbers help readers see the world beyond the diamond as well, clarifying the economic pressures that push marginal players to use steroids and are increasingly pushing working-class fans right out of the stadiums their taxes are subsidizing. A valuable reference for baseball fans and cultural critics alike. Bryce Christensen
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Unbelievably detailed analysis that is clearly stated. I really enjoyed how each section addresses a specific contentious question (i.e. Bonds or Ruth?) and uses that question to expand on to more wide-ranging analysis and to introduce core statistical methods that they will mention throughout the rest of the book.
If you already like baseball, this book will be perfect. I only give it a 4 star rating because it is a slow read and definitely not for everyone. At times, you can become bogged down in the numbers as well.
But overall, unbelievable book that is well-written (many humorous stories and asides along with the data). I will be looking forward to moving on to other baseball books in the future and watching the games more closely this season.
The group I was in when I first started reading--newer to advanced statistics and looking to get more into how all the numbers work--will eat this book up. The best aspect of BBTN, however, is that it does not ignore what the game has been for so long, and still is to most people.
It is not a bunch of cold numbers or saying a player stinks because stat X is under Y, as if each guy is an answer to a third graders' math test--which is too often the impression people get of advanced stats, particularly among the non-sabermetric crowd. It's quite the opposite. Had somebody shown me concepts in math class--a few of which I recognize from school--and explained I could actually apply them to sports, you bet I would've been a heck of a lot more excited to go to math every day and probably actually understood the concepts.
Nobody is claiming these findings are gospel either. In many cases, they let the numbers themselves point out why a statistic is or is not repeatable. Or say flat out, that in certain cases it comes down to luck. This may seem to weaken the entire argument of why to use sabermetrics in the first place, but it is actually quite the opposite; understanding the weaknesses of your field will allow you to apply the findings more appropriately.
The most eye-opening sections are why the statistics shown with every batter on television are often poor gauges of performance. Many of these figures were developed at a time when the game was very different and while the game has changed, our ways of analyzing it has not (at least in the mainstream).
Each chapter seeks to answer a simple question: "Is David Ortiz a Clutch Hitter?" or "Is Joe Torre a Hall of Fame Manager?" While they seem simple, those questions encompass a great deal and each author does a solid job of explaining why they look at the figures they do to answer the questions. A side effect of which is training the readers to not only come up with their own questions, but figure out how to answer them. That is, if they are not too busy reading this book's sequel.
If you watch baseball on TV (networks, national and/or local cable channels), you almost certainly pull your hair and shout at your TV when the announcers talk about any of the following: the importance of chemistry, why being aggressive at the plate is gggrrreeeaattt, how bunting leads to winning, and how pitch counts are ruining the pitchers and slowing down the game (actually, advertising is slowing down the game).
A lot of fans are very emotional about baseball and are often not open to new ideas or different ways of looking at things. The people at BP have done exhaustive research and have broken new ground in the area of statistical analysis. In this book, they show the following: why batting order really doesn't matter; how closers are often misused (in low leverage situations rather than when there are 2 men on in the 8th); that most managers do not make any difference; that new stadiums are just a horrific deal for the tax payer; and why steroids really haven't effected the game much at all (I know, very hard to swallow).
It's a very well written book. It is a little dry at times because of the reliance on statistics and graphs, but it is a most-own book for baseball fans.