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Baseball Prospectus 2009: The Essential Guide to the 2009 Baseball Season Paperback – February 16, 2009
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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.
Prospectus writers do not always limit themselves to stats in their player analysis. Their description of the Angels' Bobby Abreu, for example, starts by admitting "our translations don't do justice to Abreu's brand of defense...You know those long drives that seem like home runs, only to die on the warning track? Abreu watches them bounce." The main thrust of the Prospectus, however, is that you can predict performance through numbers alone. White Sox first baseman Nick Swisher suffered through a drop in average in 2008 from 262 in his prior year in Oakland to a miniscule 219. The authors conclude "that it was the product of little more than bad luck." Since his walk rate, line drive rate and isolated power were in line with prior performance, he apparently did little wrong other than hit the ball at people for 6 months. I guess the breaks don't even out.
I am uncomfortable with the player projections for 2009 (PECOTA). The methodology used tends to average down historical results so that, for example, Dice-K is projected to drop from 18 wins to a 10-8 record while Ryan Howard is pegged to drive in 110 runs after not finishing below 136 in the prior 3 years. Maybe the authors are right, though, when they suggest that if you shudder and say something in the book can't be right, "Trust me: it probably is."
My favorite feature in the book is the suggestion of similar players or "comparables" for each of the players on the 40 man rosters. Some seem optomistic (Red Sox fans will be happy to see that Jason Bay could be the next Dewey Evans) while others take a player down a peg or two (Rays fans will have trouble comparing Matt Garza to Matt Keough or Ron Kline after his ALCS starts.) Some of the suggestions include a wide range of accomplishment. Yanks phenom Phil Hughes will either blossom like Roy Halliday or be rushed to the majors with dire results like Pete Broberg. Dice-K is either Chan Ho Park or Bob Gibson. If you are an older fan, it is fun just to see some obscure older players reborn as an analog for a new player. (Do you think the Red Sox were trying to get Jarrold Saltalamacchia because he is like Jim Pagliaroni? I'm sure the Indians did not trade CC Sabathia because they hoped former Gator Matt LaPorta would be the modern version of FSU's Greg Blosser.)
This book is great to thumb through, research players, or get an idea how your team will do. Keep it next to the television during the 09 season or bring it with you to your favorite sports bar to start some arguements. Whatever you decide to do with it, buy it. It is hard to get more information of any kind for $21.95.