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Baseball Prospectus 2009: The Essential Guide to the 2009 Baseball Season Paperback – February 16, 2009
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Data freaks will love the statistics developed by the folks at Baseball Prospectus. Readers must digest the different key statistics (such as VORP and PECOTA). So, be sure to read pages vii to xvi carefully. These pages explain the variety of statistics that have been developed for pitchers and everyday players.
There follows to bulk of the book, which analyzes each team and its players in turn, from Arizona Diamondbacks to Washington Nationals. The volume closes with about 35 pages of essays on subjects such as best prospects, stadium updates, and PECOTA leaderboards (predicting who will be tops in a variety of statistics). For the latter, take a look and then compare what the projected figures are actually like at the end of the season. For instance, C. C. Sabathia is projected to lead the majors in 2009 with 16 victories. Chipper Jones is projected as the batting leader in the big leagues, with an average of .341.
Let's take one team as an illustration. Since I'm a White Sox fan, I'll be a chauvinist and take a look at some of the information there. Brian Anderson is your basic Good field, No hit" player. His PECOTA projects to a batting average of .232 (this would be the best hitting in his 3 major league seasons) with 8 home runs and 26 RBIs. Jermaine Dye's projections show some more decline, with a batting average of .271 (less than his average of the 3 preceding years, 25 home runs (another decline), and so on. What about A. J. Pierzynski, one of the most irritating players in baseball? A continuation of his recent slow decline is predicted. Another quick note on a feature. Each player is compared with a set of others (retired and active) whose statistics link them. For A. J.? Terry Kennedy, Javy Lopez, Sandy Alomar. The table for Pierzynski also provides guesses as to the odds of a collapse in his performance (41%), a breakout year (14%), improvement (30%), and attrition (38%).
Pitchers? Let's take just one as an example--John Danks. First, his comparison group--Ken Holtzman, Kevin Appier, and Bob Shirley). He is projected as having a 10-9 season, with an ERA of 4.27.
Anyhow, a lot of fun! I find myself in disagreement with some of the projections and that is a good part of the fun. For baseball fans who like their statistics in abundance, this book will serve you well.
It's easy to praise this year's book as well as all of the others in the series. The authors clearly have a pretty good track record when it comes to examining all aspects of the game. They achieved some level of fame in 2008 for predicting the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays, which put them in a subset of one. The authors also had one of their members, Nate Silver, become famous in politics for his Web site, fivethirtyeight.com. Silver was a great source of information through the election season, and got the final results almost exactly right.
Getting back to baseball, the book has the usual format as well as size (about as big as the phone book of a Triple-A baseball team's city). There is an introduction to each team, followed by a small section on virtually every player that matters on a particular team. The players are listed with their 2008 organization, which does make it a little tough to find a particular player if he moved over the winter. (Note to authors; bring back the index.) There are a few essays in the back of the book.
The writing always has been pretty fearless, and that's still the case in 2009. These guys aren't afraid to say when they think teams are making poor judgments or when players are headed for the scrap heap. It's striking just how few players out of the seemingly endless pool of talent ever make it to become major league regulars, and the authors are more than willing to point out that out -- even for prospects, who probably don't even know that their best case is of a left-handed relief specialist in the majors. It's also striking how many players get hurt along the way in baseball. The most quoted name in the book might be "Tommy John," as in the surgery.
The statistical theories could be considered a little daunting to some. Each player gets numbers in such categories as EqAVG, VORP and BABIP. There are explanations for all of these figures, but it's easy to get the idea after a while. A positive VORP (value over replacement player) is good, a number above 30 is very good, a number over 60 is really really good. And so on.
Not only does "Baseball Prospectus" serve as good spring training reading, but it's a handy reference tool for the regular season. Your enjoyment of summer games will be enhanced if you pull out the book for page-turning, and that applies to major league or minor league contests.
This is the one baseball book that I'm sure to buy every year. You should too.