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Hardball Times Annual 2014 (Volume 10) Paperback – November 12, 2013
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For instance the season recap nicely illustrates how the highly touted Blue Jays's dismal season was large attributable to injuries. We see how the Rays were another team once Will Myers was called up, and how Boston's bullpen depth allowed them to overcome injuries to two pitchers that were projected to be key pieces of their bullpen. We can appreciate how dominant Detroit's starting pitching when we consider that only six (!) games were started by pitchers outside their opening day five man rotation. Rob Neyer recaps the trades that had the most impact.
Each of the division recaps is written by a different author, and one wonders if anyone was responsible for the recap as a whole, ensuring that what was written in one section was consistent with another. For example, Chris Jaffe's analysis of the AL Central notes how the White Sox's bench was second worse only to Washington. Yet John Beamer's analysis of the NL East fails to mention the huge decline in Washington's bench despite its being the single biggest explanation for why a team that 19 of the Hardball Times's 21 writers picked to win the NL East failed to even make the playoffs.
The Annual looks not just at teams, but breaks down four players to explain their increased (or decreased performance). For instance, Chris Davis engaged in extensive tee work, and as a result converted more batted balls from grounders to fly balls while taking more walks. Jose Fernandez's use of a slurve and changeup in addition to his fastball allowed him to dominate throughout his rookie season while Shelby Miller's less successful second half can be attributed to his attempt to introduce additional pitches to his repertoire mid-season. Finally, the frustration Halos fans endured with Josh Hamilton is mostly attributable to a drop in power that led to fewer batter balls resulting in home runs. The degree to which the ballpark change plays a factor wasn't clear to me, however.
Among the most interesting articles I found were Jeff Sullivan's The Art of Framing the Pitch, a very thoughtful introduction to the statistical research and the issues raised by a catcher's skill in "framing" pitches. John Perrotto's chronicle of how the Pirates became relevant again is also illuminating as it Bill James's attempt (in his view) to better understand why we're better at evaluating hitting than pitching. Craig Wright's careful use of Sabermetrics and old fashioned detective work in evaluating Roger Clemens's claim on Cooperstown points to an intelligent alternative to those who would either ignore steroids or ban users all together when marking HOF ballots. Shane Tourtellotte shows us why Miguel Cabrera was arguably the right choice for MVP even for the statistically inclined. On the other hand, I found the use of "Championships Added" in the book's look at the post season to be problematic on multiple levels. Also, Dave Cameron's plea for paid internships to enhance diversity in front offices fails to ultimately convince.
Even if you find some articles more interesting and/or convincing than others, though, there is a tremendous amount of material to suit every fan's interest. The graphics work well on the Kindle version and the text seems to be more readable than the 2013 edition, which was the first available in an electronic format.
I know that most of us receive this with memories of the World Series fresh in our minds, but I still enjoy the divisional and playoff recaps that start off the book. This year's edition features 26 articles divided into three categories - Commentary, History and Analysis. While I enjoy their analysis of stats, my favorite articles each year tend to deal with the history of the game or discussion of the season that just concluded. In this edition, I especially enjoyed Joe Posnanski's look back at his rooting for the Indians during the '86 season, and John Perrotto's discussion of how the Pirates finally turned around their franchise. Those are just a couple of the standouts, but across the board the writings are excellent.
There are three publications that I purchase every season - this one, Baseball Prospectus, and the Baseball America Prospect Handbook. I can't imagine going an offseason without any of them, and the THT annual is a great way to keep baseball alive in the winter. Outstanding as always.
This year's edition has an article on the author's perceived problems with baseball's intern system that I found to be very interesting. It also has a piece that takes a comical look back at the 2013 season.