- Paperback: 420 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday; Rev. and updated edition (1985)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385182848
- ISBN-13: 978-0385182843
- Package Dimensions: 9 x 5.8 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,540,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Hidden Game of Baseball Paperback – March 19, 1985
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Long before Moneyball, this book brought sabermetrics—the scientific measurement of baseball—into the popular realm. Whereas it used to be unquestioned that runs batted in, batting average, and pitcher wins were among the most telling of statistics, the sabermetric revolution revealed that subtler measurements such as on-base percentage, wins above replacement, and WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) could be used to find value in players. Thorn and Palmer here introduced key measurements and concepts, and they explained and promoted a huge range of considerations that had never been taken seriously and systemically into account by journalists, fans, players, scouts or executives. Their work also made possible much easier comparison of players across eras. The authors also provide the pedigree and history of various concepts and measurements, showing how our understanding of signal and noise in the available data has evolved.
Top customer reviews
In such a comprehensive book you want to believe everything in it and accept it as some kind of Bible. But you'd better not. The book has a few flaws in it.
For example, it ranks Sandy Koufax as a non-entity. While admitting that his pitching was good, it rips him to shreds because he couldn't hit, and wasn't a great fielder either. My reaction is so what if he couldn't hit. And as for his fielding, first of all, when you strike out so many hitters you don't get as many chances to field the ball, and second of all, pitchers handle so few batted balls to begin with that the sampling isn't that significant. If your system ends up saying Koufax was nothing, there is something wrong with your system. Koufax was among the elite of baseball history. I rank him as the second best pitcher who ever lived, behind Walter Johnson. He was God on the mound, and you don't just brush that off. He was more devastating than Randy Johnson. He had the best curve ball I've ever seen. If you went against him, you lost. The SF Giants didn't want to match Marichal against Koufax. Why waste Marichal on an automatic loss. Believe me, they would have matched Marichal against anyone else. To put my comments in perspective, I was never a Dodger fan.
Using sophisticated analysis, the authors arrive at an overall figure for each player's career value, this figure representing the wins each player added to his team, over and above that of an average player at his position. One feature of this stat that I really like is that it attempts to evaluate defensive contributions. I have long felt that defensive contributions are severely undervalued, especially for the "up-the-middle" positions, while offensive contributions are over-valued.
Using this career wins figure, the authors come up with their own Hall of Fame, and it is interesting to compare this list to the actual Hall of Fame. When we do this comparison, it is obvious that the writers who vote for the Hall inductees do not have a proper appreciation for defensive contributions. Players at the corner positions who hit a lot of home runs are preferred to the slick-fielding middle infielders who save a lot of runs for their teams.
Since this book came out in 1984, many of these oversights have been corrected. Here is a list of those unfairly excluded at the time, and the years they were later admitted to the Hall: Bobby Doerr (1986), Billy Williams (1987), Richie Ashburn (1995), Bill Mazeroski (2001), Joe Gordon (2009), and Ron Santo (2012). Lest anyone think the writers have had a change of heart, it should be noted that only Billy Williams was elected by the writers; the other five were selected by the Veterans Committee.
Now that these injustices have been corrected, the main remaining injustice appears to be Bobby Grich. Grich comes in at 42.7 wins above replacement, almost double the 22.2 threshold for the Hall of Fame. Yet, when he appeared on the ballot in 1992, he received only 11 out of 430 votes, well below the 5% needed to remain on the ballot. Now, he can only get in via the Veterans Committee.
While the techniques of analysis in this book far exceed the initial efforts of Bill James in the 1970's, there have been many refinements and improvements made since that time. However, the basic approach is still valid, and this book should be of value to the average fan trying to understand the great game of baseball better.