Review - Baseball Between The Numbers

Baseball Between The Numbers - Jonah Keri and the editors of Baseball Prospectus

Baseball Prospectus gets cited a lot here on Let's Go Tribe, and the creators have a new book due out soon called Baseball Between The Numbers that I'd recommend to all of this blog's readers.  

I'm not a math guy.  I'm a liberal arts guy.  When I got to college I swore I'd never set foot in a math class again.  But as a liberal arts guy, I like to have as many tools at my disposal as I can when I try to answer a question.  

Baseball Between The Numbers is not a math book.  There are a lot of charts and graphs, equations and percentages.  But every number is thoroughly explained, and used in service of attempting to answer some of baseball's biggest questions.  Like the introduction says, the operative word is "Between," not "Numbers."

Every chapter in the book has a question for a title.  Some of them are deliberately provocative - "Is Alex Rodriguez Overpaid?"  "Was Billy Martin Crazy?"  "Did Derek Jeter deserve the Gold Glove?"  "Why Doesn't Billy Beane's S#!% Work In the Playoffs?" - but they're all based around simple questions.  What is clutch hitting, and how can it be measured (if it exists)?  How can we rate a player's defense?  How should a manager put together a batting order or use his bullpen?

The book discusses a lot of issues you see sabermetricians and performance analysts raise regularly - the value of stolen bases and RBI, the four-man rotation, the concept of the "replacement player" - but I really liked the breadth of coverage of other topics, like steroids, salaries, and stadium deals.

One complaint is that some of this material has appeared on the BP website before in different form.  Fortunately, the articles have been expanded, and I think they have been better edited as well.  As discussed elsewhere on this site, sometimes the articles on and the analysis chapters in the back of the BP Annual are almost too dense to follow.  Baseball Between The Numbers provides a lot of information, but to me it's a little better organized and explained.

I've been a BP subscriber for a couple of years now, and I've bought the annuals too, so I feel like I have a good basic understanding of their terminology.  Another feature that I really like about the new book is that it does a much better job of tying the stats they track to the performance they are intended to measure.  I think I have a better idea now of what EqA means and what a valuable tool it is to compare players across positions and eras.

I also like how the contributors feel free to include and credit the formulas that others have developed.  And several chapters admit that there are no easy conclusions, and lots of work still needs to be done.

I've already noticed that lots of our recent discussions here (clutch hitting, sacrifices, payroll value) are covered in depth in the book.  I'd recommend it to all readers of Let's Go Tribe.  It's a great introduction to sabermetrics and performance analysis for many of the posters who have been asking "What is that weird stat you keep discussing?"  It provides depth and clarity for the fan (like me) with some familiarity with the work BP has been doing.  And it has enough raw data to provoke debate among those of you who live and breathe VORP and BABIP.


P.S.  I should note that I'm no insider or anything.  I just lucked into an advance copy of the book at a local used bookstore.  You can click the link above for more info, and to preorder your own copy.  

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