The Baseball Analyst Issue 8, edited by Jim Baker: a review

Bill James published 40 issues of The Baseball Analyst in the 1980s. All are available on SABR’s website.

The eighth Baseball Analyst, dated October 1983, is quite strong. It featured six analytical pieces and a delightful “letter to the editor” by Dallas Adams commenting on Issue 7 (more favorably than I did, by the way). And this is the issue that Bill James used to launch Project Scoresheet, which eventually wrought a revolution in baseball analysis. All in all, it’s a difficult issue to fault.

The first “real” article in the issue was by Barry Mednick, who did some scoring sequence analysis of play-by-play data he’d collected during the season. The study of course suffers from sample issues–all the data was from A’s or Giants games–but it’s an interesting early pbp study, with a bit of analysis and a couple pages of numbers. Mednick finds some interesting differences reflecting the characters of the two ballclubs in the study. A good start.

Warren Johnson’s “On Handedness and Pitchers’ Fielding” was a followup on Mark Lazarus’ study reported in Issue 4 of the Analyst–specifically, Johnson was reacting to a question Lazarus raised about “junk-balling lefties” and team defense. Johnson concludes that some relationship exists–a result he’d not expected–but that the effect is both weak and different from Lazarus’ hypothesis. He also finds that there’s a league effect involved. This is an excellent study, far more than just an extension of the Lazarus paper, and worth seeking out.

Clem Comly–credited here as C. Comly–offers a single-page exploration of pitchers’ range factors which fits quite nicely as an addendum to the Johnson piece. Comly’s main intention is to show the shape of the data, so he (and we) would have a better grasp of the capabilities of individual pitchers.

Dick O’Brien’s contribution to this issue is a study of K/HR ratios for power hitters. This is similar to his work in earlier issues of the Analyst, but by now he’s discovered that adding more explanation to what he’s exploring is worthwhile, so the article’s easier to follow. One of his conclusions is that truly high strikeout rates cannot be balanced by production.

David Aceto’s short essay explores the mathematics of a single ballpark effect–the impact of an enlarged foul territory on batting average. The math looks OK, but the conclusion that it takes about 8 foul outs per game for a team to lose 20 points on BA seems, well, wrong–at best it’s the correct answer to the wrong question. The author notes the study is flawed because he has no data to test his hypothesis (which he apparently borrowed from Bill James). I’m guessing that the reality is more complicated than the author’s model. Perhaps someone followed up with real data.

The final sabermetric essay is John Schwartz’ very short exploration of the advantage a left-handed batter has on the basepaths. He’s mostly raising questions with this one, but the small table he provides is worth a look.

Jim Baker’s second issue’s far more interesting than was his first. Besides the notes from Bill James and Dallas Adams, mentioned at the top of this review, he’s sandwiched the issue with requests for material from the readers. The first reimagines the periodical as a supermarket tabloid paper; the other as a Max Patkin movie. They’re not really worth the price of admission, but they probably tell us something about Baker.

The Baseball Analyst Issue 7: a review

Bill James published 40 issues of The Baseball Analyst in the 1980s. All are available on SABR’s website.

The seventh Baseball Analyst, dated August, 1983, has to be called a disappointment. Not only was there no outstanding piece of research in this edition, what did appear can mostly be characterized as uninteresting. Most of the contributions rehash issues already discussed in earlier editions. It happens that the seventh issue was the first edited by Jim Baker, but it’s certainly not his fault that the submissions were weak. This issue, as do many, begins with a plea for more material. Young Jim was perhaps too polite to ask for better material.

Dick O’Brien repeated the study on Batting Order Position production he’d reported in Issue 2. Adding more data turned out to pretty much reproduce the original result. This is worth reporting, but it’s hardly exciting.

Dallas Adams’ contribution, “On the Probability of Hitting .400,” we’ve seen before–I briefly mentioned it in my review of the 1981 Baseball Research Journal (which I posted a few days ago). The two essays are substantially the same, but this version appears to date from 1977–it had presumably been hiding somewhere in Bill James’ office for six years. Despite the redundancy, this article’s quite good.

Gary Brown’s “A Trend Analysis of Batting Averages” is simply weak. It’s mostly a commentary, with a few graphs, about changing tendencies in BA over time. His main point is that professional ball makes occasional adjustments to keep offense and defense in balance. The essay would have had some value at two pages; at ten pages it’s got to be considered filler. The Adams piece made similar points, in far fewer pages, with far better analysis.

John Schwartz offered a one-page note on the relative values of relief wins, losses, and saves, framed as a way to improve the TSN and Rolaids “Firemen” awards. The math here looks good, but it’s not clear that the exercise was worthwhile.

Finally, Pete Palmer’s brief examination of “The Distribution of Wins” briefly summarizes the literature on the subject, extends it a bit based on his own research, and throws in a statistics lesson based on a Dallas Adams contribution from Analyst Issue 1. All told, though, this is more interesting as a window into Palmer’s mind than as a contribution to baseball research. Pete was building a system for analysis; this was one of his blocks.

Baseball Research Journal 1981 edited by Bob Davids: a review

This BRJ edition is available online via the SABR website.

The tenth Baseball Research Journal, published late in 1981, is perhaps a step down from the previous edition, largely because it doesn’t contain any classic research essays. What it does contain is mostly solid research, well presented, on a wide variety of topics.

This edition’s first two articles, Emil Rothe’s “Was the Federal League a Major League?” and Raymond Kush’s “The Building of Wrigley Field” are not really related, but their topics overlap a bit and because they led off the issue I rather expected more Federal League material. Rothe, by the way, gives his question a qualified “Yes” answer. The evidence is mixed, as he shows.

The issue contains two biographical essays built around interviews–Allen Quimby on Red Lucas, and Eugene Murdock on Leroy Parmelee. Jim Riley and John Holway profiled black players Dave Barnhill (a Negro Leaguer) and Jose Mendez (an early 1900s Cuban barnstormer). Robert Cole told about radio broadcaster Al Helfer, who did “Game of the Day” broadcasts on the Liberty and Mutual Networks after the Second World War. The edition’s best profile is of Ray Fisher, written by Dave Proctor, who examines Fisher’s playing career, why he got blacklisted by the Commissioner, and his subsequent life, most prominently as coach at the University of Michigan. The Fisher profile may well be the longest piece ever published in BRJ–but it’s quite excellent. Others profiled include Walter Johnson (by Ron Liebman), Hurricane Hazle (Tom Jozwik), and Ted Lyons (Thomas Karnes)

Sabermetric efforts included William Akins’ attempt to identify the best fielders of the late 1800s and Dallas Adams’ nice attempt to draw the parameters necessary to study the probability of hitting .400. Bill Rubenstein’s useful extension of the Dick Cramer study (in the 1980 BRJ)–Cramer demonstrated increasing major league batting skill over time–identifies a few significant issues (and there’s a response from Cramer at the end). Cliff Frolich and Garry Scott contributed an exploration of “Where Fans Sit to Catch Baseballs”–this study’s weaknesses include some sampling issues and a less-than-fully-explained methodology, but their conclusions seem reasonable. James Skipper’s examination of player nicknames has a sabermetric appearance–tables and numbers–but is all in all unsatisfying, as I quibbled with his definitions and learned less than I’d hoped. The same is true of James Maywar’s examination of strikeout pitchers, which just seemed misguided.

A personal favorite article in this issue is John Pardon’s “A Bizarre Game of Baseball.” Not only was the game played in a predecessor of the Midwest League, it was absolutely preposterous. (Read Pardon’s item here; I’ve quoted it elsewhere for other purposes.) The issue’s other minor league piece describes a Minor League All-Star Game played at Cooperstown in 1939, and discusses why the effort didn’t continue.

There were fewer entries in the List with Explanation category in the 1981 edition. Ray Gonzalez’ “Pitchers Giving Up Home Runs” is a pioneering effort in that direction, and as usual with this author is quite well done. William Akins’ fielding study, mentioned above, fits the list pattern but this list is pretty short. Joseph Donner listed all the major league cycle hitters. Bob Davids’ piece on steals fits the pattern, too. Another short list was James Maywar’s examination of strikeout pitchers, which I dismissed a couple paragraphs ago.

For the record, I found this edition of Al Kermisch’s “Researcher’s Notebook” to be weak. It read more like an assigned piece than actual research notes.

The issue ends with a look at the 1892 season, which (like 1981) was a split season, and examines the parallels, differences, and consequences. I’m guessing this unattributed article was composed by Davids.

All in all this is a fairly strong issue, but there’s nothing really special here.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Baseball Research Journal 1980 edited by Bob Davids: a review

The 1980 BRJ, like most editions, is now available on SABR’s website.

This is the strongest Baseball Research Journal edition yet. It features one of the classic works of sabermetric analysis, some excellent biographical portraits, a look at minor league umpiring practice in 1900, a glimpse at the 1880 opening of the original Polo Grounds, some analysis of why Fulton County Stadium was a launching pad, and an interview with Joe Oeschger about the longest major league game and other memories. Authors included Stew Thornley, Seymour Siwoff(!), David Smith, Ted DiTullio, and Richard Cramer. This issue has, of course, some variations in quality, but there’s really nothing you could fairly characterize as filler in this edition.

The classic sabermetric piece is Dick Cramer’s “Average Batting Skill Through Major League History,” which uses a moving average based on Cramer’s Batter Win Average (BWA) statistic (discussed in the 1977 BRJ) in an attempt to discover whether player performance has increased or decreased over time. I’d read this piece before, and been concerned about Cramer’s treatment of outliers, but this re-read has convinced me that he handled my concerns adequately. There is room for some quibbling, of course, but his basic point–that the talent level of major league players has increased substantially over the years, and that it continues to increase–is well argued and well supported by his data. This article is often cited as an important early analytical effort, which it is; someone should apply modern methodologies to the question and see how things hold up.

The early chapters of the 1980 edition are devoted to the post-playing careers of Billy Sunday (by Robert Muhlbach), Alfred W. Lawson (Lyell Henry), and Frank W. Olin (Tom Hufford). Henry’s Lawson piece is particularly interesting.

A number of events are commemorated in this journal, including The Last Tripleheader (A.D. Suehsdorf), a 1880 night game between two department store teams (Oscar Eddleton), and the Polo Grounds opening mentioned above (John J. O’Malley). Seasons considered include Joe Bauman’s 72 HR campaign (Bart Ripp) and the 1884 St. Paul Unions (Stew Thornley–I think his first SABR publication). Biographical treatments, besides those mentioned above, included Negro Leaguer Cannonball Dick Redding (John Holway) and nineteenth century star Jim Sheckard (Gregg Dubbs). There’s also a cute little piece on Rube Waddell playing college ball, writen by Harold Esch.

More or less sabermertic pieces, besides Cramer’s effort, included Seymour Siwoff’s accounting of some previously-undiscovered RBI records, David Smith on stolen bases (using Maury Wills data–and evidently Smith’s first SABR pub), and John Schwartz’ look at Intentional Walks.

Robert Kingsley’s look at Atlanta home run rates and Richard Burtt’s similar look at Pittsburgh triple rates both seem inadequate, as both explicitly discount what seem to be obvious causes (altitude in the Atlanta case, field dimensions in the Pittsburgh case). I think this is partly a case of we better understand these dynamics nowadays, and partly willful blindness on the authors’ parts.

There are, of course, the usual array of lists-with-explanatory-paragraphs; I shan’t list them here. Al Kermisch’s Researchers Notebook looked, among other things, at a postponed game in the 1918 World Series, Silver King’s no hitter, the 1889 Louisville player’s strike, and a recording error in Harry Schafer’s fielding records. Along the same lines was Arthur Ahrens attempt to pin down a story about an oft-misreported Bill Lange catch–Lange supposedly went through the outfield fence. Ahrens offers a plausible reconstruction which suggests that a couple odd incidents in a single game got garbled as folks retold the story.

So there’s some biography, some excellent historical work, a couple minor league pieces, and a key analytical piece. Something for every SABR audience.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Bill James Presents The Great American Baseball Stat Book (1988) edited by Don Zminda and Project Scoresheet

My review of the first book in this series set attracted a note from Geoff Beckman, who helped edit both editions. It would likely be worth your while to read Geoff’s comments before reading on….

Geoff considers this the weaker volume, and on the whole he’s right, as it lacks the zing of the initial edition. There were 338 player essays (up from 240), but on the whole they’re less interesting. Too many read like spring training player profiles, emphasizing the player’s tools and potentials while downplaying his demonstrated weaknesses. This is not meant to imply that the essays are all bad. For instance, principal editor Zminda portrayed a stubborn and still-valuable Carlton Fisk on a Chicago team that didn’t much like him. Craig Wright’s commentary on Bret Saberhagen gives clues about the value Wright provided the Rangers as an early professional sabermetrician. Beckman’s own Mel Hall essay used six methods to frame Hall’s value and is absolutely delightful. Mike Kopf made an effort to get into Bo Jackson’s head. And Susan Nelson offered a fine look at Dennis Eckersley in transition from starter to reliever.

Nelson’s Eck portrait, in fact, illustrates the book’s unplanned theme: In 1987 baseball’s pitcher usage was in transition as most managers had largely abandoned the four man rotation and were retreating from their long-held preference that starting pitchers finish ballgames. In retrospect it’s pretty clear that the late eighties were a turning point, formalizing long-developing pitcher usage patterns in ways that few would have anticipated.

The second edition of the book added team essays, which were uniformly forgettable. These were followed by a set of truly interesting, but unsystematic, manager essays. For this reader, these justify the book’s existence.

There’s some worthwhile stuff in the back of the book. Gary Gillette–or perhaps the scoresheet project in general–offered some interesting measures of defensive ability, reworking range factor to measure opportunities more precisely. I’m not sure whether anyone followed up on this effort, but it’s certainly interesting. I’d like to see more work along these lines.

Gillette and Dave Nichols did something similar with base runners, measuring steals in terms of opportunities rather than attempts. This, too, seems to be a one-off effort, and again it would be interesting to see further work in this vein. The same authors also took a brief look at baserunner advancement on hits, not offering much analysis but presenting a few tables.

Mark Pankin followed up on his discussion, in the previous edition, on Markov Chain Analysis, mostly presenting better data but not really extending the earlier essay. Matthew Lieff and Gary Skoog considered a similar, but less calculation-intensive, approach to using the same data to examine the effectiveness of in-game strategies.

In other end-of-book essays, David Gordon looked at Quality Starts and found them meaningful. In contrast, Merrianna McCully offered scads of data about the weakness of contemporary pitching–a piece that I’d characterize as more entertaining than informative. And Brock Hanke described Whitey Herzog’s playing career, and pondered how it shaped the Cardinals organization when he became the team’s GM. The Hanke essay was a good preview of the work he’d later do elsewhere. It was also the book’s only piece I still remembered when re-reading 25 years later.

This was the first time I saw Hanke’s name in print. The same is true of several of the book’s other contributors: John Benson, Sherri Nichols, Stuart Shea, and Sean Lahman come quickly to mind. (Tom Tippett was there, too, as one of the project’s programmers.) Just bringing these folks (and Pankin, in the previous edition) to my attention is plenty of justification for the effort.

This was the last GABSB produced in this guise, though Gary Gillette would resurrect the title for another project a few years later. It was certainly a worthwhile experiment, but apparently wasn’t sustainable.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Percentage Baseball by Earnshaw Cook: a review

It’s likely my first contact with this book was Jim Gallagher’s review of the Waverly Press edition published in the September 12, 1964, issue of The Sporting News:

If I didn’t know Earnshaw Cook, I’d think his book was one of the loveliest hoaxes of all time … 120,000 words, plus 108 tables, 35 diagrams and countless fearsome formulas … all aimed at befuddling the pseudo-intellectual sophisticates who are taking over the business of sports comment. But although Mr. Cook is a humorous and good-humored man, he is as serious about his baseball theories as an orator at a political convention. [punctuation as original]


Cook, however, like all theorists, tends to be intolerant of [traditional baseball wisdom about randomness] and feels that baseball managers unwilling to adopt the methods indicated by his statistics are unenlightended … perhaps even stupid.

When a new edition was published by MIT Press, TSN editor C.C. Johnson Spink took notice in the April 23, 1966, issue of baseball’s bible. Spink’s commentary began “It would appear that major league managers have neglected their education if they have not studied college-level mathematics.” After a few comments about the book’s difficult reading level, he goes on to summarize the book’s most interesting suggestions–regarding bunts [don’t, except for pitchers], batting order [best hitter first; worst last], pitcher usage [3 per game, with the “starter” pitching the middle 5 or 6 innings], and platooning [don’t do it]. Spink also repeats, without comment, Cook’s contention that following his suggestions would improve a team’s annual scoring performance by 273 runs.

Spink would again mention the book, clearly favorably, in a May 1, 1971, editorial about pitcher usage. I didn’t find any subsequent editorial mentions of the book, though Waverly Press advertised the original edition for years, even after the MIT Press edition was available.

In the modern sabermetric community, Cook is generally acknowledged as a pioneer baseball analyst who did some useful work. A few analysts have apparently even extended his best work. But the consensus can be fairly characterized as dismissive.

Here’s the thing, though: The book, whatever its merits, is unreadable. The math usually seems to work, if you can follow it, but following it is difficult. Problems include the use of uninformative variable names [for instance, scoring index is Dx], calculations that generate not-obviously-meaningful numbers, and the book’s organization which unhelpfully splits the statistical discussion between the main text and the appendices. There are also numerous off-topic digressions, most of which demonstrate Cook’s belief that deadball-era baseball was superior to the modern “cheap homer” brand (a legitimate opinion, but not a helpful issue in this context). There are a few howlers in his analysis, of course; the most telling are his discussions of batting order and platooning, neither of which stand up to careful examination. Most trying, though, is the man’s sheer contentiousness: He doesn’t suffer fools, and he considers everyone foolish.

So why read the book? I can think of two reasons. You might want to mine the book for its equations; people have certainly done that, and found value. Or, like me, you might just want to read everything sabermetric. Unless you fall into those categories, you really don’t want to go there.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Baseball Research Journal 1978 edited by Bob Davids: a review

Bob Davids, with help from Emil Rothe, collected the usual range of serious research and lightweight work for the seventh BRJ, which the editor notes was published late in the season (September, evidently). The best work in this edition is really quite good.

The issue kicked off with a pair of Braves-related pieces–Bill Price’s history of Braves Field, which is typical of the genre, and Randolph Lindthurst’s relatively short note about the relatively old (and temporarily very successful) rookies on the 1937 Bees’ pitching staff, Jim Turner and Lou Fette. The “lists with supporting commentary” department included Tom Hufford’s well-done piece about pitching appearances by position players, Ted DiTullio’s short commentary on players whose long major league careers occurred on a single team (for some reason he disqualified players whose teams shifted cities), Ron Liebman’s piece about pitcher winning streaks (the table’s more interesting than the discussion, methinks), Ray Gonzalez on Lou Gehrig (relatively weak, for Ray), and Paul Doherty’s essay on forfeited games. Bill James contributed a disappointing (to me) piece about what he’d later call the “Approximate Value Method”–which, uncharacteristically, he doesn’t fully define in the article.

Other pieces include essays about Chino Smith (John Holway), fielding feats (Rothe), nicknames (Stan Grosshandler), Fred Toney’s 17 inning minor league no hitter (Jack Rudolph), and Arthur Ahrens’ great exploration of the Western League’s turn-of-the-century transition to the American League, with a focus on Charlie Comiskey’s Chicago White Sox franchise. The Ahrens piece is worth the price of admission.

The issue featured two excellent sabermetric pieces. Pete Palmer’s essay concerned park effects in the American League, and is as good an introduction to the topic as I’ve ever seen. Pete’s later projects gained some sophistication, but this effort touches nearly all the basic issues. And Irv Matus, who apparently counted pitches for all the Mets’ games in 1976, authored an excellent examination of the impact of pitch counts on pitcher performance. I doubt this was the first time such an effort had been made, but if anyone published such a well-thought-through analysis before Matus I’ve not seen it.

SABR’s membership’s interests are varied, and its audiences are many. They were well served by this issue.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

The Baseball Analyst Issue 6: a review

Bill James published 40 issues of The Baseball Analyst in the 1980s. All are available on SABR’s website.

James edited this issue, which includes five articles (one apparently frivolous); James added an editorial comment at the end. Three of the articles are followups to articles in earlier editions.

Paul Schwarzenbart completes the ballpark study he began in the first issue of the Analyst by documenting the American League parks. He again concludes that the main playing impact of artificial turf is that it reduces infielder errors, but conceded Craig Wright’s argument (Issue 2) that Schwartzenbart’s data also shows a similar, albeit lesser, impact in the outfield. The infielder impact is a strong effect, but the author points out that a superior fielder can be shown to overcome the effects of a difficult infield. He also comments on the best of the then-current crop of A.L. infielders. The numbers in this article are interesting.

Dan Heisman’s contribution is not so much a research report as a contemplation of the relative merits of long careers vs. high-peak careers. Some of the discussion is provocative, though James’ concluding editorial comment takes issue with one of Heisman’s main points. The note concludes with a tabulation of five-year peaks for some notable players.

Dallas Adams follows up on his first-issue study of run scoring distributions by demonstrating that his summary data correlates highly with won/lost record. He incidentally supplies three ways to calculate a team’s winning percent based on runs-per-game/opponent’s-runs-per-game data. This essay’s decidedly less ambitious than Adams’ previous efforts, but it’s presented well.

Pete Palmer extends the Jim Reuter essay, on park factor calculations, from the previous issue of the Analyst. Palmer’s first extension demonstrates that Reuter’s method works better if the calculations are based on innings rather than games, and shows how to make the necessary adjustments. He also suggests a further, individual-player, version of the factor which he doesn’t fully describe. The second extension begins with the observation that a team’s offensive “park effect” is partly the product of not facing the local pitching staff; he adds adjustments to allow for that. James’ editorial comment takes issue with some of Palmer’s assumptions, pointing out that James and Palmer differ on the implicit meaning of context as applied to calculating park effects.

Finally, someone claiming the name Cuthbert Magnolia offers a method for comparing pitchers, apparently intending to create a measure similar to Runs Created. I’m not sure I understand the method, and the essay itself is deliberately insulting. But the results seem to make sense.

The Baseball Analyst Issue 5: a review

This issue, like all 40 issues of this journal, is available on SABR’s website.

This edition begins with a plea from Bill James for more material. The issue’s four articles are by Dick O’Brien, Jim Reuter, Pete Palmer, and Dallas Adams.

O’Brien’s contribution is a quick-n-dirty examination of the relative importance of hitting and pitching when a team’s record improves or regresses by .031 (5 games). He concludes that teams whose records improve might show improvement at either offense or defense (or both). While collapsing teams have generally similar numbers, it appears more likely that the cause is a decline in offensive production. He goes on to examine ballpark effects. (O’Brien’s getting better at writing up his studies, which is good.)

Jim Reuter takes on Park Factors in this issue, arguing that simply splitting the season’s ballpark effects into home/not-home distorts the impact of extreme home ballyards. A better method would treat all league ballparks equally, at the cost of a slightly more complex calculation. The impact of the corrected calculation is, he shows, small (1% for Wrigley), but worth getting right.

Pete Palmer takes a look at the impact of balls and strikes on batter performance, based on data collected for 31 mid-1970s postseason games. He finds, unsurprisingly, that batters OBA improves as the ball count goes up; more surprising is the discovery that strike counts impact SLG far more than balls do. I’m sure this study has since been replicated with larger and more representative datasets, but don’t recall having seen that.

Dallas Adams gets more than half of the issue to complete his Issue 4 study of the distribution of run scoring, exploring some ways the data can be applied. Again, this involves fairly sophisticated math, but Adams is extremely good at explaining his methods. Definitely worth reading.

The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1988: a review

This was the last edition of the Abstract, and the weakest of those published nationally. Unlike most of the issues, this one has no overarching theme, and offers little in the way of pathbreaking research. One new analytical tool, Pitchers’ Game Scores, is introduced in this book, but Bill doesn’t seem to recognize that folks would put it to use. The overall tone’s valedictory, from the dedication to the closing essay.

That’s not to say the book’s a washout. There is, for instance, an interesting examination of platooning, as practiced in the mid-1980s. While there are wide variations, Bill reports, basically all hitters have a platoon advantage against opposite-handed pitchers of between .020 and .030. Breaking things out further, he finds few player types with greater-than-normal advantages–power hitters, for instance, aren’t much different from normal; neither are players with high strikeout rates. The only apparently-significant groupings he reports are older hitters, and perhaps hitters who work pitchers for walks, both of whom have higher platoon biases than normal. This seems to have been the first systematic examination of platoon advantage based on game data. On the whole, it mostly confirms conventional wisdom.

In other essays, Bill presents an argument that the minor leagues should be freed from major league control, and makes some predictions about the effects of the 1988 changes to the strike zone enforcement rules. One of the essays describes Game Scores, apparently for the first time; it’s since become a staple of sabermetric analysis.

The team essays are, as in the 1987 edition, actually focused on the teams; most, frankly, are pretty dull. The Twins essay did a fine job of dissecting their success, though, and a followup essay skewered the notion that the Twinkies were unusually dependent on two pitchers. The Oakland chapter is largely devoted to trying to understand LaRussa’s quirks, which turned out to be an ongoing sabermetric theme. The excellent Cards essay triggered a second excellent essay which used Herzog as an excuse to examine the field manager’s job. And the Astros essay is one of the finest analyses of a team’s season anyone’s written.

The best team essay, though, is about the Indians, and how folks could have predicted success for a team which played so horribly, and about the team’s prospects in the near and middle term. This is Bill James at his best–witty, sarcastic, and right on target analytically.

The player essays are different from any prior edition. Bill only wrote about players who interested him in this issue, most of whom got several-paragraph essays. None really struck me as special, though the Tim Raines essay is a reminder of the wonderful skills Rock brought to his team.

The book ends with an essay, “Breakin’ the Wand,” which reviews Bill’s career as a baseball analyst–and discusses his impact on the sport, both positive and negative. It’s worth reading, but not worth going out of your way to read, methinks. It is clear, at the end, that James expected he was planning to pursue other interests and would be leaving baseball analysis behind. That’s not, of course, exactly what happened.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.