The 1987 Bill James Baseball Abstract: a review

This edition of the Abstract begins with two long essays–a rather dull 18-page project about ways to validate analytical methodologies, and a fascinating 41 page essay which purports to be about Rookies but which is actually about comparing careers using similarity scores. Bill explores lots of possibilities in this essay, which has more breadth than depth, but offers enough substance to satisfy almost everyone.

The team essays ring in at exactly two pages, and all of them actually discuss the team, the manager’s approach to play and personnel, and other issues which are relevant to that specific team’s situation. I particularly liked the essays on the Pirates (James correctly predicted they’d mature into a formidable squad), the Reds (mostly an exploration of Pete Rose’s strengths as a manager), and the Angels (a smart, veteran, ballclub, examined in fine detail). Not all James’ predictions and analyses pan out, of course; in the Cubs essay he explicitly wrote off Greg Maddux, for the book’s greatest error. But such are the risks of such a writing project.

Interspersed in the team essays, but separate from them, are a bunch of short studies. The best is an essay, called Rushing ‘Em, about the length of time players have spent in the minors since World War II; James concludes that there’ve been few changes. There’s also a nice piece about Clemens’ MVP year, directly comparing the pitcher’s season with Don Mattingly’s. Some of the others are weak.

The player profiles vary, as usual. The John Kruk portrait is great; Bill captured him perfectly years before John became the character we all recall from his Phillies seasons. Pitching, as usual, gets short shrift, though Bill’s clearly making an effort to improve this portion of the book.

Gary Skoog contributed a back-of-the-book essay about ways to use play-by-play data to improve Runs Created formulas; an interesting early effort. The book ends with a bunch of situational breakdowns.

All in all, a strong effort.

This review was also published on LibraryThing.

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