Friday, July 06, 2007


I just finished reading Baseball Between the Numbers written by the gang at Baseball Prospectus. This book is looking at baseball through the controversial Sabermetric approach. And while this is a book about numbers and stats, it is still very readable to the average baseball fan. I do think that the editors put the chapters together wrong. They should have started with "What is so Important about Mario Mendoza" first rather than near the back of the book as that is the chapter where they argue why Average based metrics are not good enough.

I have to admit that I am convinced in part of Sabermetrics. They convinced me that ERA is not a good way to measure pitchers and that Batting Average is not reliable way to judge hitters. I can even buy into their Value Based model of evaluating players. I even think the method of finding good players in the minors is something that should be used in the future.

Where they lose me is when they try to make comparisons across Baseball eras. Here we see complete bias, not just numbers. The first chapter (it should have been toward the end) is a chapter attempting to prove by the numbers that Barry Bonds is a much better hitter and power hitter than Barry Bonds. They did show Barry to be better, but not before stating that Babe never faced the best athletes of his era since it was pre-desegregation and knocked off Babe’s numbers for it. They tried to find a fair number to use from how often the swimming record is broken, or some such non-sense. It was ridiculous, and an obvious attempt to bias in favor of Barry Bonds. They did not deal with any of the arguments that show baseball was harder for Babe than it is for Barry (no plush air rides, no cool night games, wool outfits, no knowledge of diet, higher pitcher’s mound, bigger ball parks, spitballs, etc, etc.). The book was actually appallingly pro-Bonds, as a late chapter also decided that statistics could not prove a power surge among elite hitters in baseball, only among the average hitters. That chapter did admit that it could only measure one benefit of steroids instead of all the benefits. It also failed to mention that Barry Bonds was one of those average homerun hitters prior to steroids. The chapter tried to encourage us to enjoy the records of law abiding baseball players being broken by steroid freaks. The book is just plain wrong morally on that point.

In the end, this book is a great read and really a must read for those who love baseball. It deals with all sorts of fun questions like which is better a 4 man or 5 man rotation (they decide 4 man). It talks about whether or not a stolen base is worth while. They do not think so, but I do not think they have measured all of the benefits of a stolen base. I do not think they were able to go far enough back in history to judge the stolen base and sacrifice bunt accurately. The talk economics of baseball as well as they interact with Billy Beane’s philosophy and whether or not Alex Rodreguiz is worth it. They argue against the effects of a catcher and against the big money on pitchers. It is a good book even if you disagree with much of it. This book intrigued me so much that I might put to the test some of the ideas in this book by joining a Fantasy Baseball league next year, and applying what I have read. That seems like a logical testing ground to me. I will let you know how it turns out. Until then, get the book.


Ryan said...

I hear you Lee,

But Bonds was hardly 'average' prior to the 'roids. Even by the uneven--and anti bonds--account in game of Shadows, he didn't start using until rather late, and had already had what most consider hall of fame credentials even up to that point--power included.

Lee said...

You have to realize up front that saying anything good about Barry Bonds is hard for me. I am a diehard Pirate fan, and I have disliked Bonds since he sold out and left the Pirates high and dry.
I do think he probably did have Hall of Fame credentials prior to roids. Although I think his power numbers were not what was going to get him into Cooperstown. It took him five years to pass 100 homeruns, and he only had 176 when he left Pittsburgh. He was shy of 300 after he turned 30. Usually power numbers would decline after this point. I think if he had a roid free career, he would have ended up with less than the magic 500 to be considered a Hall of Fame Power hitter.
That being said, I do think he would have had more stolen bases, more gold gloves, and a life time average of over .300. He probably would have made it.