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Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong [Paperback]

Jonah Keri , Baseball Prospectus
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 27 2007
In the numbers-obsessed sport of baseball, statistics don't merely record what players, managers, and owners have done. Properly understood, they can tell us how the teams we root for could employ better strategies, put more effective players on the field, and win more games. The revolution in baseball statistics that began in the 1970s is a controversial subject that professionals and fans alike argue over without end. Despite this fundamental change in the way we watch and understand thesport, no one has written the book that reveals, across every area of strategy and management, how the best practitioners of statistical analysis in baseball-people like Bill James, Billy Beane, and Theo Epstein-think about numbers and the game. Baseball Between the Numbers is that book. In separate chapters covering every aspect of the game, from hitting, pitching, and fielding to roster construction and the scouting and drafting of players, the experts at Baseball Prospectus examine the subtle, hidden aspects of the game, bring them out into the open, and show us how our favorite teams could win more games. This is a book that every fan, every follower of sports radio, every fantasy player, every coach, and every player, at every level, can learn from and enjoy.

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Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong + The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First + Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos
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Product Description

From Booklist

Who deserves recognition as the best baseball player of all time--Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth? The stuff of endless debates among baseball fans, such questions come into sharp focus when the experts of Baseball Prospectus start parsing their trove of statistics. Looking, for instance, at the Bonds-versus-Ruth issue, the BP statisticians systematically adjust the two stars' numbers to reflect changes in parks, in level of competition, and in training technology as they establish that although Ruth still holds the overall edge, Bonds could overtake him with a couple more good seasons. But these baseball mavens look beyond the performance of individual players, as they examine entire teams (the '04 Red Sox and '01 Diamondbacks, for instance) and even whole epochs (the golden era of 1949--57). BP numbers help readers see the world beyond the diamond as well, clarifying the economic pressures that push marginal players to use steroids and are increasingly pushing working-class fans right out of the stadiums their taxes are subsidizing. A valuable reference for baseball fans and cultural critics alike. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Baseball Prospectus is the top statistical web site in baseball and is extensively used, in print and on air, by a wide range of major broadcasters, magazines, and daily newspapers that cover Major League Baseball.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative. Oct. 13 2008
Format:Paperback
Amazingly detailed analysis! If you're a fan of sabermetrics, and the Moneyball-era, you'll love this read. Incredible.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ... Unless You Read baseballprospectus.com March 6 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Highly recommended anthology of papers written by the first generation of B-P writers. Several of the pieces in this book are now regarded as classics of the new baseball statistical analysis.
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4.0 out of 5 stars For hardcore stats fan! Nov. 8 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wow, almost had to get back to school to read this one! Lots of mathematical explanations abouts stats and mostly new ways to look a them. I loved this book, and i'll read it one more time eventually to be sure i've got everything to know in this bible.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Baseball Not As You Like It July 12 2009
Format:Paperback
If you are a statistics fanatic and think like a rocket scientist then this book is for you. I am not and was completely baffled by what I thought was useless information.
The authors have done a great job of amassing everything you didn't want to know about baseball and put their own spin on it.
After reading this book you may see baseball with different eyes - good or bad.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  40 reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Numbers of the Game June 28 2006
By mrliteral - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Probably more than any other sport, baseball makes use of statistics. We see this with every baseball game on TV: not just the basic stats like batting average and home runs, but more detailed information like how well a particular batter does against a particular pitcher. The statistics on TV or in the newspaper, however, only scratch the surface. Baseball Between the Numbers provides a much more in depth look at the numbers behind the game and how to analyze them.

This process involves two parts. First, there is a look at the popular statistics to see how well they really track a player performance and contribution to the team. Batting average, for example, is not a really good indicator of performance; slugging percentage and on-base percentage provide a better reading. There is also a look at certain beliefs in baseball - such as the existence of clutch hitters - and whether they are based in reality or more of a myth.

The second part of this statistical analysis is coming up with new stats to provide more information. There are a lot of these, but the one that seems emphasized the most is VORP, Value over Replacement Player. In simple terms, VORP gives the value of a player compared to a replacement player of minimal major league skills (like a 0.200 batting average). If a player gets 200 hits in a year, he does not really contribute 200 hits to his team; instead, he contributes only the difference between his hit total and that of the replacement player; if this value is 110, then the player contributes 90 hits.

The purpose of all this analysis is two-fold. For one thing, it helps evaluate the potentials of players, so it is useful from a scouting perspective. It is also good for comparing players who played in different time periods. The introduction of the book gives a good example as it tries to show who the better player is, Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds. Superficially, some stats favor Ruth (such as batting average) while others favor Bonds (such as steals). But for any comparison to be legitimate, many other things need to be taken into account, particularly with the environment that the two played in; for example, Ruth played in a "whites-only" era that excluded many great players of other races. The more elaborate statistics take these differences into account; this particular analysis favors Ruth slightly, primarily because of his contributions as a pitcher.

To some extent, this book covers some of the same ground as a book I read a couple years back called Curve Ball, but it also offers a lot of new stuff too. The principal flaw with the book seems to be inadequate editing, leading to a lot of redundancies between chapters (which are written by different people); hence, we get the same explanation for what a statistic means over and over again. In addition, considering its importance to the game, pitching is underrepresented in the book; although covered, the primary emphasis is on batting. Other topics covered include fielding, base stealing and managing.

There is a danger with a book like this to get TOO into the statistics of the game and lose appreciation for the game itself. Statistics are great for looking at trends, but in any one given event, you can never be certain what's going to happen. That's why when it's the bottom of the ninth, two out and the tying run's at third, it doesn't really matter what the numbers say, and that's when baseball is at its most exciting. This book will make you look at the numbers of baseball more critically, but it won't diminish the pleasure of watching the game. Despite the flaws, I am giving this book five stars; for a baseball fan, this is a compelling read.
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative overview of the key sabermetrics concepts March 15 2006
By Beanster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Some of this will be old hat to those who already take stats like fielding independent pitching for granted, but it's a nice next step for baseball fans who enjoyed "Moneyball" and want to dive deeper into the numbers.

The book is arranged into 27 short chapters - one for each out in a regulation game, obviously - which frame each concept through an interesting question like, does Derek Jeter deserve a Gold Glove? This makes the more esoteric concepts easier to relate to, although familiarity and ease with numbers, charts and probability concepts helps a lot. The questions also serve as a reminder that the conclusions and predictive powers of this type of analysis have major implications for real world GM's, managers and players, as well as fans and fantasy leagues.

Quibbles: some of the analysis occasionally feels unbaked, which is understandable given this is an emerging field dealing with enormous amounts of data and probabilities. The writers do acknowledge this, such as when comparing pitching stats to relatively more reliable batting stats. It would also be nice to have more real life examples to back up each conclusion, including more quotes from GM's and managers - now that there are a number of admitted practitioners - on how they have used these concepts and with what results.

All in all, certainly not the last word on this subject, but a very good introduction.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must for any baseball fan March 15 2006
By A. Pagano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Derek Jeter bunts Robinson Cano over to second base in the 10th inning of a tie game. Is this an example of a team leader doing whatever it takes to win or an example of a career .300 hitter foolishly giving up a critical out? David Ortiz hits yet another game-winning home run. That man is "clutch." Or is he? The authors of "Baseball Between the Numbers" turn conventional baseball wisdom on its head in a series of chapters each dealing with a specific aspect of the game. They cover everything from the value of stolen bases to the economic impact of new ballparks. This book takes the reader step by step through the type of analysis that has increasingly influenced baseball decision makers from Billy Beane's "Moneyball" approach to Theo Epstein's Red Sox.

You don't have to be a math major to get the points of the book, but some basic knowledge of statistical principles is a big help. It's easy to get lost in the numbers sometimes, and the presence of numerous typographical errors and incorrect charts exacerbates the problem.

This book should be required reading for any baseball fan. If you're already familiar with sabremetrics and how statheads view the baseball universe, this book consolidates many of the key ideas in one volume. If you're not, this is a great introduction.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good read, but... Nov. 9 2006
By Moonlight Graham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book. However, it felt like a big advertisement for Baseball Prospectus, a site which I actually subscribe to and read quite often. This book didn't bring any real new information to the table that they don't already cover on their site, so if you're choosing between the two, just subscribe to their site.

My biggest disappointment is that while they explain what Eqa and VORP are, in essense, they don't tell me exactly how they calculate it. I suppose they are protecting their assets, but one of the pleasure of reading Bill James is knowing his thought process in coming up with formulas that measure performance. As the Baseball Prospectus team would have it, I'm supposed to trust that VORP measures it precisely without me being able to understand exactly why. That irritates me, but it might not get to you.

The book is fairly well-written and is entertaining enough to pick up if you're interested in this kind of book.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Material! May 5 2006
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Baseball Between the Numbers" contains 29 provocative questions handled with numbers and critical thinking. One of the first topics involves deciding whether Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds is the best player. The first step was to determine how much each was relative to his league, after taking park effects into account. Doing so demonstrates that Ruth was the superior hitter relative to his time.

However, athletes are bigger, better than they used to be - eg. gold-winning time in the men's Olympic 100-meter swimming even fell over 40% between 1896-1996. At the same time technology has improved - baseball bats, gloves, and sports medicine and nutrition. Meanwhile, the U.S. population roughly doubled from Ruth's time til today, and blacks and players from Latin America have also been added to the player pool. (Foreign-born players now make up close to 30% of major league players; in '30 there were about 300,000 people/major league player - now it is close to 900,000.

The authors addressed these problems by tracking and comparing performance of players remaining in a league from one year to the next - generating an index of difficulty change, and also comparing one league to another. Doing so shows Bonds far superior to Ruth (even though he undoubtedly would have benefited from better nutrition and not drinking for his depression, while Bonds has benefited from surgery not available to Ruth). Two more adjustments later (for factors not well explained), it is concluded that Ruth was the better.

Then there is the question of steroids. Bonds' post 2000 performance was compared to that expected based on his stats to that point. Conclusion: Bonds produced 142 more H.R. between 2000 and 2004.

Bottom Line on Ruth vs. Bonds: Who knows; however, if you can follow all the math you probably belong on Wall St, if you're not already there.

Players' Salaries vs. Ticket Prices: Salaries averaged less than $30,000 in 1970. Then an arbitrator ruled that players could play out their "option year" and become free agents. Since '76 (first year of free-agency), average player salary went from $51,501 to $2,632,655. Average ticket prices during the same period rose 68% above inflation to $19.82 - the big event was the 6/89 opening of Toronto's Sky Dome with 161 luxury suites and a concession mall. Attendance skyrocketed there. But 12 teams without new stadiums raised prices about 50%, after inflation, from '91 - '05.

Analysis found that the only segment attending more games in the '90s than the '80s was households with over $50,000 income (plus those in the new skyboxes). Normally this new demand would be met with increased supply - but not in the closed world of baseball. Bottom Line: No link between player salaries and ticket prices.

Another particularly interesting chapter was titled "Are New Stadiums A Good Deal?" (for taxpayers). The short answer - "No," the money would be spent elsewhere anyway and be more likely to stay within the area (vs. rich team owners, players). In addition, creating room for skyboxes has resulted in cheap seats being located further away. As for revitalizing the area, there are too many "dark nights" for local businesses to grow and thrive. Finally, auditors have found that new stadiums don't even cover the costs of construction and operation - subsidies are required. Yet, it goes on - N.Y. city plans about $400 million in subsidies (free land and infrastructure; foregone taxes, etc.) for both the Mets and Yankees to build new stadiums.

And then are are almost 20 other chapters!
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