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The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball Paperback – May 1 2007
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"I can heartily recommend . . . The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, by a trio of talented sabermatricians." -- Rob Neyer
About the Author
Tom Tango runs the Tango on Baseball website and has consulted for major league baseball teams. He lives in New Jersey. Mitchel Lichtman has been doing sabermetric research for over seventeen years and was the senior analyst for a major league baseball team. He lives in New York. Andrew Dolphin has been working with sports statistics for over ten years and is a consultant for a major league baseball team. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.
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For the layman, there may be too much math throughout the book. However, they do a fantastic job of summarizing each idea in plain English at the end of each section. For example, in chapter 2 on hot and cold streaks, after presenting data, explaining their process and interpreting results, they summarize the section with "Knowing that a hitter has been in or is in the midset of a hot or cold streak has little predictive value. Always assume that a player will hit at his projected norm (adjusted for the park, weather, and pitcher he is facing), regardless of how he has performed in the very recent past. A player's recent history may be used as a tiebreaker."
Managers, players, fans and the media often put too much emphasis on results from small samples sizes. The authors warn against making this mistake. "One of the pervasive themes of this book is the danger of inferring too much from too little by underestimating the influence of randomness". For example, they summarize a section on pitcher-batter matchups with: "Knowing a player will face a particular opponent, and given the choice between that player's 1,500 PA (plate appearances) over the past three years against the rest of the league or twenty-five PA against that particular opponent, look at the 1,500 PA. "
They aren't afraid to point out when general baseball wisdom is correct. On starting pitchers, they write, "pitchers perform best with five days of rest, and worst with three days of rest. To manage our entire starting rotation effectively, four days of rest seems to be the optimal point. The current MLB pattern of scheduling the starting rotation works."
This book is at the top of my recommendation list for thinking baseball fans. I'm a bit surprised that I'm the first reviewer of this book on Amazon, since it has been out for three months. The sales ranking (currently #47,000 as I write this review) is disappointing for such an incredible book. The Book deserves to be at the top of the baseball best seller's list.
They attack a sequence of important subjects, mostly around game-tactics and, by consequence, roster-construction with hard data. And they are aware of an important bit of knowledge: (a) that not everything is measurable, and (b) that some aspects of the not measurable are important.
One star short of maximum because it's not a page-turner for most readers; the writing is more than adequate, but not energizing, so it's a book most will pick up, read 15 pages, put down to digest.
I'm very glad I read it. This is a keeper even for a limited-shelf-space baseball reader; I'm squeezing it in right next to "Hidden Game".
My purpose in studying baseball is from a sports betting perspective. The conclusions (such as run equity and win percentages given different situations) make this book a mandatory purchase for anyone who bets on Baseball live, or conducts a very thorough analysis of moneyline prices.
There has never been a book on baseball so well written that targets all ranges of sabr-metric fans. This will teach you the subtleties in baseball that add small percentages to winning games and scoring runs. If you are a fantasy baseball player, a lot of this content is invaluable to you as well.
The authors use a detailed data base (including each at bat over a period of years) and then do a statistical analysis of results. And, they argue, the unwritten book is often wrong. The first chapter lays out the logic of this book's orientation. Many readers might find the chapter dense and too quantitative for their taste. My advice? Close the book and put it away, because the book features much statistical analysis.
To illustrate the work's approach. . . . Here are some issues addressed: How real are batting streaks (Answer: You can't predict how a player will do during a hot streak; there is no inherent "momentum")? Chapter three looks at pitcher-batter confrontations. Do certain pitchers "own" batters? Do certain hitters "own" pitchers? Data analysis suggests that we overrate these ideas. We all talk about clutch hitters and clutch pitchers. Chapter 4 takes this notion on (read the book to find out what actually happens).
Chapter 5 examines how to construct a batting order; Chapter 6 examines lefty-versus righty confrontations between hitters and pitchers; Chapter 9 looks at the value and efficacy of the sacrifice bunt; and so on.
If the reader is a figure filbert and likes sabermetrics, this book will be a delight. If you are old school, not so much! But, for me, a lot of fun. . . .
The book does miss a key idea on the bunting chapter. It does not differentiate between sac bunts and bunts for base hits. Some of the information is a little redundant. I recommend "Baseball Between the Numbers" if you want to keep reading about interesting baseball stats.
Also, the information on this book is a little outdated. It would be interesting to see "The Book 2" or something with more recent numbers