30 baseball books in 30 days of ’10: Day 21 — It’s hard not to have a ball at Hardball Times

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The book: “The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2010: Timeless Commentary, Innovative Stats, Great Baseball Writing”

The author: By the staff of HardballTimes.com; produced by Dave Studenmund

The vital stats: ACTA Sports publishing, 364 pages, $21.95 (paperback)

Find it: At the publishers’ website, via HardballTimes.com (linked here). Also at Powells.com (linked here)

The pitch: It’s the sixth annual edition of the big book of baseball stuff — half full of the ’09 review and commentary, and the other half full of statistics and graphics. Or as the editors say, it’s for “the wordy and the nerdy.” … and “our stats are totally awesome.”

Channeling the days of the old Sporting News Official Baseball Guides, THT (as it abbreviates itself) relies on a staff of baseball lovers that includes names that have become familar to those of us who regularily check in on their website for some different takes on how baseball is measured — Joshua Fisher, the former L.A.-based law student who launched www.dodgerdivorce.com; Geoff Young, who covers the Padres at Ducksnorts (linked here); Dave Studeman, who with Pete Simpson created the Baseball Graphs website (linked here); Chris Jaffe, a history instructor by day and self-proclamed stat-nerd by night; Alec Rogers. DC area attorney who retains an affinity for his hometown Detroit Tigers; and Mike Silver, doing PR work for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate), just to name a few of the seemingly dozens who contribute.

Some of this year’s pieces that caught our attention:

== A commentary by Jack Marshall on “The Content of Their Character” (pages 86-93) and how it applies to Hall of Fame voting. Marshall writes: “The turn of the century concept of fame was far removed from today’s Paris Hilton version, for fame was not merely celebrity, but deserved celebrity. ‘Fame’ meant ‘renown,’ accomplishment, acclaimed and admirable. … If the recipe for baseball greatness is going to contain character, integrity and sportsmanship, we had better decide what they are, how we are going to measure them and how much we need to have.” Because the words “integrity, sportsmanship and character” are included in the Hall of Fame voting instructions, along with a player’s “records” and “contributions to the team(s) he played on,” Marshall wants more structure to how that is determined.
According to his standards, Juan Marichal, who has already been voted into the Hall, shouldn’t be in based on his attack on the Dodgers’ John Roseboro in that 1965 game. Marshall: “I think an on-field attack like this is such a major sportsmanship breach that it should preclude Hall of Fame membership.
What about Manny Ramirez?
Marshall: His lack of integrity and sportsmanship disqualifies him for baseball hero status … he’s very popular with the fans, however, and I have no illusions that my harsh assessment has any chance of prevailing.”

== Young’s story on modifying the box score, especially with teams (like the Padres) that fall out of contention early enough, and the measure of the team’s roster should be determined slightly different. For example, taking the major prospects who play on a regular basis, they can be rated on a point system. Batters get one point if they have four or more plate appearances, one poitn if they reach base two or more times and one point if they have four or more total bases. Pitchers get one point for pitching five or more innings, one point for making 15 or fewer pitches per inning and one point if their strikeouts are greater than or equal to the number of innings they pitch.

== Jaffe makes a case for the 1972 World Series (remember it? Reds-A’s) as being the best of all time. “Which is not synonymous for ‘more memorable,’” he points out.

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== Warren Corbett writes a piece called “Paul Richards in a box,” which is adapted from his recent book, “Wizard of Waxahachie” (linked here).

== Mike Fist and Dave Allen tangle with the concept of “PITCHf/x,” a TV graphic that tracks pitch trajectory, speed, break and location for MLB Gameday web applications.

As for the statistics, learn more about Major League Equalavencies (MLE), Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and the latest developments in how defense is measured.

From their stat breakdowns of each team, did you know:

== Just five percent of outfield fly balls allowed by the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in 2009 were home runs.

== Dodgers first baseman James Loney had the lowest H-A (-.068) of any NL regular; Dodgers outfielder Andre Eithier had the highest (.079). That’s the home/away split, which takes each player’s GPA (Gross Production Average) and compares the number he generated during home games versus what he did on the road. A postive number is considered good.

== Angels catcher Jeff Mathis had 73 total bases and 73 strike outs.

== The Angels’ +52 corner infield plus/minus stat was the best in the majors last year.

How it goes down in the scorebook: This site, and the book, remind me of David Eckstein. You look at it, and maybe aren’t that immediately impressed after trying to size it up. It’s not SABR; not so much the Baseball Writers of America endorsed or produced commentary. But then you see it perform, give it a chance … and you’re not sorry you did.

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