30 baseball books in 30 days of April, ’12: Day 1 — The prospectus is as good a prospect as any to get started with profiteering

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The book: “Baseball Prospectus 2012″

The author: Edited by King Kaufman and Cecilia M. Tan

The vital stats:Wiley Publishing, 576 pages, $24.95

Find it: At Powell’s (linked here) or Barnes & Noble (linked here). And at the publlisher’s website (linked here).

The pitch: We’ve come to understand how, in its 17th edition, this equivalent to the baseball Yellow pages (ask your parents about that reference) ends up on the New York Times’ best seller list each year.

It is (as it well boasts) “the bestselling annual baseball preview from the smartest analysts in the business,” with endorsements from Keith Olbermann, Michael Lewis, Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer. It’s got Billy Beane quoted on the cover as saying it has “become the standard by which all scouting guides should be measured.” All that’s missing is Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill giving it two “thumbs up.”

Why we’re drawn to it, for the most part, are the critical essays rather than the metric crunching. And having former Slate sportswriter King Kaufman on board this year, helping to cull the 24 contributors who did the bulk of the snarky writing, it does tend to live up to our warped expectations.

This year’s cover also does an alluring job of trying to make L.A. baseball fans feel as if they need to crack this open for answers to questions such as: Will Matt Kemp be the “face of the (Dodgers) franchise, or the new Vernon Wells?” For the record, Prospectus predicts Kemp won’t come close to his 50-50 goal, saying he will go off hitting 24 homers, driving in 85, stealing 29 bases and hitting a modest .281.

It wants to know if the newest and biggest Angel, Albert Pujols, will be a “free agent albatross or Devourer of Worlds?” (It projects him to lead all of baseball with a “true average” of .338 and have the best WARP of 5.9, while hitting 32 homers, driving in 97 runs, scoring 95 and hitting .305.

Is teammate Dan Haren “the real ace in Anaheim?” Maybe so, since their stats project him to finish 15-8 with a 2.87 ERA and 179 strikeouts. Compare that to their best guesses for Jered Weaver: 14-7 with a 2.88 ERA and 171 Ks.

There’s also the quite disturbing projection that the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw will come off his triple crown season with a 12-9 record, a 2.71 ERA and 180 strikeouts (compared to 21 wins, a 2.28 ERA and 248 Ks a year ago). Take it for what it’s worth. They’ve also got Scott Kazmir coming back to the Angels this season to make seven starts and go 2-2 with a 1.33 ERA. For real?

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An excerpt: Whomever wrote the piece on the Dodgers (the author on every team analysis is left unknown) makes no secret of his dislike for GM Ned Colletti.
He calls Colletti’s offseason roster-building strategy as “downright brutal,” one that often demonstrates “a failure to understand the concept of positional scarcity.” They also can’t believe he’s considered by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci to be leaning now on sabermetrics since he revealed that re-signing left fielder Juan Rivera was based on his .566 OPS against left-handed pitching. But then, that is “something anyone with 10 seconds and a browser open to Baseball-Reference.com could find.”

How it goes down in the scorebook: A smartly-placed hit-and-run.

You might think the Prospectus bunch is a little too big for its BABIP (that would be “batting average for balls in play.” Kaufman justifies it in the intro by writing: “We’re not always right, but we’re usually looking in the right place.”

But then they go off with a sentence that reads: “An especially low or high BABIP may mean a hitter was especially lucky or unlucky — but it may not.”

So what is it?

If it didn’t have such a track record for forecasting team and player performances based on its “groundbreaking” PECOTA projection system that has been called by Sports Illustrated as “perhaps the game’s most accurate projection model,” we’d most likely lump it in with every other pre-season publication as something that can be thumbed through with reasonable skepticism.

But then we get hooked and want to see how the season plays out, checking their batting average. Usually, it’s pretty high. Dang it.

You might as well also check out:

== “Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers from the Team at Baseball Prospectus” (linked here)

= “Baseball America 2012 Prospect Handbook: The 2012 Expert Guide to Baseball Prospects and MLB Organization Rankings” by Baseball America (linked here)

= “2012 Baseball Forecaster and Encyclopedia of Fanalytics” by Ron Shandler (linked here)

= “Bill James Handbook 2012″ by Bill James (linked here)

= “The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2012″ (linked here)

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