The book: “Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers from the Team at Baseball Prospectus”
The author: Edited by Steven Goldman editor in chief of BaseballProspectus.com
The vital stats: Basic Books (Perseus), 464 pages, $27.99
The pitch: We admit to backtracking here in an effort to make sure all our bases are covered.
On Day 1 of our reviews, we savored all that the Baseball Prospectus had to offer its annual publication (linked here). At the end of the review, we linked to similar books of this number-crunching, argument-starting genre, and included “Extra Innings,” even though he had not come across it yet (it hits stores on April 3).
Now that we’ve had a chance to divide our attention and conquere the concept, this must have a review on its own.
This followup to the 2006 book, “Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong” is more than just what Goldman writes in the preface as a “gateway drug” to the annual Prospectus, but hard-headed analysis through all kinds of prisms in trying to relook at the way baseball has always been preceived to be through tradition, myths and other ordinary thinking.
A quote from former President John F. Kennedy from 1962, before one even gets to the table of context, correctly sets the tone: “As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of trusims and stereotypes, so in our own time we must move on from the rassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, bur essential confrontation with reality. For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrives and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all the facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
Seems a little reachy for the premise of a baseball book, but maybe it works? Have we reached a tipping point for which sacred cows are we apt to start tipping over here?
How about a way to evaluate performance-enhancing implicated players who may be a Hall of Fame candidates by coming up with a formula that takes into account their steroid-tainted stats? Jay Jaffe, with his Jaffe WARP Score (JAWS) sinks his teeth into that subject during his discourse included in Part I: “The Elephant in the Room.” (Jaffe says that Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens and Gary Sheffield should be clear enough to get in, while Sammy Sosa shouldn’t be, and Andy Pettitte is borderline … next up, how do we factor in guys who have had stem cell therapy, nanotechnology or even LASIK surgery?)
The traditional ways teams are built get the once-over a couple times by Jason Parks, Rany Jazayerli and Rebecca Glass. More on the way pitchers are handled in Part III — could Stephen Strasburg’s injury been predicted? Part IV takes on how to evaluate the importance of fielding — we’ll take Colin Wyers’ piece specifically called “Is It Possible To Accurately Measure Fielding without Shoving a GPS Device up Derek Jeter’s Ass?” That pretty much forces itself to be a must-read. And then there’s questioning why players like Jose Bautista even come into being in Part V.
An excerpt: In light of the Dodgers’ hot start (9-1 after 10 games), we take a look at “When Does A Hot Start Become Real” by Derek Carty on page 358, drawing upon formulas such as Bill James’ “whirlpool principle” and something called the “Pearson correlation”:
“Whether 16 games or 48 games, whether the middle of April or the middle of May, the fact remains that it doesn’t take very long for a hot start to become ‘real.’ After 16 games had been played in 2007, we would have estimated the hot-start 10-6 Arizona Diamondbacks to have finished with 91 wins; they ultimately finished with 90. While it seems a little hard to believe at first, once those first 16-17 games had been played, we could have made a very good guess as to where they would finish once all 162 were in the books … Of course, we need to remember that we’re dealing with probablity, not certainty … At the end of April, players, coaches and the media like to say that there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played. While of course this is true, believe it or not, by the end of April we are actually capable of making a very good guess as to how a team will ultimtately finish. We’ll never be able to say with absolute certainty — that’s why they play the games — but we wil lhave a lot more to go on than mere conjecture and platitudes.”
How it goes down in the scorebook: The top-qualify writing, and heavy-duty thinking, you’ve come to expect from the Prospectus staff is worthy of this heavy-duty bounded hardback (no more paperbacks this time around).
The stuff is also pertinent, not some kind of esoteric breakdown of an micromanaged aspect of the game that in the end may be somewhat interesting but not really relevant in the grand scheme. It matters, which makes it matter to the reader as well.
Also check out: The 2008 book, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over
The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book,” also edited by Goldman for Baseball Prospectus (linked here).