The book: “The Hidden Game of Baseball: A New Edition of the Baseball Classic that Ignited the Sabermetric Revolution”
The authors: John Thorn and Pete Palmer
The vital statistics: The University of Chicago Press, 432 pages, $22.50
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: This all kind of adds up now.
Even, perhaps, in a world where Charles Barkley still exists and may want to know just why Michael Jordan never made it as a baseball player.
In many ways, we’ve yielded to the notion that a player’s WAR, FIP and UZR are equal to or greater than an RBI, OBP or SLG.
And even more current, Wins Above Replacement has replaced Total Player Rating in the evolution of sabermetrics.
What’s intriguing now in circling back to pour over the thought process behind what Palmer, the stat-man, and Thorn, the history guy, attempted to convey 30 years ago in the original edition that seemed to rock the foundation of seamheads everywhere.
The foundation remains the same, even if a lot of the resource material has expanded and things have become quite more accessible to everyone with a laptop and search engine.
This revised edition may have 19 pages of new content – or, about 4.29 percent, according to our old-school math — but it only bookends the meat of what’s still there. The muddied type face of tables that are more of a Rosetta Stone look at how today’s measurements were meant to be interpreted is the real value of having this back in circulation.
In a new forward by Keith Law, the ESPN.com baseball writer who once worked in the Toronto Blue Jays’ front office, we’re reminded that “the voices of in the media who once held a monopoly on telling you which players were good have found themselves drowned out by an egalitarian tsunami of new writers and experts, armed with granular data that didn’t exist a decade ago.”
Without warning, we might add.
This thinking outside the batters box, a movement that created Bill James’ abstract applications for the supposed betterment of the game, is made all the better because while Palmer worked the digits, there was Thorn who brought “tact, diplomacy and clarity,” as Law is reminded about when re-reading this.
Thorn, in a new preface, also reminds us that “it was much harder back then to convince baseball professionals and beat writers that what we were saying held any water. And yet now it’s hard to find a baseball professional who does not see the value of analyzing all the data that are available to us.”
Easier, of course, because teams like the Tampa Bay Rays showed how to do more with less, based on new fangled number crunching.
Thorn, too, remarks that “we are in a bold new Age of Enlightenment, but fans and writers are not unanimous in believing that we are in a new Age of Enjoyment.”
Nailed it there, my grizzled friend. Just as he did with the original book, right there on page 2, when he warned us that a number “does not resound with meaning unless it is placed with some context which will give it life … a hidden game is played with statistics .. (and) the antis might argue that baseball is an elementally simple game (so) what else matters? How can baseball’s beauty fail to wither under the glare of intense mathematical scrutiny?”
Because, when applied correctly, it affects the very bottom line of everything – who wins, and who doesn’t.
Those numbers will never change.
To that point: Palmer’s new appendix ranks the “500 players of all time” through his “overall wins” statistic. Barry Bonds has emerged to the No. 1 spot ahead of Babe Ruth (130.1 to 129.0, without any steroid consideration), and they are the only two in history to exceed 100.
Current players who made it: the Angels’ Albert Pujols (69.6, and, at No. 20, the highest active player), Mike Trout (tied for 355th at 19.8) and Jered Weaver (tied at 443 at 17.0). The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is tied for 241st at 23.9, surprisingly low considering he’s behind such pitchers as Dave Stieb, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and John Franco, but it’s likely because he has more years of production to accumulate rankings. Adrian Gonzalez (No. 244 at 23.8) and Zach Greinke (tied at No. 463 with 16.5) also made it.
Sandy Koufax? No. 281 at 22.3, tied with Dizzy Dean.
And Matt Kemp? Not on this list.
More to know:
== Our 2012 review of Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers from the Team at Baseball Prospectus”