MAY 28, 2004
The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com
On June 15, 2004, Fireside books will release “The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers – An Historical Compendium Of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches.” Leading off, the scrawling in the very first frame of this scorecard reads that this book is a “must have” for every zealous baseball fan’s book collection.
Twelve years worth of research went towards the making of “The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers.” Back in 1991, Rob Neyer and Bill James realized that “there was a hole in the baseball reference library.” This book now covers that hole much like a trio of Richie Ashburn, Andruw Jones and Garry Maddox would defensively cover an outfield if they were to man it together. Neyer and James took on this task and have picked it clean and pretty.
Here is the line-up of what the Neyer/James Guide provides:
· A dictionary of the sundry pitch types that have been used in the history of baseball.
If you have always wondered what the difference is between a cut fastball and a slider, or a forkball and a splitter, you will love this feature of the Neyer/James Guide.
· The pitch lexicon is followed by compositions on the histories of Fastballs, Curves, Change-Ups, Sliders, Knuckleballs, Forkballs, Screwballs, and Spitballs. Each essay on every pitch includes a “Top Ten” list and an honorable mention group of the pitchers with the best pitch (featured in a respective essay).
You may have never heard of Johnny Miljus – but, James tells us that he had the 9th best fastball in the majors from 1925 through 1929. Further, James states that Jose Contreras has the 9th best fastball in the bigs from 2000 to the present day. Would many have thought that about Contreras? For curveballs, Neyer rates David Wells as having the all-time 10th best bender. At first blush, would you have put Boomer in the top ten? As you can see, as any remarkable “Top Ten” list should do, these rankings are stimulating and grand debate starters.
· A census (spanning over 320 pages) featuring nearly 2,000 pitchers – detailing (with documented sources) what they threw and, where appropriate, how they delivered the ball.
If the Neyer/James Guide was a Louisville Slugger, this roster and the information therein would clearly be the fat part of the bat. It is the ‘Pitchers Who’s Who?’ all-you-can-eat buffet. From Lefty Grove to Rudy May to Steve Dalkowski, they are all in there. (Inside joke that will make sense when you get this book: I especially liked the entries for the pitchers directly following the reports for Dana Fillingim and Bob Brown. Thanks to Neyer and James for those!) The records and detail here are replete and amazing. Incredibly, where applicable, entries note how a pitcher’s pitch selection changed over their career. Reading the Neyer/James Guide, you will learn that John Smoltz has changed his look more times than Madonna.
· As a supplement to the census, there are stand-alone lists of 70 major league Knuckleballers and 50 “Submarine” big league pitchers (since 1901) – both with commentary on each hurler listed.
Here you learn that every pitcher with the last name “Flowers” in major league history was a knuckleballer. Yup, both of them. You will also learn that Cy Young and Satchel Paige (among others) would on occasion come from down under.
· Concise biographies of ten (for the most part uncelebrated) pitchers who had Hall of Fame careers, pitched at least 30 years ago, and who have not been elected to Cooperstown.
These feature everything that you want to (and should) know about Tommy Bond, Tony Mullane, Wilbur Cooper, Eddie Rommel, Mel Harder, Lon Warneke, Tommy Bridges, Bucky Walters, Billy Pierce, and Bob Friend.
· Essays by Bill James on  “Abuse and Durability” (for pitchers),  a formula for predicting Cy Young Award winners,  the luckiest pitchers of all-time,  unique seasonal won-lost records, and  developing a codification system for pitcher’s ability.
Perusing these is akin to going back in time and reading (for the first time) the passages found in one of Bill James Baseball Abstracts. It is Bill James at his classic Bill James best. He has still got it after all these years – for example, stating that “Tony Saunders’ career disappeared faster than the backroom bartender in a raid on a whorehouse.” Expect the claims made in the entry on “Abuse and Durability” to resonate in the sabermetric enthusiast communal throng for several seasons to come.
The scrawling on this scorecard highly recommends “The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers – An Historical Compendium Of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches.”
In addition to it including all the superb content mentioned herein, the book - while being a compilation of efforts between Neyer and James - is not the “pat each other on the back, rubber stamp your buddy” result that often comes when there is a teaming of authors (who respect each other) working on a single project.
For example: Neyer selected Tommy Bond for one of his overlooked pitcher biographies. Yet, in his luckiest pitchers of all-time essay, James includes Bond in his findings. Neyer excludes Nolan Ryan from his “Top Ten” fastballs or all-time (stating that Ryan did not “always know where his fastball was going”). And, James lists Ryan as having the best fastball in the majors for the period 1970 through 1984. Further, as a follow up to his essay on “Abuse and Durability,” James allows Rany Jazayerli and Keith Woolner (the former, a good friend of Neyer) to respond to James’ claims and offer a rebuttal.
Many times, a baseball reference book that contains commentary comes across the same as attending a “This is the way it was!” lecture. Granted, that method can be educating. But, rarely is it entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time as teaching you something.
Since “The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers – An Historical Compendium Of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches” offers you two well stated opinions on several matters, and does not attempt to preach a form of baseball history gospel, it is simultaneously rousing, pleasing and enlightening. With this book, Neyer and James did more than just fill the “hole in the baseball reference library.” They have fashioned a Triple Crown performance in the process as well.
Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com. Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season. Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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