April 28, 2006

Review:  Baseball Between The Numbers
by Steve Lombardi, for NetShrine.com

When it comes to reading books, I have a couple of particular habits.  First, the majority of the books that I read are baseball related.  If I had to take a guess, I would say that the ratio of baseball books read to non-baseball books read, for me, is (at least) seventy-five to one (in favor of baseball).  Secondly, I am often reading a few baseball books simultaneously.  It is not unusual for me to have a baseball book present in several different rooms at my home.  And, when I find the time to read, I typically grab the book that is in the same room with me and I work with that one.

When I first received Baseball Between the Numbers (by the Baseball Prospectus Team of Experts), it became part of a new rotation of books that I wanted to start reading.  However, once I was about fifty pages into it, I decided that it was time for a change in my routine - and that every other book in my latest rotation was going to have to wait.  Why?  It was because I found Baseball Between the Numbers so enthralling that I just wanted to keep reading it above perusing anything else.  (So, my apologies to Game of Shadows, The Mind of Bill James, and Built To Win.  This move was no reflection on your content - it was more a matter of my being drawn to the extensive brilliance of Baseball Between the Numbers.  However, rest easy now - as I will be reading you all soon.)

In Baseball Between the Numbers, several members of Baseball Prospectus offer entertaining and edifying studies powered by keen statistical analysis on numerous baseball topics.

In particular, I found Nate Silver's essay on clutch/situational hitting skill (entitled Is David Ortiz a Clutch Hitter?) and the essay by both Nate Silver and Dayn Perry on identifying what team characteristics lead to winning championships (entitled Why Doesn't Billy Beane's Shit Work in the Playoffs?) to be so exceptional that, combined, these two offerings alone warrant purchasing this book.  

In any event, there were many other essays in Baseball Between the Numbers that the analytical baseball fan will - in my opinion - surely enjoy.  These include (in addition to the two aforementioned features):

Along with these specific features mentioned, there are at least ten other studies in Baseball Between the Numbers that will keep your attention.

In the spirit of full disclosure, there were two small and somewhat incommodious items that I did find in this book.  There was one study in the book (Can a Team Have Too Much Pitching? by Steven Goldman) that was so coagulated that I lost interest.  And, there was another study (Five Starters or Four? by Keith Woolner) where the findings stated that a four-man pitching rotation (properly managed) is the best option for a team.  Yet, another recent study in The Book - Playing The Percentages In Baseball found that pitchers perform best with five days rest, and worst with three days rest.

Nonetheless, one boring essay out of (at a minimum) twenty interesting studies is not a huge issue.  And, there will always be debate in the baseball statistical community over studies - where different camps adhere to conflicting findings on the same topic.  Therefore, there is no reason to allow these two small items change what is my overall impression of Baseball Between the Numbers - that this is a book that will quickly grab your attention, keep you stimulated, and provide an enhanced level of understanding with respect to copious essential baseball questions.  Therefore, I highly recommend Baseball Between the Numbers for the thinking baseball fan.

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