March 9, 2006

Review:  “The Book - Playing The Percentages In Baseball
by Steve Lombardi, for

In baseball, every time the pitcher toes the rubber with the ball in his hand, no one can predict with certainty what will happen after the pitch is delivered.  For many, this is the appeal of baseball.  Something always happens next - but what?  Light-hitting shortstops hit three-run homers.  Batted balls that appear to be outs bounce off infielder's heads for game winning hits.  Even the mighty Casey once struck out.  On any given pitch, in any game, anywhere, anything can happen.

To combat this lack of outcome assurance, many teams rely on "playing the percentages."  This is often referred to as "playing by the book" - where "the book" is a mind-bound collective work of notions perceived to be the intrinsic correct results to anticipate in certain baseball situations and action decisions are based on these expectations.  However, while many have faith in what they believe to the right baseball percentage plays, very few have the irrefutable factual evidence (based on years of data) to support these accepted wisdoms which they allow to guide their decisions.

Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin aim to address this baseball knowledge gap with their release of "The Book - Playing The Percentages In Baseball."

In "The Book," chapters are devoted to the following baseball game-play matters:

There are some wonderful conclusions shared within these contributions.  Such as:  

The above are only a minute fraction of what "The Book" tells us.  Also, in every case, the directives offered therein are based on years worth of data and comprehensive analysis.  And, it is the presentation of this pragmatic and supportive evidence which makes Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin's work here peerless.

In fact, because of wealth of statistics and perspicacious sabermetric examination contained in "The Book," this is not a breezy read.  Perusal of this work is best served in an environment void of distraction and conducive to concentration.  And, if you know nothing about Markov Chains, Random Fluctuations, Regression Toward The Mean, Standard Deviation, and sundry related topics, be prepared to get a courtesy (and concise) introduction.  In many ways, "The Book" should be viewed upon as being a hardcore textbook for baseball decision-making due to its presentation style which is almost always of a technical nature.

Taking this a step further, in particular, I found the chapters on batting order construction and sacrifice batting to be so edifying that they should be considered as "must-reading" for every G.M. and Field Manager in Major League Baseball.  And, if these parties are not smart enough to comprehend what is being conveyed on these topics in "The Book," they should run out and hire someone with the requisite mental capacity to digest this information - and who could then translate the message into terms that can be absorbed at their level.

Cutting to the chase, if you are the type of baseball fan who is predisposed to believe clichés (regardless of knowing if there is quantifiable evidence to support their genesis), rather than being the type of baseball fan who embraces actual enlightenment, you may not enjoy the experience that "The Book" lends to its readers.  However, for those in that latter explanation-seeker set, I do recommend that they consider reading this work.

Before closing, I would be remiss to not mention two items that I found missing in "The Book."  First, while information can be found on the official website for this book on the three authors' backgrounds, there is no inclusion of an "About The Authors" section in the print copy of the book.  Therefore, those only reading the book could be left wondering with the question of "Who are these guys?"  Secondly, there is no notation anywhere in "The Book" to advise the reader who (of the three authors) composed what sections of the book.  It would have been nice to know who's voice is being heard when reading particular sections.

These last items aside, overall, I am pleased to have read "The Book - Playing The Percentages In Baseball."  Based on my experience, I feel that anyone who likes to consider themselves to be an analytical baseball fan will want to look at this book.

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