Thursday, March 15, 2007

Baseball Prospectus 2007

Ah, Spring. When a young geek's thoughts turn to the next Baseball Prospectus annual. Last year, I took the opportunity to discuss the annual, including some of their interesting articles and some of their humorous anecdotes. This year's annual is gigantic -- about 100 pages more than the 2006 version. The added bulk comes from more players, more analysis, and more prospects.
The key to Baseball Prospectus is that not only do they provide an excellent statistical overview of the season, they work within a broad framework that allows them to incorporate many different angles and perspectives. I don't agree with everything they have to say, obviously, but I can't dispute the fact that most of what they say is very sensible.
Some of the interesting discussions in this year's annual:
  • Keith Woolner, one of the architects of the "Pitcher Abuse Points" stat, revisits the formula behind it by incorporating the broad play-by-play data now available.
  • Will Carroll and Jay Jaffe study the use of amphetamines in baseball, looking at the ban that went into effect before the 2006 season.
  • New addition to BP Kevin Goldstein rates the top 100 prospects in baseball. Goldstein represents a more hybrid scouting/stats writer with a specialty in prospects. His addition to the BP staff offers them a much broader perspective on these issues (Goldstein's #1 is, no surprise, Alex Gordon of the Royals).
  • In the team-by-team essays, the BP staff discusses the tougher challenge faced by Billy Beane in the new, smarter baseball environment; the bold and productive rebuilding process run by Dave Dombrowski in Detroit; the success of the new youth movement in Arizona, etc. They also do an excellent job of succinctly tearing the Pirates organization a new bunghole. "It is important to note just how obtuse the management of personnel in this organization can be," they say, before finishing their remarks with this statement:
    There is not even a pretense of trying, perhaps not even of caring. The organization is a hollow shell, extant only because of a few age-old reasons; Baseball has roots in this city going back to the 1880s, the league requires an even number of teams to keep the schedule manageable, and someone was dumb enough to build them a stadium. The only rational response to the Pirates' apathy is apathy.

My main problem with this year's annual isn't so much the content as the editing. The book was one month late shipping, arriving in early March after an announced release date of early February. One would think that this would allow them to catch any glaring inconsistencies, but this is not so. For every player listed in the book, there is a series of stats, along with the PECOTA forecast for 2007, and a short paragraph of commentary. The problem is that the commentary doesn't match the numbers. Apparently, the editors decided to update the PECOTA entries at the last minute, without realizing that this would also change the commentary. There are about a dozen players whose text references numbers or players in their PECOTA forecasts who aren't there. It takes the reader a while to catch up when the text refers to a player's top 4 comparables by name, even though the 4 actually listed above are quite different. I do like up-to-the-minute accuracy, but I much prefer when the two parts of a player's entry actually match. I'm willing to forgive a few typos, but this was a pretty glaring problem.

All that aside, the book is worth reading (as always) and is the best baseball annual out there by a mile. I'll finish with a few examples of the BP humor. They overdid it a bit this year with the geeky references, but there were still some good laughs:

LaTroy Hawkins: "If dogs come home to die, and cats leave, pitchers go to Colorado. The $3.5 million the Rockies will pay for the privilege seems like a lot for a shovel and a hole."

Denny Bautista: "In one of his rare good starts in 2006, he induced 16 groundball outs in six innings. That's what the Rockies are after, but they might as well try to catch love in a butterfly net or spend 60 years teaching a pigeon to peck out 'Turkey in the Straw' on the xylophone in the hopes that it might one day play 'The Goldberg Variations.'"

Mike DeJean: "DeJean has made it known that he wants to retire as a Rocky, marking him as a man of singularly low ambition."

Ray King: Okay, BP didn't have much to say about him. But I still can't get over this resemblance.

Juan Morillo: "If you took him to the carnival and had him throw for the speed guns there, he could win you a lot of teddy bears . . . The Rockies will likely try him in the bullpen to see if they can harness his arm for more than just an array of stuffed octopodes."

Jayson Nix: "Jayson Nix has never adjusted to hitting in the upper levels of the minors. He and brother Laynce are both in danger of washing out of baseball due to a lack of strike zone recognition, but once they do, they could always donate their extra Y's to needy minor leaguers."

Jason Vargas: " Even though the Marlins had a really nice date with him in 2005, Vargas found himself buried in the pitching staff's Little Black Book last year. So, whatever, he totally didn't need them, and if Florida did decide to call, he'd let it ring a few times before picking up so as not to seem desperate. So what if he had a little walk trouble this year? Do you break up with someone over a few extra walks? Do you? And don't give him the whole 'It's not you, it's us; we just need more time to think' thing. He totally tried to be himself last year, and if he came off as something other than what he was, then so what? That's not his fault, right? The Mets called and asked for him by name, so he's with them now. Only when the Marlins finally come to town, it's going to be, like, so awkward."

Lance Berkman: "Berkman would like everyone to know that he hates the 'Fat Elvis' nickname some have tried to hang on him. He's right, too -- fat Elvis didn't have this many hits."

Terrence Long: "When Terrence Long was called up, Torre said, 'He brings us experience and has base-stealing ability. He's got some things that can probably help us.' Torre had gotten Terrence confused with Herman Long of the Boston Beaneaters. T-Long packed a lot of not hitting and poor fielding into 12 games. Herman, being quite dead, would have done less harm."

Carlos Lee: "If at some point during the season the Astros suddenly and unexpectedly put Chris Burke on the DL, it might not be that he's hurt, but that Lee ate him."

17 days 'til Opening Day.

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