Last month I reviewed the first baseball annual to hit e-shelves, The Bill James Handbook 2006. Today I am going to take a look at the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006. The Hardball Times annual is assembled by the same team of prodigious writers that bring us The Hardball Times (THT) website on a daily basis. Last year’s baseball annual was self-published, though this time around they went the professional route with Acta Sports, publisher of many outstanding baseball books.
The annual is divided into five main sections as follows:
1. The 2005 Season
2. 2005 Commentary
Each main section is divided into smaller subsections containing individual articles or sets of statistics.
Section 1: The 2005 Season
The annual kicks off with an introductory letter by Hardball Times patriarch Aaron Gleeman and is transitioned into the first section by Dave Studenmund’s (Studes) “Ten Things I Learned This Year”. Anyone who frequents the Hardball Times website will undoubtedly be familiar with Studes’ weekly feature, “Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week”, in which the author highlights a dime’s worth of baseball tidbits from the prior week. The “Year” version of this series is similar in nature, though its subjects are of greater distinction.
The majority of the first section is comprised of eight divisional reviews of the 2005 season. Brian Borawski of TigerBlog tackles the National League East. Borawski writes almost exclusively at THT on topics concerning the business of baseball, but he does a fine job with his review.
The reviews in general are very well done, though each is only around three or four pages, so the degree of detail is not quite what you would get from a team-specific retrospective. Each review is preceded by a graphical representation of the division race from April through October, so you can easily visualize the progress of each team in relation to each other. The Mets were consistently inconsistent: never more than eight games over .500 or less than five games under .500.
The first section is capped off with a review of the 2005 postseason by Aaron Gleeman and Studes. Much of the review focuses on Win Probability and includes a number of Win Probability graphs for individual games, including one for each game of the World Series, plus a total Win Probability Added (WPA) chart for every player in the World Series. In-depth and entertaining, this one is a must-read.
Section 2: 2005 Commentary
This section is probably my favorite, as it features eleven original pieces by the THT gang, including great guest articles by Rob Neyer (of ESPN.com), Alex Belth (of Bronx Banter), David Cameron (of StrikeThree.com) and others. All of the features here are very strong, but my two favorites are “Business of Baseball Year in Review” by Brian Borawski and “Crystal Ball: The 2006 CBA and the Battles Within It” by Maury Brown. As much as I am a fan of statistical analysis, I have recently become engrossed by the business side of our favorite game and these two articles did a wonderful job of indulging that interest.
Borawski’s piece looks back at the most prevalent stories of the past year with regard to the business side of baseball, including a fascinating and descriptive timeline of the relocation of the Expos to Washington. Meanwhile, Brown takes a look forward to the impending expiration next December of the current collective bargaining agreement and some of the issues that will be on the table, specifically contraction, revenue sharing, luxury tax, a worldwide amateur draft and drug testing.
Section 3: History
Much like the previous section, this one features a set of original articles — four to be exact. Unlike the previous section, these articles cover events prior to 2005. Baseball writer extraordinaire Bill James lends his talents to two pieces in this section: “Young Pitchers”, a look at the usage of 25-or-younger hurlers throughout baseball history, and “The Nasty Dutchman”, where James throws his hat into the “Analysts for Bert Blyleven” circle.
Rich Lederer at The Baseball Analysts has been selling Blyleven’s Hall of Fame case for years now (see: Baseball Analysts search results for ‘bert blyleven‘). James makes as compelling a case as any, and the results of his, Lederer’s, and others’ efforts are evident in the Hall of Fame voting, as Blyleven, while still well short of election, has seen his support among voters grow every year since 1999 (14%, 17%, 24%, 26%, 29%, 35%, 41%, with 75% needed for election).
Section 4: Analysis
“Analysis” features nine articles — including four by busyman Studes — analyzing the game of baseball from every which way. Here’s a quick breakdown of the section:
“What’s So Magic About 100 Pitches” by John Dewan takes a shot at debunking the recent (last 10 years or so) baseball maxim that a starting pitcher should be taken out at or around the 100 pitch mark.
“Are You Feeling Lucky?” by Dan Fox takes a look at the role of luck in baseball, particularly how luck might or might not affect the game at the team level (as opposed to the player level).
“What’s a Batted Ball Worth?” by Studes is a quick study on the results of balls put into play. It breaks down all matter of batted ball (outfield fly, groundball, line drive, infield fly and bunt) into categories of outcome (fair out, foul out, double play, error, fielders’ choice, single, double, triple, home run). This data is presented in chart form and, coupled with another chart detailing the run value of every type of baseball event (single, double, strikeout, etc.), reveals the average run value of every type of batted ball. For instance, a line drive is worth .356 runs on average, while a strikeout is worth -.287 runs on average. We knew this in general — a line drive is much more valuable than a strikeout — but this article explains this idea at a more statistically granular level.
“They Play in Parks” by Studes is an in-depth breakdown of Major League ballparks and their effects on types of batted balls.
“Batted Ball Fielding Stats” by Studes looks at team defense in 2005 based on fielding runs above/below average. Incidentally, the Mets ranked 7th overall, saving 24.81 fielding runs above average. This was actually a step down from 2004, where they saved 29.70 runs.
“Do Players Control Batted Balls?” by J.C. Bradbury and David Gassko examines the affect that players have on the result of batted balls given the mostly-recent availability of advanced batted ball type data.
“Giving Players Their PrOPS: A Platonic Measure of Hitting” by J.C. Bradbury looks at the top 25 overachievers and underachievers according to PrOPS, or predicted OPS (you can read an introduction to PrOPS at The Hardball Times.).
“Around the Bases One More Time” by Dan Fox attempts to valuate the impact of baserunning using a metric he calls Incremental Runs (IR). IR is basically the difference between the actual value of a player’s baserunning relative to the expected value based on his baserunning opportunities.
“Net Win Shares Value” by Studes evaluates players and free agents based on Win Shares Above Bench (WSAB) for each player and the average cost of a single WSAB leaguewide ($789,000). It’s a very interesting analysis of cost-effectiveness on an individual player basis, though only a small sampling of players are covered. (Net Win Shares are provided for every Major Leaguer in Section 5: Statistics).
Section 5: Statistics
While the other sections will be revisited occasionally after the initial read, this section will be used as a reference for the entirety of 2006 and beyond. The section is preceded by a brief introduction and glossary of metrics before launching full-bore into numbers, numbers and more numbers.
First up are league stats broken down by team as well as league leaderboards by player. The leaderboards include not-so-run-of-the-mill stats like Isolated Power (ISO, or SLG minus AVG), Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), Line Drive Percentage, Groundball/Flyball Ratio, and others.
This is followed by team stats by player which make up the bulk of the statistics section. Every player who appeared in a game in 2005 appears in this section.
If you enjoy reading the articles on The Hardball Times website then you will definitely enjoy this baseball annual. Every single article is unique to the annual and none are reprinted from the website. Many of the player statistics are available at the site, but I find it’s often easier to peruse a printed list than an electronic one, and for that the stats in this book are indispensable.
There are a lot of baseball annuals, and each one is unique and worth your hard-earned money. The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 could easily be sold as two independent publications — one a statistical tome encapsulating 2005 from a numerical point-of-view; the other a work of stunning literary baseball analysis unrivaled even by the respective annuals of Bill James or Baseball Prospectus.
If you’re going to purchase the book — why wouldn’t you? — do the writers a favor and buy it through the publisher, Acta Sports (website purchase link). It’s a few dollars more than some other online outlets but a larger chunk goes to the people who put their hearts and souls into this project, and they truly deserve it. Congratulations (and thanks) to all of the great writers at the Hardball Times for consistently putting forth the best baseball writing the web (and printed media!) has to offer.