Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
After Bill James stopped publishing his annual abstracts in 1988, sabermetric analysis of baseball was rarely found in book form for a decade or more. Sure, there were annual publications from Stats Inc., but in the main, the genre did not take off. The last few years have seen a renaissance of sabermetric book publishing with the Hardball Times and Baseball Prospectus annuals, the new Fielding Bible from John Dewan, and now "The Book- Playing the Percentages in Baseball" by Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin.

The aim of "The Book" is to test the propositions in the proverbial book that managers are often said to follow. You know the ones- "play for the win on the road and a tie at home", "ride the hot hand" and other homilies that announcers intone solemnly without giving them a second thought.

The book begins with a set of tools, including win expectancy tables for each runner/out/score/inning contingency in an average current context (5 runs/game). These tables are fascinating and should be essential knowledge for managers. To give a flavour, imagine a home team facing the same pitcher two different situations, one in the bottom of the sixth inning up by two runs with runners on first and second base and nobody out; the other a tie game in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on first and nobody out. The relevant win expectancies for decisions whether to attempt to sacrifice are:
inning  runners   out  score   WE
6th     1/2       0    +2      .889
6th     2/3       1    +2      .889
6th     1/2       1    +2      .860
6th     1/2/3     0    +2      .925

9th     1         0    0       .722
9th     2         1    0       .707 (!)
9th     1         1    0       .644
9th     1/2       0    0       .823

A "successful" sacrifice actually reduces the chance of winning in the ultimate 1-run situation. Now, that was a surprise. It would have been nice to see the win expectancy tables for a low-run environment for comparison purposes.

The authors explain later in the book why this does not mean that sacrifices should never be attempted-the vagaries of the situation (the bunting ability of the batter, the speed of the batter and runners and the defensive positioning) affect the probabilities of each possible outcome occurring.

The book never reverts to sabermetric cant, and if anything, leans a little bit to generous acceptance of the foibles of the managerial community. For instance, the authors note that managers attempt far more bunts with a runner on first and no one out in the first inning than in any inning until the seventh; the authors suggest that managers do so because second place hitters are often good bunters. The criticism offered is gentle and implicit, rather than "the telegraphed bunt in the first inning of a 0-0 game with a runner on first in a moderate run context is simply a managerial error", which another less kind writer might have said.

Topics covered in the book, aside from sacrifice hitting, include hot hitting/pitching, batter/pitcher matchups, clutch (late-inning and close) hitting, batting order optimization, platoon hitting and pitching, starting and relief pitcher usage, the intentional walk, base-stealing and bluffing. Most of the conclusions will not be a surprise to those who have followed the authors' work on the internet, but it is very handy to have the work collected in a single text.

The writing has its fine moments. This excerpt from the chapter on bluffing caught my attention:

"For example against a 'pitchout happy' manager like Jimy Williams, it may be correct to never hit and run or attempt a steal. If you do that, however, Williams will eventually stop pitching out, or at least will pitch out less often. You must 'throw him a bone' every once in a while to encourage him to continue to pitching out too frequently."

In the main, though, readers of "The Book" will be attracted to the content rather than the expression. The authors chose, in pitching the level of the book, to emphasize accessiblity over technical rigour and clarity. This was probably a wise choice; the market for baseball books at the level of a 2nd year university statistics course is small. Most of the hard-core technical detail is found in the Appendix, and some is simply not stated.

Eyebrows will be raised a couple of times when reading "The Book". The authors define clutch hitting situations as those where the batter's team trails by 1-3 runs in the 8th inning or later, without discussing the concept of leverage which figures prominently in discussions of reliever usage. One might have thought that the same reasoning that makes a 3 run lead in the ninth a low leverage situation for a reliever makes it also a non-clutch situation for the batter facing the reliever.

These reservations aside, "The Book" is worth a read. It deserves a better fate than jazz's legendary sheet music collection "The Real Book", known to all as "The Fake Book".

"The Book" can be ordered at
Sabermetrics for Managers-The Real Book | 8 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Magpie - Wednesday, March 22 2006 @ 11:22 AM EST (#143196) #
...if anything, leans a little bit to generous acceptance of the foibles of the managerial community.

And this was wise of the authors. A certain humility, in the face of what we do not know, is an excellent policy. Because even the best and most rigourous analysis of the possibilities and the outcomes always bumps against the same impenetrable wall - we never know everything that could shape a particular outcome, and in all likelihood, we never even know enough than to do much more than to take what we do know, mix it in a pot, choose a course, and hope for the best.

Hey, isn't that what managers actually do?

Anyway, this sounds very much worth reading.

robertdudek - Wednesday, March 22 2006 @ 11:39 AM EST (#143200) #
There were successors to the Bill James Baseball Abstract; namely "The Baseball Abstract 1989 (new authors)", "Baseball Sabermetric" and "The Big Bad Baseball Annual".

But it is true that there has been a renaissance, feeding off the emrgence of internet sites dedicated to baseball analysis of various kinds, most prominently the dear-departed Baseball Primer.

Chuck - Wednesday, March 22 2006 @ 12:03 PM EST (#143202) #

I have read portions of the book and concur with Mike that it's a worthwhile read, particularly to those who missed out on the similarly themed Hidden Game of Baseball back in the late 80's. I am not such a person, but I would imagine that many of the younger Bauxites would fall into this category.

A certain humility, in the face of what we do not know, is an excellent policy.

This is certainly true. And further, Tango et al are presumably intentionally treading lightly in these backlash-filled days, where the broad latitude once granted to the self-assured Bill James and BP writers is no longer so broad within sabr-minded circles.

mark. - Wednesday, March 22 2006 @ 03:39 PM EST (#143214) #
I ordered The Book a while back and will get my hands on it tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to it.
Wildrose - Wednesday, March 22 2006 @ 10:58 PM EST (#143236) #
My book came in last week, you certainly need a quiet place to contemplate its contents.

I'm reading the section on platoon splits currently. Some very interesting stuff, (the relative value of a Loogy (Schoeneweis), curveball pitchers having moderate spilts (Frasor),pitchers who have sideways movement having large splits (Chulk).

I'm a little worried about Chacin as a starter given his large splits last year (.597/.772 L/R OPS), but I suppose he's still young enough to stop this trend.

mark. - Thursday, March 23 2006 @ 12:29 AM EST (#143238) #
If Chacin maintains that disparity between his splits, he may be prime candidate to one day become a LOOGY. It doesn't seem that far fetched.
TangoTiger - Friday, April 07 2006 @ 05:24 PM EDT (#144675) #

For those interested, we posted an excerpt here:

TangoTiger - Monday, April 17 2006 @ 01:01 PM EDT (#145305) #

This will most likely be the last excerpt we publish from the book:

Thanks to everyone who took the plunge.


Sabermetrics for Managers-The Real Book | 8 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.