Baseball BeatDecember 10, 2003
The Handiest Reference Book of 'Em All
By Rich Lederer

As promised last Sunday, I am posting a mid-week special regarding the 2004 edition of The Bill James Handbook. The Handbook is unlike The Bill James Abstracts from 1977-1988, the Bill James Baseball Books from 1990-1992, and The Bill James Player Ratings Books from 1993-1995. The major difference between this book and the others is the amount of commentary from Bill James. The Handbook has a grand total of five pages written by James whereas the others are full of his comments, evaluations, and stories.

Despite a dearth of writing on the part of James, I found the Handbook to be full of interesting statistics and facts about the 2003 season and the career records of every active major league player. The book also features fielding statistics, park factors, left/right splits for all batters and pitchers, and year-by-year and career Win Shares for all active players. I wouldn't recommend the book for those who are numerically challenged but would encourage fans who are sabermetrically inclined to add it to your baseball library.

Radar Love

The Angels free agent signings of Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar give the team the second and third hardest-throwing starters in the American League based on the average speed of their fastballs in 2003. C.C. Sabathia ranked first at 93.9 mph with Colon (93.4) and Escobar (93.3) right behind. All three trail National Leaguers Kerry Wood (95.3) and Jason Schmidt (95.0), who ranked one-two in the majors.

Although Escobar was the third hardest thrower among starters last year in the A.L., he threw the fifth lowest number of fastballs (52.6%)--the only pitcher in the league to rank in the top ten in average speed and the bottom ten in terms of the percentage of fastballs thrown. In the N.L., Curt Schilling, at 92.3 mph and 50.0%, was the only SP to rank in the top ten in speed and bottom ten in the usage of his FB.

If You've Got It, Flaunt It

Colon (93.4 mph and 75.4%), Jeremy Bonderman (93.3 and 66.1%), Jason Davis (92.6 and 72.9%), and John Thomson (92.0 and 71.2%) ranked in the top ten in the A.L. in the average speed of their fastballs and highest percentage of fastballs thrown. Schmidt (95.0 and 71.1%), Carlos Zambrano (92.7 abd 76.5%), and Vicente Padilla (91.9 and 79.3%) ranked in the top ten in the N.L. in both departments.

Slow Down, Cowboy

On the other hand, Tim Wakefield (75.9 mph and 9.0%), Jamie Moyer (82.9 and 49.5%), Kenny Rogers (85.3 and 48.9%), and Mike Maroth (85.3 and 54.2%) were in the top ten in the A.L. for the slowest average fastball and the lowest percentage of fastballs. The latter three are all lefty "thumbers" who rely on pinpoint control and changing speeds. In fact, Moyer (32.2%) and Rogers (24.1%) ranked 1-2 in the A.L. in the percentage of changeups thrown. Maroth (17.9%) was eighth.

Brian Lawrence (83.6 mph and 55.0%), Garrett Stephenson (86.7 and 51.1%), Hideo Nomo (87.1 and 54.1%), and Jeff D'Amico (87.2 and 51.7%) were in the top ten in the N.L. for the slowest average fastball and the lowest percentage of fastballs.

Turning Up The Heat

Billy Wagner led the major leagues with 159 pitches thrown at 100+ mph. The next highest was Colon with 12. Kyle Farnsworth (8), Jorge Julio (4), Josh Beckett (3), Jesus Colome (3), Francisco Cordero (2), Tom Gordon (2), and Braden Looper (2) were the only other pitchers in the majors to throw more than one pitch at 100 mph. Wagner also placed third in the majors in the number of pitches thrown at 95+ mph, a remarkable achievement for a reliever. Wood was number one in the latter category with 1,138.

Changing Speeds

Odalis Perez threw the lowest number of fastballs (48.3%) and the third highest number of changeups (22.7%) in the N.L. He also ranked eighth in the percentage of sliders thrown (17.6%). Interestingly, Perez was third in the number of stolen bases allowed (25), yet tied for fourth in caught stealing (9) and tied for first in pickoffs (7).

Strange But True

Joe Kennedy tied for the highest game score in the A.L. with a 90, and he had the worst game score with a minus 5. Amazingly, these games were in back-to-back outings as follows:

vs. DET	2-May	9	1	0	0	1	6
vs. MIN	7-May	4	13	10	10	2	1
By the way, Randy Johnson had the highest game score of the year in the majors with a 96.
vs. COL	14-Sep	9	1	0	0	1	12
Pedro Martinez gave up 10 earned runs in one outing and only 36 in his other 28 starts. Excluding that one performance in April, Pedro's ERA for the year was a microscopic 1.78--a testament to just how truly dominating Martinez was last year.

If Pedro's ERAs over the years haven't convinced you of his greatness, consider that his Component ERA (ERC)--a statistic that estimates what a pitcher's ERA should have been based on his pitching performance--has been equal to or even lower than his actual ERA every year from 1994-on. Pedro has had five years with ERCs under 2.00 with a career average of 2.27.

Still not sure? The Boston righthander is number one among all active pitchers in career ERA (2.58), W-L % (.712), OBA (.206), OBP (.268), SLG (.315), OPS (.583), BR/9 (9.55), H/9 (6.72), and K/BB (4.38).

The Best Of The Rest

While we're on the subject of Pedro, he was one of only seven pitchers in the A.L. who ranked in the top ten in opponent on-base percentage and slugging average in 2003. Martinez was #1 in OPS at .586. Pedro nearly turned all batters into the status of Ramon Santiago (.576), the least productive offensive player in the A.L. Mark Mussina, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Esteban Loaiza, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder comprised the other six hurlers.

Schmidt, Schilling, Mark Prior, Kevin Brown, and Brandon Webb were the only National League pitchers who made the top ten in the lowest OBP and SLG. Schmidt was #1 in OPS at .566. In other words, the Giants ace reduced all hitters to less than Brad Ausmus (.594) and Cesar Izturis (.597), the two lowest-ranking hitters in the N.L.

Oh What A Relief It Is

Eric Gagne led all National League relievers in OBA (.133), OBP (.199), and SLG (.176) and was number two in ERA (1.20). Likewise, Rafael Soriano placed first among all American League relievers in OBA (.162), OBP (.224), and SLG (.238), and number two in ERA (1.53). I don't know if Soriano is the next Gagne, a closer in waiting, or Johan Santana, a setup man serving his apprenticeship before becoming a starter. Either way, look for the hard-throwing Soriano to be one of the most valuable pitchers in the league over the next several seasons.

The Fab Four

Only Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, and Gary Sheffield finished in the top ten in SLG vs. LHP and RHP in the N.L. Not surprisingly, Bonds (1.278), Pujols (1.106), Helton (1.088), and Sheffield (1.023) ranked one through four, respectively, in OPS.

Bonds and Helton were the only LHB to place in the top ten in SLG vs. LHP in the N.L. Pujols and Sheffield along with Javy Lopez and Preston Wilson were the only RHB in the top ten in SLG vs. RHP.

Mr. Consistency

Helton was the only player in the major leagues to place among the top ten in his league in OPS vs. fastballs (1.108), curveballs (1.057), sliders (1.090), and changeups (1.053). Moreover, Helton actually ranked in the top ten in all four pitch categories in both leagues combined.

Helton, Pujols, and Sheffield were the only players in the N.L. to rank in the top ten in OPS in the first and second half of the season. (Bonds did not have enough PA to qualify in the 2H or he would have placed otherwise).

Money Players

Only Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, the two principals in the much ballyhooed Hot Stove trade talk between the Red Sox and Rangers, finished in the top ten in SLG vs. LHP and RHP in the A.L.

Ramirez and A-Rod were also the only RHB to place in the top ten in SLG vs. RHP in the A.L. Rafael Palmeiro was the only LHB in the top ten vs. LHP.

Ramirez and Carlos Delgado were the only players in the A.L. to rank in the top ten in OPS in the first and second half of the season.

Hit and...Walk

Helton and Ramirez were the only two hitters in the majors to finish in the top ten in their league in hits and walks. The Rockies first baseman had 209 H and 111 BB, becoming just the fifth player in history to record two 200-hit, 100-walk seasons in a career.

How About Triples?

Vernon Wells led the A.L. in hits (215) and total bases (373) and was in the top ten in singles (128), doubles (49), and home runs (33). Wells also placed among the top ten in BA (.317) and SLG (.550). Importantly, the Blue Jays center fielder increased the number of walks by 15 and reduced the number of strikeouts by 5. If he can continue to improve his BB/SO rate over the course of his career, Wells could go from All-Star to MVP to HOF.

Can't Touch This

Jason Giambi led the A.L. in BB (129), SO (140), and HBP (21), the first time any player has ever reached all three of those heights in a single season. Giambi failed to make contact 290 times (the seventh highest in history according to my research) or in 42% of his plate appearances. Delgado was second in BB (109), tied for second in SO (137), and third in HBP (19). A-Rod finished in the top ten in all three.

Go Figure

Tony Batista had the fifth lowest ground ball-to-fly ball ratio (0.70) in the A.L., yet was sixth in grounded into DP (20). Similarly, Aramis Ramirez was ninth in GB/FB ratio (0.79) and tied for sixth in GIDP (21).

Under The Radar Screen

Craig Biggio was #1 in HBP (27) and in the top ten in the lowest GIDP rate in the N.L., two stats that don't show up on the back of baseball cards. Biggio ranks first in HBP among active players and is within 26 of the all-time lead.

Mike Cameron had the largest differential between first and second place in range factor in both absolute and relative terms among all major leaguers. However, it should be noted that Seattle had three of the highest ten pitchers in the A.L. in FB/GB ratios. As a result, Cameron had more opportunities to run down flyballs than anyone else.

Mr. Clutch

No such thing as a "clutch" hitter? Well, Scott Podsednik ranked in the top ten in the N.L. in batting average in late and close games (.398), batting average with runners in scoring position (.381), and batting average with the bases loaded (.556). I realize there may be some double counting here but only three other players in the N.L. even placed among the top ten in two of these three areas. Delgado was the only hitter in the A.L. to rank in the top ten in all three measures with just two others placing among the top ten in two of these categories.

Green Light

Six players in each league finished in the top ten in stolen bases and stolen base percentage.

Pierre, J.	Crawford, C.
Podsednik, S.	Beltran, C.
Renteria, E.	Soriano, A.
Lofton, K.        Suzuki, I.
Furcal, R.	Damon, J.
Cabrera, O.	Winn, R.
In trying to determine the fastest baserunners in the majors, I checked to see which players ranked among the top ten in their league in SB%, GIDP%, and triples. There were only three players who fit the bill--Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, and Rafael Furcal. The Atlanta shortstop actually placed first in all three. Crawford and Suzuki also showed their speed by finishing atop their position range factor rankings among fielders with 100 or more games. Carlos Beltran, Eric Byrnes, and Christian Guzman ranked in the top ten in the A.L. in two of the three components. Likewise, Kenny Lofton, Corey Patterson, Juan Pierre, and Podsednik ranked in the top ten in the N.L. in two of the three areas.

Guzman, in fact, led the league in triples for the third time in four years. However, he had his lowest SLG since his rookie season. Moreover, he had 40 fewer total bases than he had in 2001 despite having 41 more at bats. Yikes!

Good News and Bad News

Derek Jeter's OBP (.393) and SLG (.450) reversed yearly slides that began after he reached career highs of .438 and .552, respectively, in 1999 through 2002. The only disturbing fact is that the Yankees shortstop had more than two times the number of strikeouts as walks, the worst rate since his rookie year in 1996.

The Trend Is Your Friend

Would you take a chance on this player?

2001	.194	.308	.313	0.47
2002	.243	.347	.402	0.49
2003	.284	.422	.472	1.23
He's 6'3", 224 and 25 years old. And, oh yes, he had an OBP of .454 in "AA" when he was 20 years old. His name? You guessed it. Nick Johnson, the newly acquired first baseman of the Montreal Expos. Health permitting, Johnson should be one of the best "values" over the next few years--a perfect fit for the budget-conscious Expos.

For those of you who are still hungry for even more tidbits of information from The Bill James Handbook, I recommend you head over to Aaron's Baseball Blog now to read his review. Aaron will be the subject of my next interview in two weekends.

Regarding interviews, I urge readers to check out Alex Belth's excellent exchange with Tom Verducci, the head baseball writer at Sports Illustrated, over at Bronx Banter. As always, this is a must read for the true baseball fan.