Digging Deeper Into The Handbook
At a price of slightly more than one dollar per month, The Bill James Handbook is a bargain. It should be carried in your briefcase or on top of your desk or, at worse, stashed no more than an arm's length from your favorite reading chair. In addition to all the goodies covered in the book review earlier in the week, I'd like to take this time to go over the 2005 Leader Boards. Several top ten lists are derived from the complex pitch data that Baseball Info Solutions collects and are unavailable elsewhere.
When it comes to batting leaders, the Handbook includes the standard rate stats (such as batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging avergage), as well as the traditional counting categories (games, at bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, runs batted in, walks, strikeouts, stolen bases, caught stealing, and more). These leader boards, while important, can be found at a multitude of places online. I'm more fascinated by the lists that aren't typically published by other sources.
Bobby Abreu led the majors in pitches per plate appearance (4.40) and percentage of pitches taken (66.6). This combination of stats means, by definition, that Abreu takes nearly three pitches per plate appearance. The only players within a half pitch of the leader are Jason Giambi (2.73), Craig Counsell (2.60), David Dellucci (2.59), and Nick Johnson (2.53). Not surprisingly, Abreu was second in the majors in BB (117), while Giambi was first in the AL in free passes (108).
All walks, however, are not created equally. Abreu was seventh in the NL in stolen bases (31) and eighth in SB success (77.5%). Giambi, on the other hand, didn't attempt to steal a base all year for the first time ever. Nonetheless, his baserunning numbers were actually pretty good. Giambi went from first to third on a single 14 times, tied for sixth in the majors -- behind five players more known for their speed (Derek Jeter, 18; Carlos Beltran, 17; Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, 16; and Chone Figgins, 15). Of this quintet, only Figgins (68%) and Beltran (61%) had a higher percentage of extra bases per opportunity than Giambi (47%). Abreu went from second to home (24) more often than anyone else in either league.
Speaking of stolen bases, how many people are aware that Jason Bay led the ML in percentage success rate (21-for-22, 95.5%)? Bay was 28-for-62 (45%) in extra bases taken on base hits and was never never thrown out. The man who did not miss a game all year, while ranking in the top ten in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, H, 2B, TB, R, BB, and BA w/ RISP, is arguably the most underrated star player in the game. Look no further than the fact that Bay placed 12th in the NL MVP voting. Only 12 out of 32 writers even put Bay on their ballot and just two listed him higher than seventh (4th and 6th). I would have voted him third, if given the opportunity.
For fantasy players in keeper leagues, be sure to check out the under age-25 OPS leaders:
American League National League
In addition to being the NL MVP, Albert Pujols is the most valuable property in baseball. End of discussion. The second most valuable? Let's not kid ourselves here, folks. David Wright. Look, the guy hasn't even turned 23, yet hits for average (.306) and power (27 HR with 15 on the road), draws walks (72), runs the bases well (17 SB, 26-for-44 XB taken on base hits without being thrown out), and just happens to play third base.
While on the subject of young players, Wily Mo Pena hit the two longest home runs in baseball last year (492 and 490 feet) and had the longest average HR (415) among those with 10 or more. Travis Hafner launched the second (477), third (474), and fourth (471) longest HR in the AL and was number one in average (407). Adam Dunn had two of the top six cranks in the NL (470 and 464). Kinda fun, huh?
We all know that Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero can hit for power. But how well known is it that Vlad was the second-most difficult batter to strike out in the AL (.081) and Albert was the ninth-hardest to fan in the NL (.093)? If you're looking for someone who might take it up a notch or two next year, consider Jay Gibbons. He was the only other player in baseball who hit more than 15 HR (26) and ranked in the top ten in lowest strikeout rate per plate appearance (.108). The Baltimore OF/1B/DH doesn't field or run all that well, but he still has further upside when it comes to mashing the ball. Consider this: Gibbons was 31st in the AL in RC/G with just a .268 batting average on balls in play. You have to go all the way down to the 63rd batter (Nick Swisher) to find someone with a lower BABIP.
Who swings and misses the most? Richie Sexson (24.4%) was number one, followed by Jason LaRue (24.0%), Troy Glaus (23.3%), Sammy Sosa (23.0%), and Jose Cruz (22.6%). Not surprisingly, Sexson also led the AL in highest strikeout per plate appearance (25.5%). Preston Wilson was the only batter who K'd more than once per four plate appearances (25.7%).
The Handbook includes a stat rarely seen, called "Batting Average Plus Slugging Percentage" (BPS). Owner John Dewan and President Steve Moyer at Baseball Info Solutions believe BPS "makes more sense than OPS for some leader boards because (they) wanted to know who was having success putting those balls in play, not just drawing walks." Derrek Lee (1.098) and David Ortiz (1.077) led their respective leagues in BPS vs. fastballs. Miguel Cabrera (.932) and Ichiro Suzuki (.887) were #1 in BPS vs. curveballs; Jose Reyes (1.076) and Giambi (1.365) were the best hitters vs. sliders; and Moises Alou (1.358) and Craig Monroe (1.130) ate up changeups.
Be sure to check back on Monday for the review of the 2005 American and National League Pitching Leader Boards.