Baseball BeatDecember 19, 2006
The Bill James Handbook 2007
By Rich Lederer

I don't know what I like more: the baseball season itself or the off-season when I can devour The Bill James Handbook, The Hardball Times Annual, and Baseball Prospectus. The Handbook, produced by Baseball Info Solutions and published by ACTA Sports, is highly regarded for its statistics and being the first baseball annual available after the season ends. It has taken the place of the Baseball Register as my player career reference book of choice.

Reviewing the Bill James Handbook has become an annual tradition for me. I started in 2003 and built it up over the years to a more comprehensive three-part series last winter. I am planning on running another three-parter this time around, beginning today and concluding on Thursday.

This year's Handbook contains all of the normal features, such as player and manager career records, team statistics and efficiency summaries, park indices, lefty/righty splits, leader boards, fielding statistics, baserunning analysis, hitter and pitcher projections, and season-by-season and career Win Shares totals. This year's book also includes The Fielding Bible Awards (along with the plus/minus leaders at each position) and a new section called Manufactured Runs (with a detailed, seven-page explanation by Bill James).

As in prior editions, the book opens with a compilation of team statistics, highlighted by the information within the tables for the 2006 standings. The number of days in first place, the last day in first place, and the largest number of games that a team led its division are presented with the standard wins and losses, winning percentage, and games back. The New York Mets, in stark contrast to the previous year when the club was one of only four never to be in first place, were atop the NL East for 181 of the 183 days. The Detroit Tigers, Oakland A's, and St. Louis Cardinals were the only other teams to spend at least 100 days in first place. Among the division winners, the Minnesota Twins occupied the top spot the fewest number of days (4).

For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals were two of five teams with winning records in five-plus run differentials and losing records in one-run games. Speaking of STL, the two World Series participants both had losing records in the second half of the season. So much for the hot team having an edge in October.

The following players won Fielding Bible Awards:

1B: Albert Pujols, STL
2B: Orlando Hudson, ARI
3B: Adrian Beltre, SEA
SS: Adam Everett, HOU
LF: Carl Crawford, TB
CF: Carlos Beltran, NYM
RF: Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
C:  Ivan Rodriguez, DET
P:  Greg Maddux, CHI/LAD

Adam Everett was a runaway winner, landing eight first place and two second place votes from the ten panelists (James, John Dewan, Nate Birtwell, Mike Murphy, Rob Neyer, Mat Olkin, Joe Posnanski, Hal Richman, the BIS Video Scouts, and the Tom Tango Fan Poll). Ichiro Suzuki received seven first place votes, two seconds, and a fourth (from James, who gave the nod to J.D. Drew - prior to the Red Sox agreeing to terms with the free agent right fielder). Ivan Rodriguez garnered six first place votes and four seconds.

The Plus/Minus Leaders were as follows:

          2006                       2004-06
1B: Albert Pujols, +19          Albert Pujols, +37
2B: Jose Valentin, +22          Orlando Hudson, +66
3B: Brandon Inge, +27           Adrian Beltre, +64
SS: Adam Everett, +43           Adam Everett, +98
LF: Dave Roberts, +16           Carl Crawford, +56
CF: Corey Patterson, +34        Andruw Jones, +48
RF: Randy Winn, +22             Ichiro Suzuki, +59
P:  Johan Santana, +8           Kenny Rogers, +22

Fielding Statistics (putouts, assists, errors, double plays, fielding percentage, and range factor) are provided in a separate section of the book. There is also a "Catchers Special" table that details stolen base numbers and catcher ERA. Mike Piazza led all regulars in CERA (3.52) in 718 innings. Josh Bard, San Diego's #2 catcher, had a CERA of 4.28 working 494.2 innings. Neither catcher was adept at throwing runners out with Piazza successful on just 13 of 110 attempts and Bard 10 of 51 with SD and 11 of 64 overall (including BOS).

The Career Register includes complete career stats for every major leaguer who played in 2006 (from David Aardsma to Joel Zumaya), plus 21 bonus players such as Daisuke Matsuzaka. Full minor league stats are listed for those with fewer than three major league seasons. In addition to traditional statistics, the Register features Runs Created for hitters and Component ERA for pitchers. This section comprises 256 of the 459 pages in the book.

James wrote a five-page analysis of Baserunning, asking "Who is the best baserunner in the major leagues? Who is the worst? Who is on the list? Who isn't as good as the public thinks? Who is better than the announcers say?" The six factors evaluated were: (1) runners going from first to third on a single, (2) scoring from second on a single, (3) scoring from first on a double, (4) bases taken, (5) baserunning outs, and (6) runs scored as a percentage of times on base.

Bases Taken was a new category in this year's book. As James describes, "A player is credited with a Base Taken whenever he moves up a base on a wild pitch, passed ball, balk, sacrifice fly, or defensive indifference. Ichiro led the majors in Bases Taken with 33 and Orlando Cabrera was #1 in Bases Taken per time on base. As detailed in Net Stolen Bases: Leaders and Laggards, Suzuki was also the most efficient base stealer last year. On the other hand, Garrett Atkins, Jason Giambi, and Adam Dunn were the least likely players to take a base in these situations.

Based on the formula derived by James, the top and bottom two dozen baserunners in the majors were:

    BEST                          WORST
 1. Chone Figgins              1. Josh Willingham
 2. Chase Utley                2. Adrian Gonzalez
 3. Mark Ellis                 3. Mike Piazza
 4. Orlando Cabrera            4. Frank Thomas
 5. David DeJesus              5. Jason Giambi
 6. Jose Reyes                 6. Ryan Howard
 7. Mark Teahen                7. Pat Burrell
 8. Willy Taveras              8. Travis Hafner
 9. Carlos Beltran             9. Victor Martinez
10. Hanley Ramirez            10. Juan Rivera 
11. Johnny Damon              11. Joe Crede
12. Grady Sizemore            12. Kenji Johjima
13. Juan Pierre               13. Richie Sexson
14. Corey Patterson           14. Javy Lopez
15. Scott Podsednik           15. Jorge Posada
16. Marcus Giles              16. Willy Aybar
17. Jason Michaels            17. Jermaine Dye
18. Mark Grudzielanek         18. Bengie Molina
19. Felipe Lopez              19. Mike Jacobs
20. Carlos Guillen            20. Jacque Jones
21. Melky Cabrera             21. Kevin Millar
22. Brandon Fahey             22. Mike Lowell
23. Steve Finley              23. Brian McCann
24. Shane Victorino           24. Paul Konerko

Moving forward, we learn that the Twins manufactured the most runs (224) and the Tigers the fewest (124) in the AL, while the Rockies were #1 (198) and the Reds dead last (135) in the NL.

In The Manager's Record, James proclaims, "Whereas fielding stats now are about where batting stats were in 1940, managerial stats are closer to where batting stats were in 1878." He says "we have a long ditch ahead of us" in terms of asking and answering the right questions, as well as compiling and studying the data. In the spirit of "It's like pulling teeth, but we keep pulling," James asks the following 16 questions:

  • How many different lineups did he use?
  • What percentage of the players in the starting lineup, over the course of the season, had the platoon advantage at the start of the game?
  • How many pinch hitters did the manager use?
  • How many pinch runners did the manager use?
  • How many defensive substitutes did the manager put into the game?
  • How many quick hooks and slow hooks did the manager have?
  • How many long outings from his starting pitcher did this manager have?
  • How many times did this manager use a reliever on consecutive days?
  • How willing is this manager to use his closer for more than one inning?
  • How many relievers did this manager use over the course of the season?
  • How many stolen base attempts did the manager order or allow to occur on his watch?
  • How many sacrifice bunt attempts did the manager use?
  • How many times did the manager have a runner moving when the pitch was thrown?
  • How many intentional walks did this manager use?
  • How many pitchouts did the manager order?

Season-by-season and career records are provided for 31 managers (ranging from Felipe Alou to Ned Yost and including Billy Doran, who managed the Royals for 10 games last year), broken down by lineups, substitutions, pitcher usage, tactics, and results. It is interesting to compare one manager to another using their 162-game career averages to reduce the context-driven numbers from any given year.

As much as I like the BJH, I was disappointed to learn this past weekend that the park indices for LHB/RHB home runs and batting average were incorrect. Unfortunately, I relied on this information in challenging an Unfiltered post at Baseball Prospectus by Nate Silver regarding J.D. Drew's home run projection for 2007. Most frustrating of all is that I had to uncover the errors myself (at the bottom of the promotional page for the book under Errata).

I give ACTA credit for owning up to its mistakes but still feel let down by this misinformation. I sent Nate an email this past weekend, notifying him that my retort was based on faulty data. He is one of the best analysts in the business and his PECOTA projections have become the standard of the industry.

The review of the Handbook will continue the next two days. The 2006 Leader Boards will be analyzed closely with a focus on the proprietary pitch data collected by Baseball Info Solutions.


It's amazing how counterintuitive some of those conclusions are. You don't think of Jose Valentin and Randy Winn as being the best at their positions.

I'm confused. After being the most efficient basestealer and "taking" the most is Ichiro not in the top 24 baserunners? Or is he number 1, and the list runs from 2-25?

Similarly, are Atkins, Giambi, and Dunn not among the 24 worst? Or are they the three absolute worst and that list runs from 4-27?

Oops, missed Giambi there, and seeing him up there I guess answers my question about the 24 worst, and in turn probably about the 24 best. So, honestly, Ichiro's not one of the top 24 baserunners? What kind of formula do they use? Do we know anything about it or is it all proprietary or something?

Suzuki got docked quite a bit for making a ML-leading eight outs on the bases last year. He was thrown out three times trying to advance an extra base on a hit and was doubled off five times on balls hit in the air. As James wrote, "Making an out on the bases is far more important, on a one-to-one basis, than picking up an extra base. For a runner in scoring position to try to take an extra base is not a breakeven gamble, or anything like a breakeven gamble. It's not even like a stolen base attempt, which breaks even about 65 to 67%; it's higher than that. We give triple weight, in evaluating baserunning, to this category, so that one baserunning out negates three bases gained."

As it relates directly to Suzuki, here is what James had to say:

We turn our attention, then, to the issue of who didn't grade out the way you would expect him to. The biggest surprise, to me, is Ichiro Suzuki. Suzuki led the majors in Bases Taken, 33, as noted above, and he picks up some points for scoring runs in 34% of his times on base. Apart from that, his baserunning numbers range from ordinary to ugly. In 2005, Ichiro's stats on going from first-to-third on a single, scoring from second on a single and scoring from first on a double were all exceptionallly good. In 2006 they were all below average. In 2005 Ichiro was thrown out advancing once. In 2006 he was out advancing 3 times, and doubled off base 5 times. His total of 8 baserunning outs was the highest in the major leagues, one more than Adrian Gonzalez. Maybe it was just a fluke year - and maybe, at 32, he isn't what he used to be.

Adrian Gonzalez is sloooooooooooooow.

Re: Three Worst baserunners on the White Sox (Dye, Crede, Konerko)

Paully is slower than a turtle in quicksand, BUT I think all three of those guys make the list because of the horrible job done by Joey Cora throughout the 2006 season. Thank God his promotion takes him off of third base.

The contrast between Ichiro's 2005 and 2006 raise the question for me of how much randomness goes into the numbers we end up seeing. Not that any given outcome is random at all, but just how much of it is dictated by little mental mistakes in the field that aren't that consistent. I wondered the same thing about Ichiro's SB% this year, which has always been good, but never THAT good. Same with Beltran a couple years back. Seems to me like there's probably a decent amount of noise in these numbers.

With regards to Ichiro and the Mariners last year, Hargrove put an enormous emphasis on agressive base running. It was regularly lampooned on USSMariner, largely because of the unnecessary outs. It appears Ichiro was a victim of Hargrove's philosophy. I'm not sure how much such a stat can really tell us when manager philosophy can have a significant impact.

Ichiro was sixth based on Dan Fox's baserunning analysis. I actually like Dan's system better because he also attaches run values to each player's baserunning. If you have a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, you can read his article here.

I'm very likely just another over-sensitive Ichiro fan but, right from the 2001 edition of Win Shares, I noticed a weird "I don't care for this guy" tang whenever James (whom I could be said to revere on an almost equal level as my favorite player of all time) mentions Ichiro even tangentially (His reasonably justified claim that Giambi deserved the MVP still sounded weird, since he complained elsewhere several times about "lead-off" players getting slighted for "RBI" fellows).
I have a pet theory, not to be taken overly seriously, that the James-style analysts HATE Ichiro because he screws up their image of how a "real" star should produce runs.
The comments by James quoted elsewhere "maybe he hasn't got it anymore" sound remarkably hostile, and (as another commenter noted) ignores the fact that Hargrove (who I refer to as "SIA" - the "Stinkin' Iron Albatross") insisted his players "take more chances" on the base-paths. His listing Ichiro as 4th defensively also makes little sense to me (Ichiro was listed 1st).

I would dearly like to know what is going on. In this case, I really feel that Bill James is showing signs of Old Fart-ism.
Alas, for the heroes of our middle age!