The Bill James Handbook 2007
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:
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.