Baseball BeatNovember 06, 2007
The Bill James Handbook 2008 - Part Two
By Rich Lederer

Peter Gammons calls The Bill James Handbook, "The prize of our winter hibernation." I would agree with that assessment. The Handbook is both informative and fun, and it can be referred to throughout the off-season, used in fantasy drafts, and in the early going next season when the sample sizes are still small.

After covering the Fielding Bible Awards, baserunning, and James' Young Talent Inventory yesterday, we dig into the numbers a bit more today in the second part of our two-day review.

In the 2007 Team Statistics, I learned that the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks were the only clubs with winning records that played under .500 in games decided by five or more runs. The Oakland A's, on the other hand, were the only team with a losing record that played over .500 in such games. The last-place San Francisco Giants went 17-17. Well, perhaps not surprisingly, SEA and ARI led their respective leagues in what Bill James calls "team efficiency," which compares team wins to the stats of individual players. OAK and SF finished in dead last. In a similar vein, I've always thought Pythagorean W-L records would be more accurate (and meaningful) if the margin of victory in a single game were capped at, say, five runs.

The Atlanta Braves intentionally walked 27 more batters than any other team in the majors last season. Although I picked up this tidbit in the team stats, it can also be found in the Manager's Record section. Bobby Cox led all managers in issuing IBB (89), 58 of which were deemed to be "good" (defined as "no runs scored in the inning after the intentional walk") and 31 "not good" ("one run scored in the inning after the intentional walk"). James also creates a subset of "not good," which he calls "bomb" and defines it as "more than one run scored in the inning after the intentional walk."

With respect to the Manager's Record, James is quick to point out that "we try to avoid, in compiling the manager's record, making judgments about the manager's decisions. We are not trying to say whether someone is a good manager or a bad manager. We are trying to describe how one manager is different from the next." James continues, "Our desire to avoid judgments doesn't mean that we don't count Wins and Losses. The desire to avoid making subjective judgments doesn't preclude us from noting successes and failures, if those successes and failures are clearly defined."

James informs us that Manny Acta led the majors in defensive substitutes, relievers used, and relievers used on consecutive days. "Since he was a first-year manager, it is difficult to reach any firm conclusions as to what extent this reflects his preferences, and to what extent it simply reflects the talent he had to work with."

Moving on to the Leader Boards, Magglio Ordonez and Ryan Braun led their respective leagues in AVG, OBP, and SLG vs. LHP. The Milwaukee rookie third baseman destroyed southpaws, topping the majors in all three: AVG (.450), OBP (.516), and SLG (.964). Chipper Jones pulled the rate stat trifecta vs. RHP in the NL.

Brian Roberts led the majors in steals of third with 19, equal to 38% of his stolen base total. The Dodgers had four of the top ten highest GB/FB ratios in the NL, including the leader Juan Pierre. Reggie Willits led the majors in lowest first swing % (4.6) and pitches per plate appearance (4.45). Whereas Willits swung at less than one in 20 first pitches, his teammate Vladimir Guerrero hacked at nearly half (48.0%) of such offerings, the second highest percentage in baseball (behind only Delmon Young, 51.4%). In the department of "there is more than one way to skin a cat," the lowest and highest first swing percentage leaders are both loaded with outstanding hitters. To wit, Guerrero, Ordonez, Matt Holliday, Miguel Cabrera, Alfonso Soriano, and Lance Berkman can all be found among the top ten in their league in highest first swing %, while Bobby Abreu, Curtis Granderson, Mike Lowell, Gary Sheffield, Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins placed in the top ten in lowest first swing %.

Roy Halladay had three games throwing 125 or more pitches and A.J. Burnett had two (including tying for the MLB high of 130). Toronto manager John Gibbons used more pinch hitters and runners than any other AL skipper but surprisingly did not lead the league in long outings (defined as more than 110 pitches).

Erik Bedard is the only starting pitcher in either league to finish in the top ten in K/H ratio. The Baltimore lefthander, who led the AL in K/9 (10.93) and H/9 (6.97), struck out 221 batters and allowed 141 hits for a K/H ratio of 1.57. Bedard had the league's best Component ERA (2.71), which estimates what a pitcher's ERA should have been based on his pitching performance. Jonathan Papelbon led all pitchers with 50 or more innings in K/H at an insane ratio of 2.80 (84 strikeouts and 30 hits in 58.1 IP).

I always enjoy the leader boards displaying the fastest and slowest average fastballs, as well as the highest percentage of fastballs, curveballs, sliders, and changeups thrown. Felix Hernandez (95.6) had the fastest heater in the majors last year among pitchers with 162 or more innings. A.J. Burnett (95.1) was the only other starter who averaged over 95 mph. Brad Penny (93.4) topped the NL. Tim Wakefield (74.2) had the slowest average fastball and, in fact, was the only pitcher who didn't crack 80 mph. The knuckleballer threw the fewest fastballs (13.4%) as a percentage of total pitches. Jamie Moyer (81.1 and 37.1%) brought up the rear in the NL in both categories. Joel Zumaya had the most pitches clocked at 100+ mph with 30. Justin Verlander (17) and Joba Chamberlain (11) were the only other hurlers who touched triple digits at least 10 times. Matt Lindstrom, who had the highest average fastball among all pitchers with 50 or more innings (96.6), led the NL with 9 pitches at or above 100 mph. Interestingly, Zack Greinke, who many thought didn't throw hard enough to succeed as a starter, topped AL relievers with 50 or more IP with a 95.4 average fastball.

Aaron Cook (78.4%) and Chien-Ming Wang (75.4%) threw the most fastballs, Bedard (33.9%) and Matt Morris (28.1%) broke off the most benders, Ian Snell (35.5%) and Jeremy Bonderman (34.5%) relied on sliders, while Tom Glavine (44.1%) and James Shields (29.7%) pulled the string more often than anyone else. Jake Peavy (.550 OPS) had the most effective fastball in the majors. Josh Beckett (.645) had the lowest opponent OPS vs. fastballs in the AL. Bedard (.429) and Wandy Rodriguez (.487) had the best curveballs, Manny Corpas (.422) and Rafael Perez (.479) had the most effective sliders, and Gil Meche (.481) and Derek Lowe (.569) had the best changeups.

There are literally dozens of other leader boards for hitters, pitchers, and fielders covering standard and hard-to-find categories (as well as sections on manufactured runs, park indices, hitter and pitcher projections, career targets, and Win Shares) that I promise readers will find interesting and illuminating. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Bill James Handbook 2008. You won't be disappointed.

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Update (11/7/07): The award-winning columnist from the Kansas City Star, Joe Posnanski, who also maintains an entertaining blog, unearths more tidbits from The Bill James Handbook 2008 in Things I Learned (Today).


"Josh Beckett (.645) had the lowest opponent OPS vs. fastballs in the NL."

I believe you mean AL or ML.


Do you know what "OPS vs. fastballs" actually means? OPS is usually calculated in terms of ABs and PAs, not individual pitches.

Let's say a pitcher throws 3 fastballs with these results: ball, swinging strike, single. What is the OPS of that?


Thanks for the great analysis. Bill James is an amazing man!

Look at Eric Bedard! Cy Young in my IMOP if not hurt at end. With a better team, W/L would have been phenomenol since even with the O's, the team won most games (though he didn't get the wins).

OPS against pitch types is probably calculated using just the pitches that produced an outcome. Maybe not terribly useful, but interesting nonetheless.

Where do the speeds that James uses come from? Josh Kalk has slightly different numbers for the mph of pitches (Burnett at 96.03 vs. 95.1 for example)

ok, I read your articles on this last year.
you say, buy it and you won't be dissapointed.
I was dissapointed.

how can it be that only the top 10 in all these interesting catagories? it's so tantalizing, I want more!

where can I pay money to see avg mph for ALL pitcher's on all types of pitches!? where can I go to see % of each pitch thrown for EVERYONE?! or situations in counts where each pitch was thrown? each hitters ops against each pitch type? it seams like someone must have this data

untill it's got that I will never buy the Bill James handbook again.

Thomas, someone does have that data. Just send in your check for a few thousand dollars to STATS Inc or Baseball Info Solutions and maybe you'll get a response back.

Until then, I say enjoy great stats at an amazing bargain...the type of information no one in the public could even obtain, what, 15 years ago??

Thanks Rich for another write-up this year and thank you to Bill James for allowing us into even the slightest corner of his world.

Responding to the above comments...

Aaron, thanks for pointing out that typo. I have corrected it.

John, your point is valid. As Bob noted, I believe OPS in this case is based on the pitches that produced an outcome such as a hit or an out. If walks are included, then there is a definite weakness to this system. Here is the excerpt from the 2007 Leader Boards section on this issue: "OPS versus different types of pitches is new on our leader boards this year. It corrects certain flaws in BPS (Batting average Plus Slugging) versus pitch that we used in previous years and is based on a new method developed by Bill James." Unfortunately, the "new method" is not explained.

Dan, all of the pitch information comes from Baseball Info Solutions.

Joe, I could not have said it better.