The Bill James Handbook 2011
Reviewing the Bill James Handbook has become an annual tradition for me since late 2003 when I spotlighted the 2004 edition. The Handbook, which was in its second year of publication back then, has now been around for nine years. Produced by Baseball Info Solutions and published by ACTA Sports, The Bill James Handbook 2010 offers readers more than 500 pages of stats, projections, and leader boards, as well as nine short essays by Bill James and The Fielding Bible Awards by John Dewan.
This year's Handbook features National League Most Valuable Player Joey Votto on the cover. He follows Barry Zito in 2003, Albert Pujols in 2004, Jorge Posada in 2005, Miguel Cabrera in 2006, Ryan Howard in 2007, Grady Sizemore in 2008, Brandon Webb in 2009, and Evan Longoria in 2010. The cover boys have alternated from AL to NL every year with the exception of 2006 and 2007 when Cabrera (then of the Florida Marlins) and Howard appeared in back-to-back years. Four of the nine players call first base home. No middle infielders or corner outfielders yet.
Upon opening the book, one notices the Table of Contents, which lists 26 sections, beginning with the Introduction and ending with Acknowledgements. The heart of the book includes up-to-date statistics on every major league player and manager plus team statistics and efficiency summary, baserunning, bullpens, pinch hitting, manufactured runs, park indices, lefty/righty stats, leader boards, Win Shares, hitter and pitcher projections, and career targets. The Hall of Fame Monitor and plus/minus and runs saved fielding data for every player are new additions to the Handbook this year.
I rarely miss anything with a Bill James byline. James authors 40 pages, although many are explanations, definitions, or accompanied by lists or tables. As a result, I'm left wanting more of James. Nonetheless, he provides some compelling facts and commentary in a few sections.
In 2010 Team Efficiency Summary, James writes:
As long as we have been measuring efficiency, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, Disneyland and Mike Scioscia have been the most efficient team in the American League, if not all of baseball. They still were, in 2010; they weren't good, but they were still efficient. In previous years their efficiency helped them to win. In 2010 it helped to disguise how bad they really were.
The Angels in 2010 (and most other years) scored more runs than we would expect them to score, thus they were efficient in that way. They allowed fewer runs than we would expect them to allow, so they were efficient in that way. Even given the runs that they actually did score and the runs they actually did allow, they won more games (one more game) than we would expect them to win, so they were efficient in that way. They were, as they always are, highly efficient.
Mike Scioscia was out-sciosciaed, in 2010, by first-year manager Brad Mills of Houston. When Millsie took the job, I think I speak for most of us when I confess that we were whispering behind his back that, given the team he had to work with, he'd be lucky to get out of Houston with ten fingers and ten toes. Instead, he took a 65-win team and won 76 games—a nice start to his managerial career.
On the other hand of that was the Rockies, who took a 93-win team and scratched and clawed their way to 83 wins. Which, I should add quickly, is not necessarily the manager's fault. If a team doesn't hit in the clutch, this will be measured as inefficiency, but there's really not much the manager can do about it.
His second piece of writing in this book may be the juiciest in terms of information. The title of the section is "38 Facts about Major League Baserunning in 2010." If you're into baserunning as much as I am, then you need to buy the book for these facts and the six-plus pages of tables. While you can find much of this information on the individual player pages of Baseball-Reference.com, it's not available in a alpha sort like it is in the Bill James Handbook.
I will tease you with fact 38 below:
The three best baserunners in the major leagues—Juan Pierre, Carl Crawford, and Brett Gardner—were all left fielders. Historically, left field is interesting because that is where the greatest baserunners have played (Brock, Henderson, Raines, Coleman), but there have also been many left fielders who were absolutely terrible baserunners.
In The Bullpens of 2010, James informs us that "Fourteen major league pitchers had (Leverage) Indexes over 2.00—all of them closers except Jim Johnson of Baltimore, who was over 2.00 as a setup man." Bill shows his humor when he says David Riske ranked last because "his managers thought that to use him in critical situations was Too Riske."
James gives a shout out to Chris Jaffe, author of Evaluating Baseball's Managers, in The Manager's Record. Baseball Analysts ran the introductory essay to Chapter 5 of Jaffe's book almost a year ago. James doesn't mince words at the end of his section.
I don't know Jaffe from a hole in the wall; he's not like a friend of mine or something, and also, I have to warn you that he is not a compelling writer. He does really good research. He develops a wide range of metrics by which to compare managers, like "Ballpark Adjusted Bullpen ERA" and "Leverage Points Average" and "Average Opponent Winning Percentage" (for pitchers), and I learned a great deal from reading his book. I hope you learn something from this data.
In The Hall of Fame Monitor, James tweaks the 32 rules from the old system (which was first published almost 30 years ago) and adds a new system based on Win Shares "with a caveat for relievers and one for catchers."
For a season of 30 or more Win Shares, the formula is Win Shares, divided by 30, times 10, converted to the nearest integer. For a season of 10 to 29 Win Shares, the formula is Win Shares, divided by 30, SQUARED, times 10, converted into the nearest integer. For a season of less than 10 Win Shares, no points.
That's basically all. That's the whole system; add them up and if the total is 100 or more, Hall of Famer. ... Essentially, the new system says that if you have 10 seasons as an MVP candidate of some sort, you're a Hall of Famer. 30 Win Shares is an MVP candidate; 30 Win Shares is 10 points. Ten seasons of that, you're a Hall of Famer. The two problems with that system are relievers and catchers. The Win Shares system hates relievers. Let's not get into that so, to avoid infecting this system with the problems of the other one, we count each Save as one-fourth of a Win Share before doing the calculations above. Also, since catchers' careers are generally too short for them to meet Hall of Fame standards, even if they are great players, we divide their totals by .75.
We add the points awarded under the two systems together, divide by two, and round down. Those are the points accounted for in the Hall of Fame monitor. The idea is that by looking at the question in two entirely different ways, we can avoid the weaknesses of either approach. One system probably underrates relievers; the other one probably overrates them, but when you put them together, you're OK. One system ignores park effects and changes in league standards; the other system meticulously adjusts for them. Hall of Fame voters partially adjust for them, so having a system part of which adjusts for them and part of which doesn't, that works. The system mirrors the process.
Here is a table of active players with 100 or more points:
James, in The Player Projections Section, opens with the following. "As Fantasy Baseball is now America's fourth-largest business, this section of the book could be considered business consulting. Got a hot tip for you, boss: This Albert Pujols, he's pretty good. Albert's gold brick is easy to project, because he does the same thing every year."
The ten best predictions are ranked in order (from first to tenth): Raj Davis, Matt Holliday, Stephen Drew, Russell Branyan, Torii Hunter, Alexei Ramirez, David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, Emilio Bonifacio, and David Ortiz.
To his credit, he also points out his biggest mistakes, which generally fell into three categories: "(a) we projected that a player would play, and he didn't, (b) we didn't project that a player would play much, but he did, and (c) we just missed on the numbers. Re the latter, James admits "the champion of those in 2010, of course, was Jose Bautista. I don't know how that happened; everybody else knew he would hit 54 homers. Why didn't we?"
Bill's wit shines through when he boasts about how close he was on Todd Coffey and Phil Coke. "We regret that there were no pitchers named Milk or Juice." He follows that line with "There was a Sipp" and shows his actual and projected stats.
In Pitchers on Course For 300 Wins, which is the final section aside from the Glossary, James writes:
The two pitchers in baseball today who have the best chance to win 300 games are Roy Halladay and the artist formerly known as Carsten Charles Sabathia. This statement was true a year ago; however, the situation is very different now than it was a year ago. A year ago, the no-hit pitcher and the Big Lefty were first and second on a list of contenders. Now they have separated themselves from the field.
It is likely that one or two pitchers now active will win 300 games, and two is more likely than one.
I'm into online stats and recognize that a lot of the information in The Bill James Handbook can be found at Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, but there is still something magical about this book. I believe it will broaden your baseball knowledge and help bridge the gap between now and the beginning of spring training next month or your upcoming fantasy baseball draft.