Review: Baseball Between the Numbers

Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong is obviously a book for baseball fans and one that will appeal to both those who are and are not into sabermetrics. The top-notch writing and the way the book presents its findings and arguments combine to present a work that I give it the highest rating I possibly can.

The group I was in when I first started reading—newer to advanced statistics and looking to get more into how all the numbers work—will eat this book up. The best aspect of BBTN, however, is that it does not ignore what the game has been for so long, and still is to most people.

It is not a bunch of cold numbers or saying a player sucks because stat X is under Y, as if each guy is an answer to a third graders’ math test—which is too often the impression people get of advanced stats, particularly among the non-sabermetric crowd. It’s quite the opposite. Had somebody shown me concepts in math class—a few of which I recognize from school—and explained I could actually apply them to sports, you bet I would’ve been a heck of a lot more excited to go to math every day and probably actually understood the concepts.

Nobody is claiming these findings are gospel either. In many cases, they let the numbers themselves point out why a statistic is or is not repeatable. Or say flat out, that in certain cases it comes down to luck. This may seem to weaken the entire argument of why to use sabermetrics in the first place, but it is actually quite the opposite; understanding the weaknesses of your field will allow you to apply the findings more appropriately.

The most eye-opening sections are why the statistics shown with every batter on television are often poor gauges of performance. Many of these figures were developed at a time when the game was very different and while the game has changed, our ways of analyzing it has not (at least in the mainstream).

Each chapter seeks to answer a simple question: “Is David Ortiz a Clutch Hitter?” or “Is Joe Torre a Hall of Fame Manager?” While they seem simple, those questions encompass a great deal and each author does a solid job of explaining why they look at the figures they do to answer the questions. A side effect of which is training the readers to not only come up with their own questions, but figure out how to answer them. That is, if they are not too busy reading this book’s sequel.

Final verdict: A must own for baseball fans. Amazon link

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