When the baseball season ends, the baseball annual season begins. From October through February we are showered with post- and pre-mortum coverage of the season that was and the season that's to be, respectively. Most of the annuals are crammed full of numbers, which we love, but what always amazes me is that each one manages to stand on its own as a brilliant success in its respective niche. It'd be easy for there to be extensive overlap in content considering everyone is essentially drawing from the same well, but in practice, whether by design or not, it simply doesn't work out that way.
Case in point is my third baseball annual of this offseason (and second reviewed after the Bill James Handbook; I'll review Graphical Player 2009 in short order) the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009. While the THT annual has its share of stats, what sets it apart from other annuals (and what sets their website apart from the pack) is the writing. In each successive year since the first Hardball Times annual (that was published as an e-book) we have seen more and more of the best baseball writing on the planet. Many of the articles are from from THT's inimitable team of journalists, with the rest filled in by some of the most well-regarded baseball writers of our generation.
There's a lot in here, so rather than point out a few favorites I'm going to quick-hit most of them to give you an idea of what everyone has covered. Then you can go buy it.
- Ten Things I Learned This Year (Dave Studenmund): The Chicago White Sox had the fattest offense -- 220 pounds per player -- in baseball.
- The Annotated Year in Baseball (Richard Barbieri): Nice headline-form recap of the year that was.
- The Year in Pointlessness (Will Leitch): The Perez Hilton of 2008 retrospectives.
- The 2008 Pujols Awards (John Brattain): The Mets take home a "Luis" Pujols award. "[I]t is hard not to feel bad for fans of the team -- no fans should have to experience that kind of heartbreak two seasons in a row."
- Where the Devil did These Rays Come From?... (Steve Treder): A look back at other crummy teams who have achieved miraculous turnarounds (including the 1969 Mets).
- ...And How Did They Get Here? (Matthew Carruth): The building of a dynasty.
- Trades of the Midseason (Rob Neyer): Historical, not just 2008, and yes, Carlos Beltran was one of them.
- Fielding Breeds Winning (John Dewan): According to Dewan's plus/minus system the Mets had the 6th best defense in baseball last year (2nd best in 2007).
- There's No Success Like Failure: The Mitchell Report (Craig A. Calcaterra): All we really know now that we didn't know before about steroid use in baseball is a relatively short list of names of players who were foolish enough to get caught.
- The Ethics of Baseball (Jack Marshall): A (sometimes heavy-handed) look at the way ethics are infused into the game of baseball.
- The Business of Baseball (Brian Borowski): Attendance, good. Economy, bad.
- We Shall Not Be Saved (Rich Lederer): "It's as if the manager gears his game strategy toward providing his closer with the chance to accumulate a lot of saves, compared to the earlier generations when the manager identified his best reliever and sought to get as many innings as possible from him, with victories and saves the by-product of quality work."
- Underrated by Roto (Brandon Isleib): Players whose value in fantasy baseball drastically differs, for better or worse, from their value in actual baseball.
- Fantasy Baseball: Thinking Ahead (Derek Carty): Overrated and underrated fantasy picks for 2009. Francisco Rodriguez: overrated.
- GM in a Box: Pat Gillick (Corey Seidman & Eric J. Seidman): Blah blah Phillies won the World Series yada yada.
- Pinstripes in the Mist (Tim Marchman): Blah blah Yankees are good yada yada.
- Making a Baseball Fan (Roel Torres): Is a baseball fan born or made? I guess it depends on how quickly he becomes a fan of the team after they win the World Series.
- The Greatest Class of All? (Joe Posnanski): JoePo compares the epic 1936 Hall of Fame class (Cobb, Ruth, Wagner, Matthewson, Johnson) to 2013 (Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Biggio, Sosa, Schilling).
- The Aging of Honus Wagner (Craig Wright): How Wagner continued to be a dominant player into his early forties.
- History's Greatest Fielders (Sean Smith): The two best first basemen from 1953 to 2007? Keith Hernandez and John Olerud.
- Have Bat, Will Travel: The Free Agency of Pete Rose (Craig Brown): Pete Rose and the early years of baseball's free agency.
- Piazza, Hall of Fame Catcher (Craig Wright): "Mike Piazza was not a defensive liability who made up for it with his bat. The greatest offensive catcher in the history of Major League Baseball was a good defensive catcher as well."
- Hit Tracker 2008 (Greg Rybarczyk): The year in homeruns, plus a bit about Citi Field.
- The Cliff Lee Turnaround (Mike Fast): From 6.29 ERA and 1.5 WHIP to AL Cy Young winner in one year.
- The Sweet Taste of Revenge (John Walsh): How hitters have fared after the preceding batter was intentionally walked, or: 50 years of being dissed (Keith Hernandez hit .395/.431/.581 in these situations).
- How Do Players Age? (Phil Birnbaum): Most players get worse as they age. Some get better. Why? Nobody knows.
- Catcher 911 (Tom M. Tango): "So, just by becoming a catcher, an average player will lose 20 runs of production. However, someone has to be the catcher. If a player can stand the grind of catching, has a good bat, and can't really field anywhere, I think catching might be a beneficial career choice."
- Sizing Up The Players (David Gassko): How the crackdown on PED usage has affected shorter players more so than taller ones.
- The Best Run Estimator (Colin Wyers): Linear weights and other things my feeble mind can't comprehend.
- The Manager of the Year (Mitchel Lichtman): More linear weights, this time used to evaluate managers.
There's also 100+ pages of stats broken down by team, including batted ball stats for pitchers and hitters. Much of this is data replicated from HardballTimes.com, but useful to have on hand in case the power goes out and you need to know David Wright's 2008 line drive rate (26%) or Johan Santana's homeruns per fly rate (.09).
If you just want a book of 2008 baseball stats, go buy the Bill James Handbook. If you can't get enough of the great writing found on THT -- and want some nifty stats to boot -- buy the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009.