Each season, just as the World Series draws to a close the baseball annual season gets cranking, and each November 1st we get the new Bill James Handbook, an offseason tradition that stretches back for the better part of a decade now. This year, with the World Baseball Classic pushing back the start of the season -- and, as a result, the playoffs and World Series -- the 2010 Bill James Handbook (BJH) actually began shipping before the World Series was even over. I've had it on my desk for a couple of weeks -- a variety of events have conspired to keep me from thumbing through it until now -- so let's dispense with the formalities and dive right in.
If there's one word to sum up the focus of the BJH it's this: statistics. I doubt if a score of its 514 pages are primarily commentary. In this way it differentiates itself from the rest of the baseball annuals, none of which contain even half the stats of the BJH. If you're interested in more article-driven content you'll probably want to head for The Hardball Times Baseball Annual instead (review of that one forthcoming).
Here's a stat for you: 53%, which is the portion of the BJH consumed by the Career Register, which features career big league -- and select minor league -- stats for every major leaguer who was active in 2009. This section is my one major quibble with the BJH: why devote so much space to data which is readily available for free on countless websites (Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, and ESPN.com to name a few)? There's really nothing beyond the 'back of a baseball card' rudimentary stats here, either. I suppose if your internet goes out and you're just dying find out how many strikeouts David Weathers had in 2003 (it was 75) it might be of marginal utility, but otherwise this section will prove useful, for me at least, approximately zero times ever. Mind you, this isn't a reason not to buy the book; you can easily disregard this section as I do and still thoroughly enjoy the rest of the book.
As it does each year, this BJH contains the results of the latest Fielding Bible Awards, which are voted on by Bill James, Rob Neyer, and Joe Posnanski, among others. We've also got expanded ballpark factors, baserunning valuations, team defense, managerial registers (i.e. what a manager does in terms of lineup variance, substitutions, pitcher usage, etc.), career win shares, splits, league leaderboards (well beyond standard leaderboard fare), and much more. So as to avoid giving too much away, here are seventeen things (Why does it have to be a round number? What's wrong with prime numbers?) from the BJH that pertain to the Mets that I found of particular interest.
- Daniel Murphy barely missed cracking the top ten at first base in the Fielding Bible Awards, collecting 19 total points (a first place vote is worth ten points; a ninth place vote is worth nine points, etc.).
- Ryan Church finished sixth among right fielders; Jeff Francoeur finished 14th.
- Luis Castillo has the worst three-year plus/minus rating among second basemen at -28, tied with Dan Uggla.
- Free agents Jason Marquis (#1), Jon Garland (#3), and Joel Pineiro (#5) are among the top fielding pitchers over the past three years.
- Potential trade target Adrian Gonzalez was the worst baserunning first baseman in 2009, clocking in at -29 bases (relative to expected bases).
- Francisco Rodriguez was 24-26 in 'easy' saves (enters with tying run not on base or at the plate, three outs or fewer to go), 0-1 in 'tough' saves (enters with tying run on base), and 11-15 in 'regular' saves (all save situations not included in 'easy' and 'tough' situations). Mariano Rivera was 28-28 (easy), 4-4 (tough), and 12-14 (regular).
- The Mets led the National League with 181 manufactured runs. The Angels led all of baseball with 221 (maybe Mike Scioscia's teams really are fundamentally-sound overachievers). David Wright had 31 manufactured runs; Luis Castillo had 26. Chone Figgins had 46.
- Jerry Manuel used more pinch hitters (289) than any other manager.
- The Mets had the highest percentage of batters with the platoon advantage to begin games (72%) in baseball (that's 72% of 9*162 batters). I'm not sure if that's an accident or if Jerry Manuel pays attention to those things.
- It was 10% easier for righties to hit homeruns at Citi Field than it was for lefties (110 park factor versus 100). This is almost meaningless, as we're only talking about 130 homeruns (home) and 123 homeruns (away), so there's not nearly enough data to profess with any certitude that Citi Field is a righty homerun hitter's park.
- David Wright had the highest on-base percentage against lefties in the National League (.496).
- Carlos Beltran had the second-highest batting average in the National League in 'close and late' situations (.382).
- Luis Castillo had the second-highest groundball rate in the National League (3.14). He had the highest percentage of pitches taken (68.1%)
- Jeff Francoeur had the second-highest 'first swing %' in the National League (43.8%). Bengie Molina was third (38.6%).
- Johan Santana threw the second-highest percentage of pitches in the strike zone in the National League (53.8%).
- Livan Hernandez threw the second-slowest average fastball in the National League (84.7 MPH). Jamie Moyer threw the slowest (81.4 MPH).
- Mike Pelfrey, by a hefty margin, threw the highest percentage of fastballs in the National League (77.4%). The next closest was Max Scherzer (70.5%).
That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of baseball annuals published each year, but none have the depth and breadth of statistical coverage that can be found in the Bill James Handbook. If your idea of a good time is to pore over column after column of statistical numbers, definitely grab yourself a copy of the BJH. It's available at all of the usual booksellers, but if you can spare a few extra bucks I encourage you to buy it through ACTA Sports, which will ensure that the publishers of indispensible baseball books like this one continue to churn out fantastic products year after year.