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Saturday Book Review: Behind-the-Scenes Baseball

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Why do I love baseball statistics? I don't. I love winning. -- Doug Decateur
In Behind-the-Scenes Baseball: Real-Life Applications of Statistical Analysis Actually Used by Major League Teams... and Other Stories from the Inside (311 pages, ACTA Sports), Doug Decateur, former statistical consultant to the Reds, Brewers, Cubs and Astros, provides readers with a first-hand account of the practical application of statistics within the front offices of Major League Baseball teams. Countless books have been written on the subject of sabermetrics, but this is the first one I have read that actually describes how they are used to great effect by people who can actually impact the on-field decisions.

Behind-the-Scenes Baseball is divided into three sections:

  1. "Stories from One of Baseball's First Statistical Consultants" includes twenty-six short stories of Doug's experiences in and around baseball. The stories range from humorous to insightful to sublime. One story is an amusing collection of rejection letters from ballclubs who, despite evidence to the contrary, claimed to have no use for Decateur's unique (at the time) services.
  2. "The GM IQ Test" is comprised of one hundred questions designed to test yours -- or anyone else's -- sabermetric IQ, so to speak. The idea is that any GM should be able to get at least 90% of these questions correct. Anyone who reads this or other similar baseball sites should score fairly well. Some of the questions are (seemingly) obvious ones:
    The number of runs a team scores is essentially a function of a team's:
    1. stolen bases and home runs
    2. on-base percentage and slugging percentage
    3. hits and opponents' errors
    4. at-bats minus strikeouts
    Others are ones you would learn from having read Moneyball:
    Draft Day You have a top ten draft pick. In general, who should you draft (circle one in each pair):
    1. high school or college
    2. a shortstop or second baseman
    3. great speed or great hitter
    4. pitcher or hitter
    And still others you would likely need a calculator (and some knowledge of sabermetric formulae) to figure out:
    November 1996 Dave Burba (11-13, 3.83 ERA, IP -- 195, Runs allowed -- 101) is in contract negotiations. He maintains he didn't get any run support in 1996. He wants to know how many games he would have won with average run support (4.68 runs per game).
  3. "Case Study: The Houston Astros' 2004 Run for the Pennant" is a fascinating look at Decateur's actual involvement with manager Phil Garner during the Astros' torrid 36-10 finish to that season and their improbably run to come within a game of winning the National League pennant.
The "GM IQ Test" takes up takes up the bulk of the book's 311 pages, so the book is a relatively quick read. Still, it's a very enjoyable book with plenty of great stories and a lot of great information, including a number of statistical truths about baseball that you didn't already know.

You can pick up a copy at ACTA Sports or at Amazon.com.