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The Bill James Handbook 2009

Kim: Looks like you got another !@#$ing book in the mail.
Me: The new Bill James Handbook is here! The new Bill James Handbook is here!
Kim: [not quite under her breath] Loser.
Me: ::grinning like a goon::

That conversation may not have actually taken place, but it might as well have. I've nearly filled an entire bookshelf with baseball annuals, including six separate editions of the BJH. In a vast sea of baseball annuals, the BJH distinguishes itself from the pack by -- among other things -- hitting the streets just after the World Series ends. This year's edition was available on November 1st, and I think I may have received my review copy a day or two before then, even. I'm still not sure how they get it finished and shipped so quickly; I think it has something to do with elves.

Last year I tirelessly went through every section of the book and explained the just of the contents. The structure of the book is largely unchanged from last year, so I'm not going to bore you with all of that. I'll try to gear this review more towards Mets-centric nuggets from the book, of which there are plenty.

I mentioned it in an applesauce a couple of weeks ago, but the Fielding Bible awards are back, and Carlos Beltran was honored as the top defensive centerfielder, beating out former Mets Carlos Gomez and Mike Cameron, among others. A panel of ten "experts" voted on the awards, including Bill James, John Dewan, Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer. David Wright finished tied for fifth at third base (Adrian Beltre won), Jose Reyes finished tenth at shortstop (Jimmy Rollins) and Johan Santana was the sixth highest-ranked pitcher (Kenny Rogers). The voting was somewhat subjective, though I suppose each panelist reached his conclusions using whatever means he considered the most meaningful. The objective counterpart to the awards are Dewan's plus/minus leaders, which would seem to cut into his profits on the forthcoming Fielding Bible 2009. Jose Reyes appears on neither the leaders nor the trailers list, so we may actually have to wait for the FB2009 to know how he actually rated. From the "Kinda Looks Like a Misprint" department, Chase Utley was 47 plays better than average at second base, which is mind-boggling. Also mind-boggling: Pat Burrell was -73 in left field from 2006-2008. Do. Not. Want.

As usual, the BJH devotes near 300 pages to the career registers of every player who was active in 2008. I understand why they include it, and it's theoretically handy to have that kind of information on hand, but in practice I just find it negligibly useful. All of that information -- and much, much more -- is seconds away on the internets. I've got a desktop and a laptop (and an iPhone), so there's rarely a time when it's more convenient to look up a player's statistics in a book instead of hopping online. Maybe I'm on an island here, but I'd prefer they save some trees, cut the career register, and maybe add a few more Bill James articles about the prior season in order to flesh things out a little bit.

The time I save by not looking at the career register I can spend on the 2008 baserunning statistics, which are just fascinating to me. If we can accurately measure runs created on the basepaths, there's no reason they shouldn't be included in a player's total value when we're quantifying his contributions to the team. Offense is X, defense is Y, and baserunning should be Z. The BJH's baserunning stats measure each player's ability at:

  • Going first-to-third on a single
  • Going second-to-home on a single
  • Going first-to-home on a double
  • Advancing on outs
  • Not getting doubled off
  • Not grounding into double-plays

All of those factors are thrown into a mixer which spits out a base runs gained/lost. That number is combined with stolen base gain/lost to arrive at a total baserunning gain/lost, expressed in runs. Carlos Beltran cracked the top ten with +35 base runs, which you can add to the list of things he does extraordinarily well. Jose Reyes was at +32. Derek Jeter was -13. Willy Taveras led all big leaguers with +70 base runs. Dioner Navarro trailed everyone at -39. As a team, the Mets were fourth in the majors with +85 base runs. The World Champion Phillies were first overall with +114 base runs.

The relief pitching section is also neat, as it breaks down saves into different types (easy, regular, tough), and also includes things like stranding inherited runners, pitching on consecutive days, high-leverage situations, long outings blown save/win situations, and some other stuff. A "tough save" is defined as one in which a reliever comes into the game with the tying or go-ahead runs on base. Tough saves were only converted successfully 22% of the time in 2008. The Mets' bullpen served to drag that number down a bit by going 0-for-8 in tough save opportunities.

We've also got a section on manufactured runs. This goes a bit beyond productive outs by determining actual runs that scored as a result of "productive" outs. A manufactured run, per the BJH, is "(a) any run on which two or more of the bases come from something other than playing station-to-station baseball, or (b) a run that scores without a hit, or with only infield hits". They're further separated into deliberately manufactured runs (runs that involve a stolen base, a bunt, or a pinch-runner) and non-deliberate manufactured runs (one that don't include the aforementioned managerial decisions). For whatever it's worth, the Mets manufactured more total runs -- 207 -- than any other National League team, and just shy of the 213 manufactured by the Twins. Yay! Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are the top two manufacturers in the NL, craftily assembling 42 runs and 37 runs, respectively.

The book goes on and on. We've got managerial records, park factors, comprehensive ballpark statistics (Shea Stadium suppressed RHB batting average more than any NL park outside of San Diego), lefty/right splits for batters and pitchers, esoteric stat leaderboards (David Wright had the second-highest NL OPS among players under 25; Mike Pelfrey led the NL in GIDP/9 with 1.30; Oliver Perez was the most extreme flyball pitcher in all of baseball;), career win shares, and the Young Talent Inventory (Wright and Reyes are both among James's top ten players under 27). We also get 2009 projections, which I've already covered in great depth.

If that weren't enough, there's also career targets (formerly known as the Favorite Toy), which evaluates the likelihood of certain players hitting certain milestones. For instance, Jose Reyes has a 31% chance of reaching 3,000 hits and a 5% chance of reaching 4,000 hits. Alex Rodriguez dominates this section, and has a 49% chance of breaking Barry Bonds's career homerun record.

There's really just an astounding amount of information in here, and it's very easy to get lost within it for hours at a time. I urge you to pick up your own copy, and if you do, please buy it directly from ACTA Sports. You can save a few bucks through Amazon, but when you buy direct from the publisher you're supporting the folks that make this and other great baseball books possible.