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Review: Graphical Player 2008

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The fantasy baseball season is in full swing right now, with auto- and live fantasy drafts numbering in the thousands every day. I spend countless hours every year preparing for my drafts, poring over tables of stats, ogling assorted fantasy player rankings and scrutinizing every projection system I can get my hands on. I tabulate the results, ranking players by position as well as overall, formulating an overall plan for my draft, oftentimes walking through mock drafts just to see where players may land and who is likely to be available at certain critical junctures.

Despite all of that preparation, I invariably find myself at multiple points in a given draft where I can't seem to decide between two players of seemingly comparable value. The seconds on the draft clock tick away as I nervously waffle back and forth between my targets. Where did ESPN rank them? What about Yahoo!? What does PECOTA think? All of the prep work in the world still leaves me frantically unprepared to make decisions that could wind up making or breaking my season.

The information necessary for making good draft-time decisions is out there, but it's all over the place, and it's often difficult to make sense of it all when you only have moments to make your selection. Enter: Graphical Player 2008 by John Burnson (you can read my review of GP2007 here.

In a nutshell, GP2008 provides a detailed statistical profile of every player in baseball in a graphical format that makes quick analysis and comparison very easy to accomplish. At first glance, the unique charts and visual identifiers are a little overwhelming, as the book crams an awful lot of information into a 7.25" x 2.5" box, but the function of each graph, chart and diagram is sufficiently explained in the introductory pages to each of the book's sections.

Here is what the pitcher charts look like (click to enlarge):

The upper left chart shows the player's positional age relative to his peers. The x-axis is age and the y-axis is positional population (i.e. the number of total players at the player's position). This adds context to the player's age, so we can quickly tell whether he is old or young for his position. Older players are more likely to regress, whereas younger players might still be expected to show improvement in the year(s) to come.

The upper middle box represents the player's game log and includes a timeline of wins, saves, pitch count, walk rate, groundball rate, and strikeout rate. Was the player stronger in the first half or the second half? Did his strikeout rate fluctuate wildly or was he generally consistent?

The upper right box indicates the player's actual ERA last season (black bar) as well as the likelihood that he will achieve a specific ERA next season. The white bar that extends the farthest to the left is the most likely ERA for the player. This isn't really a forecast, but rather an adjustment to ERA based on last year's peripherals (K%, BB%, GB%). So, technically, it was the player's likelihood to achieve said ERAs *last* year, but it gives you an idea of how he pitched relative to his ERA and whether he is likely to improve or regress next season.

The lower left box shows career fortunes, which is basically just a player's hit rate and strand rate. What you're looking for here are deviations from the norm. If the pitcher had a solid ERA last season and his strand rate was abnormally high, he is due for a dropoff. If his ERA was inflated last year and he posted an unusually low strand rate then he might have caught some bad luck and is due for a rebound.

The lower middle box shows career trends in workload (i.e. number of total pitches) and two metrics exclusive to GP2008 -- GOG3 and GOG4 -- which are measures of pitching value based on strikeouts, walks, groundball rate, flyball rate and line drive rate. GOG3 shows the influence of those five outcomes on ERA, WHIP and Wins. GOG4 is the same as GOG4 but also includes the effect on strikeouts. The actual methodology is not described, but a value of 0 represents a marginally useful pitcher. Values above zero indicate pitcher "worthiness".

The lower right box is a pitch profile, which breaks down a hurler's pitch selection by type, speed and frequency as well as how often a hit was allowed on any particular combination of type/velocity.

A comment is included for each pitcher, along with a buy ($) or not (--) recommendation.

Here is what the hitter charts look like (click to enlarge):

Like the pitcher charts, the hitter charts also include positional age comparison and game log. The hitter game logs include rolling percentages for hits, strikeouts and batting average, as well as indicators for homeruns and stolen bases. The left y-axis shows plate appearances for each game. This is a great way to see the player's season at a glance in order to measure consistency and overall competence.

The upper right box measures the player's overall OPS and plate appearances -- plus lefty/righty splits for same -- relative to others at his position. This provides an easy way to see how well a player performs in relation to his peers and is a good barometer for whether said player is a standout at his position.

The lower left boxes show games played by position as well as the player's lineup distribution (i.e. how often he batted in each spot), plus the team's OPS by batting spot relative to the league. This is useful information if you want to know how likely a player is to get RBI or runs scored opportunities.

The lower middle boxes indicate career trends in homeruns and stolen bases, overall and relative to the league. Both charts use age for the x-axis and include three years of projected values. The power chart shows the player's isolated power (slugging minus batting average) and the speed chart shows the player's speed index, or the likelihood that he will attempt a steal.

The lower right box is a hitter's spray chart, indicating the general location of his homeruns, flyballs and groundballs. This is particularly useful if a player is moving to/from a good hitter's park.

Each hitter also includes a comment and buy recommendation.

Craig Brown, Marc Normandin and Jeff Sackmann provide the hitter comments; Burnson provides all of the pitcher comments.

There are plenty of books out there that are marketed -- at least implicitly -- at the fantasy baseball player. They invariably provide historical stats as well as future projections, and most or all of them are genuinely valuable. None of them are Graphical Player, which is what makes this book so special. The statistical usefulness of the other baseball annuals are largely interchangeable, with writing and breadth of content distinguishing one from another. GP2008 contains very little writing aside from the single-line player comments, but its uniqueness of presentation is what sets it apart from the pack and makes it a must-own for fantasy ballers.

After staring at columns of data for hours on end, GP2008 will be a refreshing change of pace for your pre-draft research. And when your draft finally rolls around, assuming you have acclimated yourself to the meaning and purpose of each chart and graph in this book, you will have a leg up on your fellow managers, and will be better prepared to make an informed decision -- either in advance or at the very last second -- that could swing the fate of your fantasy team.

You can buy John Burnson's Graphical Player 2008 at BaseballHQ.com or Amazon.com. Burnson also produces Heater, a PDF magazine published twice weekly targeted to the fantasy baseball GM.