While Logan just flat out needed a break from the game – and more importantly the Rockies – I have been super busy with other life things which has taken me away from writing recently. I went to the Philippines for two weeks, moved into a new house (and rented my old house), my kid has been potty trained and my wife is eight months pregnant. Add to that the extra duties at work that seemingly continue to pile up, my sister having her first child and just the general busyness of life and it has just been plain hard to sit down and write a thing.
I have, however, had plenty of time to read about baseball. Between the lengthy plane rides to and from the Philippines and relaxing at night after packing/unpacking/moving furniture and other moving duties I have been able to read three baseball books in the past 6 weeks or so. Here are my reviews of the three books.
The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed
I have not read too much from J.C. Bradbury before reading this book but I did happen upon some of his work on pitchers throwing on short rest for a piece I did for the SweetSpot Network for ESPN. After reading his brief paper on that subject I was hungry for more. It is amazing to see business practices put to use to understand baseball and between this book and the next one I read, it is obviously becoming more and more common.
There were two chapters that really stuck with me from Bradbury’s book: “The Extinct LeftHanded Catcher” and “The Big City vs Small City Problem”.
I have often wondered myself why there are not any left hand catchers in baseball and Bradbury dives into this in the third chapter of the book. He tackles all sorts of theories that are spewed daily by those RBI lovin’ TV guys like how a ball “tails” from a lefty or how a right hand batter is in the way more for a lefty and lastly the myth about how hard it would be for a lefty to throw to third to catch a potential base thief vs a right hand catcher. None of these make any sense and essentially the answer is that when kids are younger and a coach has a left hand kid that can throw real hard coaches tend to put those left handed kids on the mound since lefties who can throw hard and accurate are hard to come by.
And trust me when I type this: Bradbury does a much better job explaining and researching these facts in his book.
The second chapter that I really liked was about how much big markets spend on their teams in relation to small markets. It is an all too common gripe here in Denver that the Monforts are cheap (even after they gave Tulo and CarGo mega-contracts!). Bradbury focuses on the extreme markets (big like Boston and New York and small like Oakland and Florida) but right in the middle are the Colorado Rockies in most of his numbers. Denver is the 22nd largest city in terms of population and at the time the book was written (in 2007 before “2007”) the Rockies averaged just over 76 wins from 1995-2004 and according to his math based on population the Rockies adjusted wins was just over 75 and their predicted wins based on population was nearly 78 wins. This all adds up to the Rockies falling short on an average basis of just under two wins a season: the Rockies were essentially playing as good as the market size would allow. Bradbury also gives the franchises values based on player value and the Rockies came in 18th – four spots higher than their city size rank. Add up all the numbers (read his book for the details) and the Rockies were the 12th most efficient franchise from 2003-2005. Keep in mind that during these years the Hampton contract was still weighing the Rockies down and Helton’s contract was just starting to really kill the accountants at 20th and Blake. Lastly, Bradbury takes the team’s average net value and compares to their total performance value for 2003-2005 and the Rockies, once again, fall smack dab in the middle at #16. Some Rockies fans (and the guys on 104.3 theFan) want the Rockies to spend like the Cubs or the Yankees when they don’t even have close to the resources available to do so.
All of this, to me, says that the Rockies are spending what they should be spending. They are not over-extending themselves in the free agent market. It isn’t about what the Rockies are spending but rather it is either A. about the Rockies drafting practices for young, US based, pitchers or B. how they are developing (or rather NOT developing) those young arms. The Rockies success over the past 10 years in the amateur draft has been pathetic and the development of those arms is just as bad.
Overall I give The Baseball Economist a “B”. It is a good book and there are some very interesting facts in the book. It is amazing how fast the statistical movement is progressing because in this book, which is only four years old, there are already references that are a bit outdated. Still a good read for anyone who is interested in looking at just pure market value and how that value implies itself to baseball.
The second book I read was The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First. Jonah Keri penned this book and I wanted to read this based on his humorous yet insightful writing on websites like Fangraphs. When I finished this book there were three things that stuck out in my head:
1. I am now somewhat a fan of the Rays. I suppose I have been favoring them or maybe even rooting for them a bit the last four seasons or so when they started to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox. I was certainly rooting for them this year to catch the Red Sox before I read this book simply because I am sick of seeing the Yankees and Red Sox buy their way to the playoffs. But after reading this book the Rays were the one team that made the playoffs that I was rooting for to win the whole she-bang.
2. All too often in this book did Keri rinse and repeat the payroll ratio differences between the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. The first time he writes that the Yankees had a payroll five or eight times larger than the Rays (dependent on the season) it was interesting stuff even if it is well known. But when each chapter had essentially the same paragraph or two in it over and over it became incredibly redundant.
3. There wasn’t near enough information on what the new ownership group has done in terms of using their “Wall Street strategies” to change the franchise. There were tid-bits about how the new owners changed the ballpark to make it more fan friendly, more free giveaways and more after game promotions but that isn’t really using anything from Wall Street, is it? The only takeaway I had from the book as it relates to Wall Street is how Andrew Friedman (the Rays GM) would use arbitrage to buy low and sell high. He discussed this in depth in maybe one or two chapters and sort of glossed over it a few other times in regards to Friedman turning Scott Kazmir into a king’s ransom of prospects or how he did the same with Edwin Jackson, but that was really the extent of “Wall Street strategies” that I took from the book.
If you are more interested in the history of the Rays and their original ownership team this is a good book for you. If you are expecting a few hundred pages on the last four or five seasons since the new group took over this book will not be enough. I would venture to say that 75% of the book is about the original owners and how they failed more than about the new group and what they changed. At least, that is the feeling I got after I read the final page.
It is still a good book and an interesting look into the Rays franchise. There are a few pages about how secretive they are in their hiring’s and so much so that they hired a guy from BP.com and they didn’t even want him to tell his friends. If you are looking for a lot of in-depth detail on the new ownership you will be disappointed but if you want a book that talks about the Rays from day 1 to current you will not be.
Finally, the last book I read was The Big Red Machine: a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. I have said this a few times on Twitter, Facebook and probably in my writings: Joe Posnanski is the best writer on Earth*. No question. The way Posnanski wraps a story around the factual events is amazing. The way he sets up a story and then knocks it out of the park either a sentence or two later, a paragraph later or even at the end of the chapter is amazing. I do not think I can do this book justice in a review, it is that great. You must read it.
*Keep in mind I mostly read about baseball so if you start throwing fiction authors at me or guys who write about football I won’t know. What I do know is that no one writes a gripping story like Posnanski.
I will say that I loved and learned so much about the personal interactions between Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench. It is almost stunning to read about how much Morgan loved to draw a walk even though he is so anti-sabermetric (and for some reason OBP is a “sabermetric” stat). And when you contrast Morgan’s ability and desire to draw walks against Rose’s pure hatred for a base on balls or any sort of free pass to first it is engrossing.
The banter that is described in the book about the players and how they ribbed each other to death on a daily basis is funny. Looking into Sparky Anderson and how personal he took his team’s wins and losses is amazing and I can almost feel an ulcer growing in my own stomach after reading about Anderson. Bench and his personal life and how he seemingly had his whole life planned out from the time he was a child – and how that often does not work out as planned – brought Bench back from Godlike status. And then you have Perez who was definitely a star but since his personality with the media wasn’t as engaging (for various reasons) as Rose, Morgan or Bench he was never quite in the same light as his teammates. How much Ken Griffey and Dave Concepcion and Ceasar Geromino were all very integral parts of the team but didn’t get near the same respect from the fans and even Sparky himself.
I had no idea the ’75 team went like 41-9 during the summer or how incredibly hot they actually were. I knew they were one of the greatest teams ever, but didn’t realize how absolutely unbeatable they actually were during the summer of ’75. For a baseball team to win 75% of its games like the Reds did in June is insane. The Rockies did the same thing for one magical stretch in 2007 but the Reds also won over 72% of its games in August and 69% of their games in July. In fact, their worst month was April and they still won 52% of their games and if a team were to win 52% of its games all year they would be in the running for the playoffs. The Reds won their division by TWENTY GAMES!! They had their playoff spot secured by the first week of September! Amazing.
I cannot say enough about this book, it is a must read. I was lucky enough to have Posnanski sign The Soul of Baseball two years ago and all of his books, including his blog and his back page piece in Golf Magazine are must reads. A+ in my mind.
I am continuing on with my reading and have picked up Sixty Feet, Six Inches with Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson. I am already confident that this book will not get a good review and I am only about 60 pages into it. The word “humblebrag” is being defined in this book on every single page. I understand Jackson hit well over 500 home runs but he talks about contact hitting like he was some sort of expert. He does realize he holds the all-time career record for number of K’s, right? His career .262 average doesn’t exactly scream “contact hitter”. As I skip over pages and generally feel disinterested it is not a good sign for this book.