Even though there is plenty of great online coverage to get you ready for the baseball season – both real and fantasy – you may be like me in enjoying a physical book or two to dive into at this time of year.
Baseball Prospectus 2017
My traditional purchase is the pleasingly big, thick brick of a book that is the Baseball Prospectus guide.
It reviews the previous season and previews the coming one with essays on every MLB team, followed by statistics and commentaries on their Major Leaguers and main Minor League players and a Top 101 Prospects list.
I always come back to BP based on how much use I get out of it each year after the initial good flick-through. It’s a handy resource to have on your coffee table when watching games or doing some research and, with the print version in particular, a search for one player usually results in a 10 minute browse.
There’s the odd player comment that, to my taste, veers too far into the jokey rather than enlightening end of things (as I noted in my review of the 2016 edition), but generally you’ll find that the stats and comment will teach you something new about a player.
The 2017 edition follows the standard formula and the established level of quality regular readers have come to expect, so previous buyers won’t need much encouragement to pick up this year’s book and if you’re not among that number, it’s definitely worth looking into if you’re after something more than a pre-season guide.
Ron Shandler’s 2017 Baseball Forecaster
BP normally meets my Spring Training book needs, yet this year I decided to double-up and buy another well-known annual guide.
Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster has long been high on the list of required purchases for fantasy baseball fans. As a keen, rather than a full-on obsessed fantasy player, it’s not something I have shelled out for previously, but having re-read the excellent Fantasyland book during the dull baseball-free winter, I thought I’d give it a go this year.
Whilst the book touts itself as being for “baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers” with its “encyclopedia of fanalytics”, it is definitely a fantasy baseball tool rather than a more general preview guide.
There are plenty of unique stats to the Forecast (XPX, BPV, DOM and DIS to chuck in just a few) that take some learning; in fact, I ended up copying them out onto a bit of paper and clipping that to the book so I could always have it handy, rather than flicking backwards and forwards to the glossary.
The player entries are listed alphabetically – first the batters, then the pitchers – rather than grouped into teams which has an immediately obvious benefit in finding a player’s entry when under the draft clock. The comments are written in short-hand and include plenty of abbreviations that, as with the stats themselves, take a little while to decipher at first but soon become helpful in stripping away the fat and giving you the core nuggets of info you need to consider about the player.
One other thing that can catch you out initially is that they bundle Double-A, Triple-A and MLB stats together in a single line if a player competed at different levels that year (the minor league numbers are converted into Major League Equivalents, MLE). This is denoted by an asterisk next to the team name, for example, A’s 2016 rookie Ryon Healy has OAK* next to his 2016 stat line, so you are aware that the numbers listed aren’t what the normal record books say.
As with the other features, you soon get used to it and there is a fantasy-based reason behind the approach: MLEs at Double-A and above “provide as accurate a record of a player’s performances as major league statistics”. The stat lines aren’t there as a reference book, they are there to help you make decisions on a player’s fantasy value.
On top of all the player entries, the first 70 pages of the book are dedicated to fantasy baseball research and advice. There is plenty here to learn from and even the less-complex sections, such as analysing how the top 15 average draft position (ADP) players worked out in terms of actual fantasy value, are really useful.
I particularly like the 5 year injury record section. It’s a simple idea, listing every player and the type of injury and number of days they missed each season, but it’s great to be able to flick straight to that info really quickly.
And even though the Forecaster isn’t quite the behemoth that the BP brick is, it’s certainly no flimsy magazine. It’s essentially A4 sized in height, a bit larger than that in width, and approximately 1.5cm thick. So there’s lots in it, but you can put it in your bag to read on the train to work without knackering your shoulder.
Which one might be for you?
Well, you can’t go wrong with either. As stated, the Forecaster is a great choice if your primary focus is on fantasy baseball, whilst Baseball Prospectus offers a more rounded baseball guide with some fantasy help included in the PECOTA projection stats (BP offers a dedicated Fantasy subscription service on their website too).
However, my main conclusion is that they are different enough to make for an excellent pairing without feeling like you are paying for two versions of the same thing.
We can all appreciate the benefit of taking one bottle into the shower rather than two, as the old Wash & Go advert used to tell us, but when it comes to these baseball books, two is even better than one.