Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Cheerio Winter, Hello Baseball (Prospectus)

When does winter come to an end and spring begin?

According to the Met Office, in the UK it depends on whether you’re looking at the meteorological or astronomical season.  If the former, the first day of spring this year is 1 March, the latter is 20 March.

What the Met Office don’t take into account in that article is a third season you might be going by.

The baseball season.

This year, spring starts on 23 February.  Whilst a few teams are playing on Wednesday and Thursday, the proper spring leagues (Cactus in Arizona, Grapefruit in Florida) get going with games on Friday.

It’s the same every year: we’re all happy to have MLB baseball back as spring games begin, then go into a bit of a lull as the lazy Spring Training-ness of the games loses some of its appeal, before the regular season starts coming into view and the excitement builds again.

Even if you don’t care for Spring Training games all that much, you can at least enjoy them as the next marker that shows the real action is getting ever closer.

Baseball Prospectus 2018 Annual arrives

The start of Spring Training isn’t the only baseball season marker for me this week.  After Truck Day and MLB.TV Day, the next unofficial Day in my baseball calendar is the day on which there’s a knock on the door and the postie hands over a chunky parcel of joy.

That happened yesterday as my copy of the Baseball Prospectus 2018 annual arrived. I’ve been buying it every year since 2005 and whilst the quality has varied at times – never being worse than ‘good’, but not always hitting the heights hoped for – I can’t imagine being without it.

It’s a book you can dip into all season long, but it particularly comes into its own during Spring Training when there are prospects and fringe players to look up and learn more about.

Those other markets

In this column two weeks ago, my final thought was about the potential impact that a more prosperous baseball landscape outside of North America could have on free agents (at the lower levels, rather than the top stars).

This year’s BP Annual looks beyond North America by adding a couple of chapters about the Korea Baseball League and Nippon Baseball League in Japan.  There’s an opening essay about each league set-up followed by stats and commentary on the main players in each league (the Japan league version also includes stats on lots – all regulars? – of other players too).

They make for an interesting and welcome addition to the book, adding something a bit different that you might not think to go and look at on the internet otherwise.

The first name included in the Korean Baseball League list is Roger Bernadina, better-known for his time with the Washington Nationals in MLB or – for British fans – being the star man for the Netherlands in the 2007 European Championships final against Great Britain.

Another name that caught my eye was that of Michael Choice.  I wrote last week about some of the A’s prospects that had got away. Choice was drafted in the first round by the A’s in 2010 and rose to being the team’s top prospect, making the Majors in September 2013 before being traded to the Texas Rangers a few months later.

Things never quite panned out for Choice in the Majors and after bouncing around the Minors for a few years he decided to take up the offer of joining the Nexon Heroes in the KBO League last July.  The commentary on him in BP18 notes that he hit three home runs in his final game of the 2017 season and agreed a $600k deal to stay with the team for 2018.

New for 2018

Much of the rest of the formula stays the same, although there’s a new addition to the pitcher profiles in the form of three new ‘Top-Line Pitching’ metrics. These are designed to give an insight not strictly on performance but the type of pitcher they are, “how a pitcher gets to their results” is how they describe it.

The metrics look at Power, Stamina and Command and give a score for each based on a 0-100 scale.  First impressions are that they do offer something different and could be a useful ‘quick glance’ profile of a pitcher, although it would have been nice if they had spent a bit more time putting them into context in the Statistical Introduction by going through some examples of different types of pitchers.

The other addition is the presence of some specially designed Topps category leader cards that decorate the end of a team’s section if they have any leaders on their team from 2017.  Fourteen teams draw a blank and some aren’t your obvious leaders.  Baltimore’s sole leader card is of Caleb Joseph for his league-leading 2.9 Blocking Runs mark, which is nice for him and his family.

Don’t save the best ’till last, put it first

If this off-season’s player free agent market seems strange, that’s nothing compared to Jayson Stark becoming a free agent at the end of April last year in the latest round of cost-cutting by ESPN.  Picking a favourite baseball writer is like picking a favourite band, you love the ones you love for different reasons and choosing between them is impossible, but Stark is one of the first names that would come into my head.

Stark provides the traditional guest foreword to this year’s BP annual and it’s a typically thoughtful and entertaining read.

And the great thing is, that’s not where Stark’s baseball writing in 2018 comes to an end.

The Athletic keeps on growing

Ken Rosenthal broke the news this week that Stark has been signed up to join The Athletic’s expanded MLB team from 1st April.

The Athletic is a fairly new venture with a simple mandate: providing quality sports writing at a price.  In some respects this runs counter to prevalent trends, with media companies moving towards video and audio and the long-held expectation of many that online content will be available for free.

The fact that it runs counter to these trends is the whole point. The belief is there’s a sizeable audience that still values writing and are prepared to pay a reasonable cost for it. I count myself among that number, signed up in early January and I’ve been impressed so far.

It seems like every week or so another baseball writer confirms they are joining the website’s staff.  Whilst the quality of the articles published is generally high and provides good variety, you can tell it’s still in a formative period somewhat and building up to cover the entire circuit (20 of the 30 MLB teams have dedicated writers, alongside the national writers such as Rosenthal, Stark, Peter Gammons and Jim Bowden).  I probably feel that a little more than most subscribers as I don’t follow any of the other North American sports so I don’t get the benefit of all of the other content they are putting out.

Still, the national MLB writing is already strong (and will be even better with Stark on board), the Oakland A’s are covered well by new beat writer Julian McWilliams and Melissa Lockard and I’m enjoying dipping into the local coverage of other teams to pick up the early news from Spring Training camps.  I definitely recommend taking a look.

6 Responses to Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Cheerio Winter, Hello Baseball (Prospectus)

  1. Steve February 19, 2018 at 4:00 pm #

    I never knew about the Baseball Prospectus, I’ve just ordered my first ever copy, thanks for the heads up!

    • Matt Smith February 19, 2018 at 4:17 pm #

      No problem, it’s a great resource. Just need to make sure you’re at home, have a friendly neighbour, or can go and pick it up, as it’s definitely not getting through your letter box!

  2. micc February 19, 2018 at 10:41 pm #

    thanks for the review was looking on the US Amazon site last week and noted some do not like the humor on the player bio’s but the biggest gripe was that the Kindle version cost more then the paperback by about $8 (since been lowered but still more)
    but so far the UK seems cheaper so will try the sample in a couple of days but may go with the book Had seen The Athletic mentioned when the Sports on Earth site closed a couple of weeks back but just wondered – when you joined how did you find the payment process? assume you paid in Dollars as i can only see US or Canadian payment?

    • Matt Smith February 20, 2018 at 9:37 am #

      Yes, I’ve reviewed previous BP editions and some of the humour isn’t to my taste (or normally is making references to TV shows/films that I don’t have a clue about!) but generally the writing is good. I bought the Kindle version once or twice in the past based on the convenience in being able to read it on the train, but ended up finding I didn’t keep dipping into it during the season anywhere near as much as when I had the book to flick through (either to find something specific or just to browse for 10 minutes). The stat-based books I’ve bought on Kindle never seem to display as nicely as having a properly designed book too, so if you can go for the paperback book then that would definitely be recommendation.

      I took advantage of a deal when buying my 1 year sub for The Athletic (may have been 25% off or something). Paid in dollars, was $42 and came out at £31.

  3. micc February 21, 2018 at 10:17 pm #

    for a lighter read the Newsstand UK site has a few copies of the Street & Smith 2018 yearbook in stock

  4. micc March 25, 2018 at 3:53 pm #

    thanks for the heads up about The Athletic been using for a couple of weeks now and its been a good read,like a better version of Sports on Earth and no annoying ads with plenty of MLB compared to some sites but also good for NFL,NHL college etc just needs to cover every team in depth as some are missing.Signed up via the app and you get 5 free articles to try then before i could pay they offered 50% off which was even better

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