Baseball Prospectus 2009

Baseball Prospectus 2009, ed. by Christina Kahrl and Steven Goldman, (Plume, 2009), 648 pages.

This year’s edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual offers the familiar selection of stats, both of previous seasons and projections for 2009, and commentary that normally make it such a useful reference guide as well as being an entertaining read.

The formula does work again in this edition, but not quite as successfully as in the past. 

The format of the annual was explained in my review of last year’s edition.  Put simply, the book contains thirty main chapters covering every MLB team, followed by a few additional articles.  Each team entry includes an opening essay on their 2008 campaign and hopes for the future as well as stats and comments on the most important batters and pitchers who were in their organization at the end of October.  This amounts to those on the forty-man roster and other notable players from their farm system.

BP’s decision to list player’s under the team they were with at the end of the 2008 season comes into criticism in some quarters, but it seems the most sensible approach to take.  No need to worry too much if a player gets traded in between the time the book is sent to the printers and when it hits the shelves.  All the players will still be listed in the same way.

However, it’s an approach that does rely on a comprehensive player index.  If I see a fringe player called up to the Majors during April, I’ll grab my BP Annual off the shelf and see what his stats were for the previous three years and what the BP staff think of him.  If he isn’t listed under his current team’s section, all you need to do is go to the index and find his entry that way.

So, it’s a real disappointment that the book was released without an index.  Most, if not all, who will buy this book will already be regular visitors to BaseballProspectus.com and they can find the index there, accompanied by what is clearly a genuine apology for it not being included.  That rectifies the situation to an extent, but it’s still annoying all the same.

BP have always tried to hold back the production of their annual to make it as up-to-date as possible.  That’s a worthy idea, yet it can mean that the final editing and proof-reading of the finished article is below par.  Missing out the index is a pretty significant flaw and there are a few others along the way.

However hard you try, the odd mistake can always creep in to a book like this and, when they do, the reader’s frustration is equalled (if not surpassed) by that of the author.  So no doubt the BP staff will grimace at the Innings Pitched figures for some of the Astros’ pitchers.  If you were under the clock during your fantasy draft and quickly flicked to Roy Oswalt’s entry, you would be horrified to find that he pitched 2,082 innings last year. 

In this case, the fact that it’s such a glaring error (it should be 208) reduces the problem because you know to look it up elsewhere.  However, it puts a doubt in your mind as to whether you can trust the other numbers to be correct.  If you can’t rely on the figures being accurate, you can’t rely on the book as a reference tool.

The selection of essays at the end of the annual are also a little underwhelming to my mind.  Last year’s edition included two excellent pieces of research by Dan Fox (one about base-running, the other about evaluating outfield throwing arms) and one by Clay Davenport (about pitchers needing to work the count as much as hitters so). 

This year’s selection focuses on off-the-field issues, such as how Latin American players acclimatize to living/playing in America, the raft of proposed stadium deals (undoubtedly something that deserves scrutiny) and MLB’s marketing strategy.  There’s nothing wrong with the essays themselves, it’s just that I would much prefer to read insightful pieces on the game itself, challenging conventional wisdom in a way that has become BP’s hallmark.

Of course, this is a personal preference more than anything.  A casual fantasy player who has bought the book primarily to help with their team(s) may prefer these sorts of essays.  There are other annuals out there that do dedicate more space to statistical analysis and research, particularly the Hardball Times.  I think I might spend my money on the ‘review’ and ‘preview’ books they produce next time and just stick with my BP.com Premium subscription for the PECOTA projection stats, fantasy tools and other content that I still thoroughly enjoy reading.

Baseball Prospectus has built a reputation as a leader in their field and you expect them to produce an excellent annual.  In light of that, it’s fair to pass on some constructive criticism when they produce a book that is merely good.  However, it’s still a book worth buying if you are looking for a fantasy-based preview for the 2009 season.

Have you read “Baseball Prospectus 2009? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Can you recommend any other similar books? If so, let us know.

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