Thursday, May 26, 2005

Review: The Book on the Book by Bill Felber (on baseball)

Review: The Book on the Book: A Landmark Inquiry into Which Strategies in the Modern Game Actually Work by Bill Felber

I was excited when I saw this book. It looked like an interesting look into baseball strategies and statistics. There is some interesting work, but unfortunately, I can not recommend this book. There is too much incomplete information and false conclusions that it overwhelms the good stuff.

Chapter 2 is a good example of the problems in this book. In chapter 2, Felber looks at batting averages of hitters based on the count. He counts these batting averages based on the count when the batter either puts a ball into fair territory (or a HR) or strikes out.

His numbers show that hitters did very well based on the way he measured them when there was 0 or only 1 strike (.335 thru .354 batting averages). When it was 2 strikes, the batting averages were very low (.224 thru .148). Although its clear Felber understands OBP and SLG, he does not list those percentages along with the batting averages. It’s a curious omission of crucial data. Most serious students of the game think OBP and SLG are far more important than AVG. So why were these important stats omitted? (rhetorical question)

In 2004, the major league average for all hitters when they did not strike out was .329 (44,522 hits out of 167,353 at bats, but subtracting out 31,828 strike outs). This is awfully close to Felber’s numbers of .335 to .354. Those familiar with DIPS will know that the batting average when a ball is hit into play is roughly .300. Since DIPS does not count HRs, and since HRs occur roughly 3% of the time, that means the net average of a hitter is roughly .330 when he has an official at-bat that is not a strikeout. Again, those numbers are awfully close to Felber’s data. Maybe this means that when a hitter puts a ball into play (or hits a HR), his average is the same regardless of the count. What was the stats of hitters when they put a ball into play with 2 strikes? Maybe it was .330, I don’t know. I wish Felber had the foresight to answer that question instead. The problem with Felber’s conclusions is that he does not discredit a hitter for swinging and missing or fouling off a pitch to get to 2 strikes nor does he take into account the study on DIPS and batting average when balls are hit into play. I have issues with many of his conclusions and his methods in other chapters as well.

Bottomline: I was disappointed with this book and cannot recommend it for anyone.

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