In a recent article discussing the topic of sabermetrics and the detailed use of statistical analysis in baseball, Baseball Prospectus writer Will Carroll pulled in a quote and related it to sabermetrics, stating, "When folks need an elevator, we should give them an elevator, not an airplane. We've been giving them [baseball fans] airplanes for 30 years, and then laughing at them for being too stupid to fly them right."
I can't think of a better quote to summarize where sabermetrics currently stands in baseball, and the growing void that exists between the average fan that still clings to the batting averages of the world, and the rapidly developing world that exists to try to unlock the deepest secrets of the game through statistical analysis.
The reality is that most baseball fans have turned away from sabermetrics and the advent of more advanced statistics because they don't understand them. And instead of making some level of attempt to explain them, most sabermetrics gurus scoffed at the lack of understanding, labeled resistant fans ignorant, and created that growing divide.
Beyond Batting Average is the first book I've read that works to reach out to those fans and explain not only the way the statistics are calculated, but the value behind them.
Panas starts off the book with an introduction to the world of statistics in baseball. For example, did you know that batting average became the statistic to evaluate a hitter's ability not because of some statistical evaluation, but because the first man to track baseball statistics, Henry Chadwick, wasn't impressed with the power game? I've often a firm believer that you can't know where you're going until you know where you've been, and this historical introduction in the book gives a great window into the past.
From there, Panas dives into one category at a time (hitting, pitching, fielding), each one progressing from relative novice to advanced analytics. The approach works not only from a reading flow standpoint, but also from a usability standpoint. An early entrant to the world would likely be overwhelmed relatively quickly if Panas jumped right into VORP or win probability, but instead starts by introducing the basics that every baseball fan would know and how they go into the more common saber stats.
Of course, for the more advanced statistical gurus, there's plenty there for you to sink your teeth into. Panas has an entire chapter dedicated to linear weights analysis, and he even dives into the age old debate about the existence (or lack thereof) of ‘clutch hitters'. Panas also tackles fielding independent pitching, analyzes whether or not it's really true that "pitching and defense wins games", and examines the world of finding statistics to accurately measure defensive ability, despite the lack of readily available measures like those for pitching and hitting.
Panas wraps the book up with a closing chapter that brings all the statistics together, and strives to answer the question of what is the single best measure of a player's overall contribution to his team. Beyond his answer to that question, he makes the astute point that the science of sabermetrics is still developing and changing, and for all we know, it may well still be in its infancy.
So, if you're looking for some good baseball reading this spring, want to sound like a genius at the next poker game with your buddies when you whip out your wOBA statistics, or just want to know what exactly OPS is and why everyone loves it, Panas' book is for you.
Beyond Batting Average gets the TigsTown stamp of approval, and a recommended read for all of you baseball fans out there yearning to learn more about sabermetrics, no matter your skill level.
Beyond Batting Average can be purchased at Lulu.com and is available in either paperback or electronic download. Follow the link below for to purchase:
Beyond Batting Average
To read more from Lee, you can also visit his blog TigerTales at DetroitTigerTales.com.