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Behind the Scenes Baseball

I recently picked up and read “Behind the Scenes Baseball” by Doug Decatur.  The subtitle is “Real-Life Applications of Statistical Analysis Actually Used by Major League Teams…And Other Stories From the Inside.”  Doug Decatur has been a statistical consultant for four different major league teams and one player agent throughout his career and the book basically documents some of his work.  The book is split up into three parts.

Part one is a diary of sorts documenting Decatur’s history with the major league teams he worked for.  He talks about accurately predicting several breakout players, including Greg Vaughn, Ron Gant and Cecil Fielder. There’s also plenty of “fun” stories in this section as well, the funniest of which happened to be a chance meeting with Sparky Anderson when he was still coaching the Reds in 1976.  Another interesting section is where Decatur documents all of the rejection letters he received after they well.  They range from polite to brutally blunt.

If there’s one knock on this section, it’s that the stories are somewhat random.  They’re not in sequential order and while I guess you don’t neccesarily need to read them in any kind of order, it just seemed jumbled.  This doesn’t detract to much from the section, you just don’t get a “build” from Decatur’s beginning to the end where he’s helping a team make the playoffs.

The second section is the longest and it’s a 100 question GM IQ Test.  As we all know, while I can act like I know what I’m talking about when it comes to sabermetrics, I’m still new to the field so I’m pretty green.  I took the test and at times I did well but still ended up being a girlie man.  It was a pretty challenging test, at least for me but it was definitely fun to take.

The third section is the one I enjoyed the most and it also gives you the most meat.  It’s basically a diary of the changes the Houston Astros made at Decatur’s advice while advising Phil Garner.  It included line up construction, use of the pen, and actual player moves.  It’s well documented and it provides a step by step look at how the Astros turned their 2004 season around and made the playoffs and how they were helped by sabermetrics.

Overall, the book does exactly what it sets out to do, and that is to provide you with some of the things statistical analysis can do to help ball clubs.  For someone like me, who’s not as knowledgeable of sabermetrics, it shows real life examples on how teams can help themselves by at least considering statistical analysis.  And I’m sure for someone who’s a student of sabermetrics, it should provide you with several “ah ha” moments in which you’re validated in your adherence to statistical analysis.

The book is well worth the $15 sticker price.  The GM IQ Test alone is worth the price of the book, and that wasn’t even the part I enjoyed the most.

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