I try not to be too much of a baseball snob, but when it comes to Brandon Inge, it’s hard not too. I’ve probably had a particular conversation with over a dozen people about Brandon Inge and I’ve never gotten anyone to agree with me. That conversation is about how good of a fielding third baseman Brandon Inge is. They’ll agree with me that he’ll make some nice plays now and then but when I say Brandon has a gold glove in his future, people usually bring up his fielding percentage or the 45 errors he’s made at third base the last two years as reasons Brandon should never take a fielding award home.
I recently got my copy of the 2007 Bill James Handbook in the mail and once again, I feel vindicated. In the book are the +/- fielding leaders. For those of you who don’t own the Fielding Bible (which extensively details the ins and outs of +/-), a plus rating is how many more plays that fielder made when compared to an average fielder at that position. Likewise, a negative rating is given for fielders who made less plays then average. Standing atop the third base list for 2006 is Brandon Inge at +27. This year’s AL Gold Glove winner, Eric Chavez, isn’t even in the top 10. Joe Crede, who I thought was going to walk away with the award, had a good showing at +22. Inge also led the majors with a 3.44 range factor. I know Inge is an average hitter (low average but with some good power) but I can live with him as our regular third baseman until we see some regression in his skills at third base.
Also in the book are updated park factors. I find it particularly interesting to find trends and the Handbook does this by presenting 2006 park factors as well as park factors for the combined 2004-2006 seasons. It was even harder to hit a homerun in 2006 in Comerica Park (79 factor in 2006 vs. 86 for 2004-2006). Comerica Park was the second hardest place in the American League for a left hander to hit a homerun with a 72 park factor. Only Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City was tougher (69). And over the past three years, it’s been easier to get a triple (155 factor) in Comerica Park then any other ballpark in baseball.
As time has passed, I find myself buying more and more baseball books. Some I find indispensible while others are more personal favorites. The following are five books that I think would all be useful on any baseball fans books shelf.
2007 Bill James Handbook – Stats, stats and more stats. If you want to know who led the majors in pitches thrown over 100 mpg (Joel Zumaya by a land slide) and if you want to know who the best baserunner in baseball is (Chone Figgins), this is the book for you. It’s numbers heavy and outside of descriptions on each of the sections, there’s not much in the way of traditional essays. Then again, with all of the numbers, there’s not much room for words.
The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2007 – I’m a little biased here, but this book also is a must for baseball fans. You get an extensive stats section as well as a ton of graphs and charts. And where the Bill James Handbook is going to be where you go for obscure numbers, the Hardball Times Annual will be where you go for some excellent essays. This year’s Hardball Times Annual is as good as last years, which in my mind, is a tall task.
2007 Baseball Prospect Book – This is self published by John Sickels and this is the first place I go for minor league stats and analysis on minor league prospects. Sickels writes up short essays on hundreds of minor league players and gives them all a grade to help distinguish who he thinks is going to be a future star compared to who he thinks will be a career reserve player. Good, good stuff here. And if you collect all of the past books, you have a great resource for past minor league stats.
Baseball Prospectus 2007 – For a long time, this stood on its own. And while the Bill James Handbook and the Hardball Times Annual are more reviews of the past season, BP2007 will get you ready for the 2007 season. The team essays are always spectacular as are the player essays. I know I’m ready for the season when I’ve had a chance to flip through my copy of BP.
ESPN Pro Baseball Encyclopedia – The thickest book of the bunch, this is for the baseball historian in all of us. You get a player register for every player who ever laced up a pair of spikes as well as a ton of extras. You can even find the American Legion champions going back to 1926. Whenever I’m starting any research on a player, the Encyclopedia is the first place I go to.
And of course no offense to any other publications out there. I’ve never bought Ron Shandler’s Forecaster but after reading Fantasyland (one of the best baseball books of 2006), I might check it out. And I’ve never bought a Baseball America book, but not because of any particular problem with them. It just seems all of their books overlap with one of the five I highlighted already.
Regardless, it’s a great time to be a baseball fan. I remember patiently waiting for the Street and Smiths to come out. Now you get choices galore.