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The Hidden Game of Baseball : A Revolutionary Approach to Baseball and Its Statistics
by John Thorn and Pete Palmer and David Reuther


Overview - Long before Moneyball became a sensation or Nate Silver turned the knowledge he'd honed on baseball into electoral gold, John Thorn and Pete Palmer were using statistics to shake the foundations of the game. First published in 1984, The Hidden Game of Baseball ushered in the sabermetric revolution by demonstrating that we were thinking about baseball stats--and thus the game itself--all wrong.  Read more...

 
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More About The Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorn; Pete Palmer; David Reuther
 
 
 
Overview
Long before Moneyball became a sensation or Nate Silver turned the knowledge he'd honed on baseball into electoral gold, John Thorn and Pete Palmer were using statistics to shake the foundations of the game. First published in 1984, The Hidden Game of Baseball ushered in the sabermetric revolution by demonstrating that we were thinking about baseball stats--and thus the game itself--all wrong. Instead of praising sluggers for gaudy RBI totals or pitchers for wins, Thorn and Palmer argued in favor of more subtle measurements that correlated much more closely to the ultimate goal: winning baseball games.
The new gospel promulgated by Thorn and Palmer opened the door for a flood of new questions, such as how a ballpark's layout helps or hinders offense or whether a strikeout really is worse than another kind of out. Taking questions like these seriously--and backing up the answers with data--launched a new era, showing fans, journalists, scouts, executives, and even players themselves a new, better way to look at the game.
This brand-new edition retains the body of the original, with its rich, accessible analysis rooted in a deep love of baseball, while adding a new introduction by the authors tracing the book's influence over the years. A foreword by ESPN's lead baseball analyst, Keith Law, details The Hidden Game's central role in the transformation of baseball coverage and team management and shows how teams continue to reap the benefits of Thorn and Palmer's insights today. Thirty years after its original publication, The Hidden Game is still bringing the high heat--a true classic of baseball literature.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780226242484
  • ISBN-10: 022624248X
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publish Date: March 2015
  • Page Count: 440
  • Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Sports & Recreation > Baseball - Statistics
Books > Mathematics > Probability & Statistics - General

 
BookPage Reviews

The brains behind America's pastime

Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half physical, Yogi Berra once said. That precise calculation is debatable, but, however you cut it, the game has always been the thinking person’s sport. So it’s appropriate that each of these books on the national pastime highlights some aspect of baseball’s brain. 

Perhaps “brain” is not the first word one associates with the subject of Bill Pennington’s new bio, Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius. “Brawn” is more like it. The longtime manager got into so many brawls—on and off the field—that it’s hard to keep track. Over 500-plus pages and 49 chapters, Pennington provides a comprehensive document that amply illustrates the thesis stated in his introduction: that Martin represented an American dream of freedom.

Freedom of the damn-the-torpedoes sort, at least. It’s the version of freedom in which you tell the boss to take the job and shove it, which Martin effectively did again and again, most famously leading to five firings by George Steinbrenner’s Yankees. But Pennington also makes a good case that Martin indeed had a managerial brain of the first order. His tactics were often unorthodox and hardly in line with what has become conventional wisdom among statistics-minded managers. He relied heavily on playing head games with the opposing team. Whatever was in the sauce, though, it usually worked, as he often wrung production out of underperforming players and won the 1977 World Series with the Yankees.

Martin’s life was a rollicking one, and as with the life, so with the book. Pennington’s take is great fun, and the author’s drive to talk to everyone who may have known Martin—from the most arrogant star to the humblest bartender—is impressive. But perhaps Pennington should have left some of his material in the dugout. This reader, for one, did not need to know that Martin was a bad shot at the toilet. Still, the hits are greater than the misses. It’s sure to become the definitive biography of one of the game’s most fascinating characters.

We meet Martin’s polar opposite in Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets. Steve Kettmann, who previously ghostwrote Jose Canseco’s steroids tell-all, Juiced, opens with a strong vignette of general manager Alderson’s wheeling and dealing to trade Mets star Carlos Beltrán for phenom pitcher Zack Wheeler in 2011. Kettmann then details Alderson’s time as a Marine in Vietnam, his stint at Harvard Law School and his seemingly accidental rise to the Oakland A’s front office in the early 1980s. Oakland won the World Series in 1989 under Alderson’s guidance, and Kettmann shows how Alderson tutored Billy Beane, who would later become the A’s general manager, of Moneyball fame.

At this point, the book begins to lose some steam, becoming less an Alderson biography and more a day-to-day chronicle of the 2013 and 2014 Mets seasons. The book’s subtitle contains a bit of false advertising, as the Mets have not produced a winning season under Alderson (though the 2015 team shows promise). Nevertheless, for the reader—particularly the diehard Mets fan— interested in insider accounts of the front office, this book is worth seeking out.

Alderson’s key contribution was to pay closer attention to statistical analysis. A Bible of this data-driven style is The Hidden Game of Baseball: A Revolutionary Approach to Baseball and Its Statistics by John Thorn and Pete Palmer, originally published in 1984 and now available in a third edition. The book is a defiant challenge to conventional wisdom that dominated professional baseball for most of the 20th century—that batting average is an accurate metric of batting performance, for example, or that RBIs can tell us who the greatest hitters are. The authors propose a series of new measures, some of which—such as on-base percentage plus slugging—have become standard. Others had suggested similar ideas before, mostly in technical papers, but the beauty of this book is its pure literary merit. It contains plenty of daunting graphs and equations, but it almost always gives those graphs and equations a heart with its prose.

This book has one significant weakness, which is that its main text has not been updated since its original publication. It illustrates statistical principles with early 1980s players sure to be unfamiliar to many of today’s readers. The authors have compiled an updated list of the best players of all time—Barry Bonds is greater than Babe Ruth!—but they provide no additional reflections on that list. Still, as an introduction to statistical analysis of the game, it’s hard to go wrong with Thorn and Palmer.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
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