Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Review: The Book - simply awesome

The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, is arguably the most important sabermetric publication since the Hidden Game of Baseball over two decades ago. Hyperbole, you might say. Maybe, but consider that the authors – Tom Tango (Tangotiger), Mitchel Lichtman and Andy Dolphin – are probably three of the finest sabermetricians on the planet, and you can begin to understand why I am so excited! Moreover, this book has been two agonizing years in the making.

Baseball is a simple game: win games by outscoring your opponents. And you don’t need to watch too much baseball to know that managers will do pretty much anything to eek out that vital victory. That’s because the manager’s job is to make decisions and trade-offs that maximize the win (or run) potential at every possible juncture.

But are they actually making the right decisions? This is where The Book comes in. Using a variety of statistical techniques, and a truck load of data, the authors set out to debate some of the many myths which managers swear black and blue by. These debates are played out are across a variety of chapters:

Ok, I know what you are thinking. Many of these topics have been discussed before, so what is different about Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin’s approach? Well, amazingly our pen-toting trio manage to break new ground on pretty much every subject. Part of the joy of reading The Book is the feeling of discovering and learning alongside the authors, so I don’t want to give too much away, but here are a few tasty morsels:

And the learning continues across all the debates. The conclusions are summarized in a box entitled “The Book says”, which contain the pithy takeaways that you’d do well to remember and reflect on when you are watching your next game.

Some reviews I have read commented that The Book is quite technical in nature. I disagree. Sure, you have to have an aptitude for learning, but the writing is so lucid and exact that a layman with a bit of time on his hands is perfectly capable of picking up the main points.

Another huge plus is the inclusion of a “Toolshed” chapter, as well as a detailed appendix on some of the statistical techniques used. In fact, reading through these sections was such an edifying experience that I have found that I consistently returned to many of the ideas to reaffirm my own thinking on the methods used. Topics such as regression to the mean and markov chains are explained succinctly yet with clarity that a book like this so often lacks.

The only slightly negative comment I can make is that some of the studies with small sample sizes seem slightly out of place with the overall ethos of the book, and here the authors struggle to establish firm conclusions while still persisting to dive deep into the data. Still, even these analyses are a joy to pore over and reinforce the central concept about drawing accurate conclusions from data.

In summary, if you are reading this review then buy The Book. To hear the opinions of three of the most respected sabermetricians in baseball is a joy and a privilege. It sets a standard of work for others to aspire to, and I can only hope that volume 2 isn’t another two years in the making.

Buy the book at

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