November 7, 2011

The Sabermetric bookshelf, #2

Baseball Analyst, 1982-1989 (Bill James, publisher and editor)

SABR is now hosting -- the the blessing of Bill James, and through the work of Phil Birnbaum -- the complete Baseball Analyst.  Between 1982 and 1989, Bill James published 40 issues of Baseball Analyst, which in retrospect is now recognized as the launch pad for some fundamental thinking about using quantitative approaches to understand baseball.

The initial issue got off to a great start, with an article about fielding by Paul Schwarzenbart. In his introduction to the issue, James writes that the article "demonstrates that fielding statistics, like batting and pitching but apparently even more so, are the products in part of circumstances as well as men." This is a topic that, 30 years later, continues to provide plenty of fodder for analysis (e.g. this blog post from a month ago by Tangotiger, "Not all fielding opportunities are created the same").

In later issues, there are articles covering the usual parade of topics: clutch hitting, ballpark effects, how much young pitchers should work, ageing of ball players, and of course movie reviews.

There's also familiar names: Pete Palmer, Phil Birnbaum, and Bill James himself.

All in all, Baseball Analyst is an interesting time capsule. The tools the sabermetric community use to communicate have shifted -- when was the last time you subscribed to a magazine produced on a typewriter and mimeograph? But more importantly, it demonstrates how thinking about these topics has shifted. This shift is both because of further research (we know more than we used to) and because of the proliferation of data and cheap computing power

But it also shows that in spite of 30 years of analysis, there are still many questions unresolved.

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