Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Extra Innings (2012)

Edited by Steven Goldman

The geniuses of Baseball Prospectus are back with another book and the g-word is not to be thrown around lightly.

The staff of that "organization" -- a group of writers that produces an annual must-read book and a popular website -- has been doing good work in the area of baseball research and analysis for quite a while now -- more than a decade. They also did a book a few years ago, "Baseball Between the Numbers," that was less topical but contained plenty of interesting issues examined in some new and interesting ways.

"Extra Innings" is the sequel, in a sense. And as sequels go, well, this isn't The Godfather Part II.

The Baseball Prospectus crew always has relied on a number of formulas and statistics to make its case, but usually it has added sharp, funny writing to help the reader move forward. For the most part here, though, this is pretty dry stuff.

It's particularly true in the front portion of the book. After a good introduction by Goldman on some statistics that should be on a back of a baseball card, we jump right into the steroid era. There's an essay on the steroid era which is slow going, a story on how the drug-enhanced boys should do in Hall of Fame consideration that's a little long, and an essay on what is called the next stage of athlete enhancement that is really dry. At that point, it's page130 and there hasn't been much fun to be had at all.

It's somewhat hit or miss from there Rany Jazayerli does a good job at looking at the effect of age on the amateur draft, Jay Jaffe takes a nice look at whether Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, Derek Carty examines when a team's hot start is more than a hot start, and Christina Kahrl shows what the increase in strikeouts means when it comes to how the game is played. There are other chapters in which while the conclusions are of interest, the methods used to get there might tend to glaze the reader's eyes over.

The end result, then, is something that reads a bit like a collection of academic papers on the broader subject of baseball. The information that comes out of it certainly is worth having, but the full story of how that information is derived might not be of great interest to most fans.

In other words, "Extra Innings" probably will have trouble finding a mass audience. Those that like this sort of analysis certainly will much to study here. For the rest of us, this is a tough book to love.

Two stars

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