Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: Baseball Prospectus 2013

Edited by King Kaufman and Cecilia M. Tan

It's never easy to come up with something fresh for an annual publication, especially one that essentially has the same format year after year. Baseball Prospectus is in a sense the successor to the Bill James Baseball Abstracts of the 1980's. It is filled with all sorts of information about more than 2,000 players, and has been on the cutting edge of statistical analysis for some time.

This year, though, does offer a chance to say something original. The book features a few alterations this time around, and they make "Baseball Prospectus 2013" worth a look here.

The first switch is a good one. When you cover this many players, it's sometimes difficult to keep track of where a particular player has landed in the offseason. BP formerly placed players on their last team of the previous season.

Finally, the publication is listing players with their new teams as of the upcoming season. In other words, R.A. Dickey is in the Toronto section. It doesn't have everyone's new address, since signings take place through spring training, but the big changes are accounted for. Yes, there was an index before and still, but this is a nice step forward and couldn't have been too hard to accomplish.

Now the bad news. The book has an ever changing list of contributors, due to the nature of the business. Writers keep getting hired by major league teams. Astros' GM Jeff Luhnow, who wrote the foreward, took on a couple of them himself.

The player capsules don't have bylines, so it's impossible to know who writes what. But it seems apparent that something has changed in the approach of them. In other words, the writing used to be a lot more funny than it is in this year's book. The logical reason is that the best writers have moved on to other jobs; it's not easy delivering laughs and analysis. However, as the book's influence has grown and sales have multiplied, it's also easy to wonder if the writing crew has become a little more conservative.

Then there are the team essays at the front of each chapter. These formerly were a highlight of the book, offering a great long-term look at a particular team. This time around, though, the essays have been stripped down considerably. There is a quick look back at last year, an overview of 2013, and a few paragraphs on the state of the organization.

That's it for the complaint department. This is still worth your time if you are a baseball fan. Everyone who matters in baseball is covered, and the analysis is often right on target and unavailable anywhere else. I go through it when it arrives in the spring, scanning the major leaguers and studying everyone on my favorite teams. Then I'll sometimes grab it during a televised game, or check on players when they are traded or when they come to town with the local minor league team.

I'm not a fantasy sports player, and I'm still not convinced that this a perfect fit for that part of the sports-reading population. There are other books and magazines strictly designed for such purposes. "Baseball Prospectus 2013" will make readers smarter fans, though, even if previous editions were more entertaining.

Four stars

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