Monday, February 5, 2024

Review: The Bill James Handbook: Walk-Off Edition (2023)

By Sports Info Solutions

All good things must come to an end ... particularly in publishing, where the landscape seems to change by the hour. 

Such is the case for "The Bill James Handbook," which has concluded a nice run that has lasted for more than three decades. The story of the book's history needs a little explanation first.

Back around 1990, baseball statistics had started to blossom as a subject for study. Bill James, the patron saint of baseball analysis, had started the idea (more or less) with his Abstracts in the late 1970s. That led to an advancement of the subject, through the work of a small but devoted group of individuals who have pushed the research along. 

By 1990, there was a demand for information that just wasn't out there for most of the public. So James and his friends started a book that contained all of those numbers - and not just the ones that were in the Baseball Register by The Sporting News every year. Even better, the book was available by Christmas, which was a good holiday gift for those who couldn't wait until the spring or so when the Register came out. The book not only had those numbers, but also some essays on the game. 

Fast forward to today, and all of those numbers are available almost instantly through other sources on the Internet. So it was easy to guess that the days of the Handbook had to be numbered, and here we are. But the people behind the publication decided to go out with a bang of sorts. So they came out with one last book filled mostly with essays, and called it the "Walk-Off Edition." 

I hadn't bought the book before, as I didn't have a great deal of need for the extra numbers in my life. But as a reader of James' abstracts, I found the concept of an anthology with contributions by and about James to be tough to resist. Sold. 

Sure enough, there are a bunch of articles here, and James has five bylines and is the subject of a question-and-answer story. My favorite story of the bunch was one by James, in which he talks about how the changes in the way baseball is played these days (more relief pitchers, emphasis on home runs by hitters and strikeouts for pitchers, etc.). One of the unexpected aspects of those changes is that statistical standards have been more or less broken. That means the 300-game winner has become extinct, and that a certain type of player who doesn't hit for power has been left behind. There aren't many guys like Wade Boggs out there any more, and perhaps that hasn't helped the game's popularity with the public. Food for thought, at the very least. 

The people behind this book have done a lot of work on fielding statistics over the years, and have picked the year's best again. Fielding probably gets more coverage here than anything else. It's obviously well-researched material, written by smart people.

There's a catch here, though, and it's worth noting. This is a rather short book, and technical in spots. So it's not going to take long to read this, particular if you find yourself skimming over some stories because they are a little hard to follow. 

Is "The Bill James Handbook: Walk-Off Edition" worth $24.95 to you? Each reader will have to make that determination. If baseball is one of the biggest parts of your life, then you might enjoy this. Less rabid readers who prefer information on current teams and seasons might be willing to waiting for the Baseball Prospectus annual, which is always a favorite in this space.

Three stars

Learn more about this book from (As an Amazon affiliate, I earn money from qualified purchases.)  

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