Friday, March 22, 2024

Review: Baseball Prospectus 2024

Edited by Patrick Dubuque, Bryan Grosnick and Ginny Searle

It feels as if the smart guys at Baseball Prospectus - and I use that phrase with a ton of respect - have reached a bit of a turning point in their annual books on the sport. That requires a bit of explanation. 

The book's 29th edition, "Baseball Prospectus 2024," is out, and it's the latest in a successful series that dates back to the mid-1990s. That's when we start to see the first blooms of the analytic revolution in baseball, in which teams were investing in people who knew something about the ever-growing tool box that could be used to study baseball. In fact, the teams themselves often raided Baseball Prospectus for talent, along the lines of the way it treats minor league affiliates. "Say, that guy can help us win."

The early editions became something of a follow-up to Bill James' Baseball Abstracts, which stopped in 1988. Not only did the authors of BP go down some new paths in a search for new evaluation tools, but they also learned from James that good writing was a good-sized part of the job. It was the writing that collected some of the attention, as in "Say, these guys can make me laugh and learn at the same time." There was just enough snark and attitude to make it work. 

That was important, because the publication didn't want to limit its audience to just the (another loving reference coming) statistical nerds. So reading it was entertaining and informative.

That toolbox has grown in size greatly in the past several years. Some of the measures of ballpark performance has become fairly common - OPS, WAR, WARP. Others less so. There's so much more that we know these days, about chances of catching a fly ball to the amount of break on a slider.

So it was a little fear that I noticed that the first 10 pages of this year's book was dedicated to explaining what was going within the paes. And stats like ZSw% and OCon$ popped up in the player capsules, among others. Some others, like average MPH by a pitcher's fastball, are sadly gone. (That one I understood.) It's starting to feel as if some more people just got left behind. 

I tend to read the capsules for an update on what's going on around MLB. That means I generally stick to the players on my favorite teams, although I do try to glance as most of the people who are on major league rosters. (At close to 600 pages, I'm not up to reading every word ... but it's nice that it's all written for others.) It seems that the stats have crowded out the clever writing at times, even I learn some things along the way.

There are still instances of good prose scattered throughout the book. The team essays have almost been interesting, and continue to be interesting. The coverage of prospects remains terrific. In other words, this is still worth buying. But, "Baseball Prospectus 2024" isn't as quite as much fun to read as its predecessors. So if you are a baseball fan, know that beforehand before you plunk down your money.

Four stars

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