Collect and Digest

I’m honored to see The Cooperstown Casebook on the Sports Collectors Digest’s “The 50 best baseball books from 2017” list alongside so many great authors including Marty Appel, Ira Berkow, Paul Dickson, Bill James, Keith Law, Greg Prince and Richard Sandomir, not to mention biographies of Hank Greenberg, Chipper Jones, David Ortiz, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez. And somehow, old nemesis Ned Colletti’s in there, too.

Certain to stir controversy, this hardcover shows how analytics can be applied to Hall of Fame selection. Jaffe explains who should be in, who should be thrown out, and who should win future enshrinement.

“The most thrilling and fascinating books of 2017”

The New York Post‘s Larry Getlen not only gave The Cooperstown Casebook a favorable review back in July, he included it in the tabloid’s roundup of the year’s “most thrilling and fascinating books.” By the look if it, the Casebook isn’t just the only baseball book of the 40 they covered (23 nonfiction), it’s the only sports book!

Baseball fans will love, and be enraged at, this book making the case for players who belong in the Hall and players who don’t. Providing an in-depth history of the perpetual use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball.-LG

As seen in The Boston Globe

His Boston Globe colleague may not be a fan of my work (nuf ned), but Peter Abraham — who’s been following me since his days as a beat reporter at the Journal News (, and vice versa had some kind words to say about The Cooperstown Casebook in his August 18 column:

Voting for the Hall of Fame is a lot of fun and Jay Jaffe has helped solve some tough decisions with his research and interpretation of statistics.

His new book “The Cooperstown Casebook” is a great read if you’re willing to have an open mind about who should be in the Hall.

No writer has studied the Hall more closely than Jaffe in recent years the book reflects both his passion and hard work. Imagine caring about something so much that you came up with a unique way to appreciate it. That’s what Jay did.

Very cool.

Shoutouts in Seattle

My longstanding support of the Hall of Fame candidacy of Edgar Martinez hasn’t escaped notice in the Pacific Northwest, but it was nonetheless very cool to get a shoutout from the Mariners’ booth during Wednesday’s M’s-A’s game. In the context of discussing the team’s upcoming Martinez jersey retirement celebration, they plugged The Cooperstown Casebook and cited my work and my discussion with Joe Posnasnski on the 8/3/17 PosCast.

What’s more, the Seattle Times‘ Larry Stone, who noted last December that I was winning over some BBWAA voters, interviewed me for his latest feature setting up Edgar’s big weekend and gave me the last word:

After crunching the numbers, Jaffe concluded that even with the built-in penalty assessed to a designated hitter in statistics such as Wins Above Replacement, Martinez still attained value commensurate with a Hall of Fame player.

“We’re talking about a guy who transcends the limitations of the DH role,” Jaffe said.

Transcending limits has pretty much been the Edgar Martinez life story.

The Rushmore of Analytics Geeks? Nuf Ced

In Chapter 6 of The Cooperstown Casebook, “Blyleven, Morris and the War on WAR,” I wrote about the industry’s resistance to admitting advanced statistics into debates over the annual BBWAA awards and Hall of Fame voting. Within there, I noted that it brought out the worst behavior in some of the most decorated writers.

To [Spink Award winner Murray Chass], the critics of Morris’s candidacy were “stat zealots [who] don’t have a formula for intestinal fortitude or determination,” while the election of Blyleven was the result of using “new-age statistics to persuade ignorant voters to vote for a candidate.” Alas, nobody ever calculated how many hundreds of converts to Blyleven’s candidacy took umbrage at that statement.

Chass was hardly the only high-profile writer reduced to name-calling over the voting. For Bill Madden, critics of Morris’s candidacy were “the vigilante sabermetric brigade”; for Dan Shaughnessy, they were “sun-starved stat geeks.” Even from award-winning writers, such responses—accompanied by no shortage of anti-sabermetric swipes in other contexts—evinced insecurity and fear of irrelevance in front of a younger generation of baseball fans.

I honestly don’t know whether Shaughnessy got far enough in The Casebook to be reminded of that slight, because he lobbed a verbal grenade at me based on something he could have found at, namely Sandy Koufax’s low ranking in my system (which I tease in the book’s intro, noting “I love Sandy Koufax, but JAWS does not…”). Anyway, it was Shanksgiving in his August 7 column in the Boston Globe:

Make room for Jay Jaffe in the Bill James/Keith Law/Rob Neyer Mount Rushmore of “We Know More Than You” analytics geeks intent on sucking all the joy out of baseball. Jaffe’s intriguing new book is “The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should Be In, and Who Should Pack Their Plaques.’’ According to Jaffe’s skull-imploding rating system, Sandy Koufax is the 87th-best starting pitcher of all time. Nuf Ced.

Mount Rushmore? In that company? I’ll take it. Obviously, Shaughnessy hasn’t taken the time to understand why Koufax would rank only 87th in JAWS. Neither his career nor his peak were very long; as somebody pointed out, he’s 206th in pitcher wins (with 165) and 300th in innings (2,324.1), so he’s already punching above his weight with that ranking. What’s more, he put up his eye-opening numbers while pitching in a low-scoring run environment, so what he did had less impact than, say, Pedro Martinez putting up similar numbers when scoring was much higher.

Anyway, Shaughnessy has made a career out of taking shots like that (elsewhere in the same column, he credits former Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s absence from the Dodgers lineup with keying their current hot streak), and he knows as well as anyone that a writer can define his persona as much by what s/he opposes (and what opposes him/her).

So I’ll thank him sincerely. By staying true to form, Shaughnessy helped to illustrate exactly what it is we’re fighting about in the first place — the chance to expand our understanding of baseball using concepts that have made their way into the industry over the past 30 years versus the alternative of shouting “NERDS!” in the schoolyard and hoping you’re mistaken for a bully, or at the very least, the alpha male.

Hey, it helps me sell books.

Livin’ on the (Maine) Edge

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If I’m big in Bangor, it’s thanks in part to my occasional spots on the great “Downtown with Rich Kimball” radio show on WZOR. Allen Adams of the Maine Edge, a weekly out of Bangor, interviewed me for a July 26 cover story which was coupled with his review of the book. From the feature:

Jaffe – whose own BBWAA voting clock started ticking in 2011 – will get his own first ballot for the 2021 class. The electorate might look considerably different by then; new rules have trimmed the number of eligible voters significantly. And Jaffe’s like-minded peers are starting to show up on the rolls as well.

“I think the electorate is evolving,” he said. “It’s younger – 100 voters away from the game for 10 years or more were removed. And the ones that are coming in have been exposed to the increased use of statistics going all the way back to ‘Moneyball.’

“Not everyone has to embrace it to this degree. But our understanding of what makes a Hall of Famer should grow into the tools we have available to us at the time.”

And from the review:

As a longish-time reader (and fan) of Jaffe’s work, it’s fascinating to see what he does with the room to run that a book offers. His research is exceptional and his analysis is remarkably deft; when it all comes together, it’s as thought-provoking a Hall-related read as you’re likely to find anywhere. It’s incredible – he shines a light both on beneath-the-surface greatness and mediocrity shined by empty stats and old teammates.

Baseball fans don’t have to be statheads to dig “The Cooperstown Casebook” – although it certainly helps. The sheer magnitude of this undertaking will impress any lover of baseball; most baseball lovers embrace this kind of discussion regardless of which side of the subjective/objective line they might come down upon. It is smart and thorough and wonderfully informative; advanced enough for the more statistically-minded, but still engaging and informative to the layman.

Mega Q&A with Instream Sports’ Dave Jordan

The co-author of an acclaimed book that I can’t wait to read later this summer — Fastball John, written with heat-throwing 1970s journeyman pitcher John D’Acquisto — and the founder of Instream Sports (“the first athlete-author website”), Dave Jordan combined a lengthy review of The Cooperstown Casebook with an epic Q&A, then studded it with some fun videos relevant to the topic at hand. You’ll want to pack a lunch for this one.

This is a fantastic reference tome, and yet for guys like me who were more Zander Hollander than Bill James growing up, you’ll find the individual career recaps reminiscent of The Complete Handbook of Baseball, if not the late 90’s-early aughts STATS Inc Scouting Handbook annuals. What sets the 400-plus page book apart from those that preceded it is Jaffe’s sensitivity to historical context, in addition to his passion at seeking as impartial a determination of greatness as possible. It’s also a classy touch that he uses the introduction to applaud every single ballplayer who ever stepped over the white lines in an official Major League game. Jaffe’s presentation betrays a nuance, a deft touch, whether it’s praising the achievements of a disgraced player or a social media pariah. A baseball writer and sabrmetrican, highly-respected by the younger statisticians in the sport, Jaffe displays a humanity for the achievements of these great men without losing objectivity, and in some cases, a biting sense of humor.



Q&A with the Los Angeles Daily News’ Tom Hoffarth

The Los Angeles Daily News‘ Tom Hoffarth may provide more coverage of the baseball book beat than anyone else in the mainstream media. Because of The Cooperstown Casebook‘s release date, I missed getting into his annual “30 Baseball Books in 30 Days” roundup back in April — now in its 10th year, which means that he’s logged 300 reviews under that umbrella — but thanks to his interest, I made sure we could do something. The result is a two-part Q&A. From part one at the Daily News:

Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe won’t get to cast his first ballot in the Baseball Hall of Fame voting process until 2021, the mandatory 10-year wait after he became a member of the Baseball Writers of America Association while employed with the Baseball Prospectus.

The irony is his one vote won’t nearly have the same impact as all the research he has processed for Hall deciders spanning the last two decades.

In his latest and greatest public voting manual… Jaffe has no designs of ending enlightened argument that funnels into the imperfect media selection process.

As Tim Raines benefits from new-age data that will get him inducted on July 30 along with Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez, Jaffe explains the intent of his project that started with a measuring tool he created called JAWS – Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score – and hopefully continues with some common sense and historical perspective

From part two at Hoffarth’s blog:

Q: If we take the book title as a statement rather than a headline, are we advocating the Hall of Fame membership that has voted over the last 70-something years needs a do-over? Could we wipe everything clean and pick 325 players in one massive re-election?

A: That’s a bit of a red herring. I don’t advocate we remove anyone. If you ask me about players who don’t belong, sure, I could start with Tommy McCarthy (outfielder inducted in 1946) or some others that are listed as “dubious” in the book. But I spent my time on this book actually trying to understand why those guys that I’d kick out are in, and how they got in, and what they did bring to the game. It’s too late to evict anyone. No one should pack their plaques. It’s all part of the game’s history and how our definitions of what a Hall of Famer changes. There’s nothing set in stone. After the original five went in (in 1939 – Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb), we may have had stars of the game but there was a dearth of statistical information. No Baseball Encyclopedia to compare guys or even for player to know where they stood. If players like Sam Crawford (elected in 1957 with 2,961 hits) or Al Simmons (elected in 1953 with 2,927 hits) knew they were short of 3,000 hits, maybe they would have played longer to achieve that, but maybe they weren’t aware of those milestones. Interpretations change. Now we compare players better and we should just do a better job of choosing going forward. We have better tools to examine careers.


As Seen In The New York Post

NY Post photo composite/Mike Guillen

As has been the case since they reached the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot and received less than half of the votes needed for election, the omissions of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens threaten to overshadow the weekend’s induction ceremony. In the July 22, 2017 edition, the Post’s Larry Getlin guides a thorough walk through Chapter 8 of The Cooperstown Casebook, “This is Your Ballot on Drugs,” which explores the long history of performance-enhancing drug use within the sport as well as the so-called “character clause” that many voters cite when omitting Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others from their ballots. I wish that Getlin had at least mentioned the other aspects of the book — the nearly 300 players whose cases are covered at length or in brief, the history of the institution’s formation and the various trends that shaped it, but I’m not going to complain about having nearly 1,500 words devoted to it in a major New York daily.

“Hall of Famers from Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron to Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, and Frank Thomas have been connected to amphetamines, some by their own accounts, and they were hardly alone,” writes Jaffe.

“We generally don’t wring our hands about their usage — which helped keep players in the lineup and closer to the tops of their games — both because the pills were commonplace and because there were no real deterrents in place, even after these drugs were regulated via the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.”

Even steroids themselves, basically the same drugs considered the scourge of baseball over the past two decades, were used openly prior to that period. A former pitcher named Tom House told a reporter that performance-enhancing drugs “were widespread in the game in the 1960s and ’70s,” Jaffe writes.

“‘We were doing steroids they wouldn’t give to horses,’ he said, estimating that six or seven pitchers per team were experimenting with steroids or human growth hormone. ‘We didn’t get beat, we got out-milligrammed. And when you found out what they were taking, you started taking them.’”




Rounded Up Reviews I

Logging a couple of brief ones that were included along with other books:

• The Christian Science Monitor, “6 baseball books for midseason reading,” by Ross Atkin, July 11, 2017

For those who like to wade into the statistical weeds of baseball – to analyze player performance using today’s advanced metrics – “The Cooperstown Casebook” delivers.

Not to be confused with Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, a name that’s sure to be in the news as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

• Newsday, “What’s New,” by Tom Beer, July 25, 2017

This one is strictly for hard-core fans, and it’s sure to generate heated debate.

I’ll beg to differ on that score, but I appreciate the coverage!