As Seen in the Columbus Dispatch

Received a very positive (if brief) review from the Columbus, Ohio paper:

This is a book for those serious baseball fans who don’t know what to do with their post-World Series evenings. We all have opinions about our favorites making it to the Hall of Fame; Jaffe leads us around the bases, skillfully assessing the future roster of candidates. Don’t miss the Introduction, “Why Care About the Hall of Fame.”
— George Cowmeadow Bauman, Acorn Bookshop, Columbus

Numbers Schmunmbers?!

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, especially those who can’t be bothered to do even a teensy bit of research into what they’re buying…

 

Graham Womack Reviews the Casebook

Near the beginning of my recent appearance on Joe Posnanski’s PosCast, Joe suggested that the two of us were “the two biggest Hall of Fame nerds in America.” Agreeing, I noted that the only other writer “who makes the platform” is Graham Womack, who covers the Hall beat for The Sporting News — where he’s interviewed some of the players I’ve covered such as Bobby Grich and Lou Whitakerand the National Pastime Museum.

Womack, an eagle-eyed researcher who tipped me off to a couple finds in the Casebook, gave the book a very positive review calling it “a must-read” and adding:

Among contemporary baseball writers, Jaffe’s been in a class by himself for Hall of Fame statistical analysis for years. This is on display throughout his book, whether Jaffe’s showing how Tim Raines was a comparable Hall of Fame candidate to Tony Gwynn or how Scott Rolen “may well become the position’s Bobby Grich” among third basemen or how relievers might be best-differentiated by WPA…

Overall, Jaffe has produced a superb, fun Hall of Fame book, worth the wait for the past few years since Jaffe announced his book deal on Twitter. This is the book Hall of Fame enthusiasts might have had in their heads for years. “The Politics of Glory” has long needed an update. Jaffe’s done it.

Womack did also note a few misspelled names within the book, which I’m working to correct for the next printing.

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 Baseball-Reference.com, 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.

Joe Sheehan Reviews the Casebook

I’m not sure whether I actually started reading Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus before I stumbled upon Bill James’ Politics of Glory (reissued in paperback as Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?) circa 1997, but I don’t think I’ve read a writer who’s referred to it in the context of Hall arguments more often. A mentor at BP and now a fellow contributor at SI (though he mainly works the print side of the street while I’m on the web side) reviewed the book for the July 26 edition of his essential subscription newsletter and found the Casebook a worthy successor:

Outside of the player chapters, Jaffe gets into the history of the institution, building on James’s work to attack 21st-century issues like the influence of modern statistical analysis on the process. There’s a long digression into the question of “the character clause” that is a key part of the book. Jaffe digs into the ongoing problems created by the 5% rule, the ever-changing veterans’ committees, and of course, the question of who took what 20 years ago and how they might be punished by the gatekeepers.

For more than 20 years, I’ve said that you can’t argue about the Hall of Fame if you haven’t read The Politics of Glory. The details of the institution’s history, the voting process through the years, the way in which the 1946 Old Timers’ Committee forever skewed the honor…you had to know these things to discuss Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris or Tim Raines. It was the one essential book.

I am comfortable in saying that there is now a second. The Cooperstown Casebook is critical to an understanding of what the Hall is now, in 2017, how it got here, and how it can get through the next 20 years. It’s also a deeply-researched reference on Hall of Famers old and new, a collection of passionate arguments for players shorted by the process, and most importantly, an entertaining read. If you are interested in the Hall of Fame on any level, you have to read this book.

The Hardball Times Reviews the Casebook

The Hardball Times’ Paul Swydan wins the award for being the first person to request a review copy of The Cooperstown Casebook — he did so in late March, roughly four months before the book hit the streets. Judging by his glowing, in-depth review, the wait was worth it, and he shared his deep appreciation for even the small details:

Throughout these chapters, which span the first 104 pages of the book, Jaffe is economical with his words, which allows each essay to flow very quickly.

That’s not to say that each chapter isn’t packed full of tidbits that I either didn’t know or had completely forgotten. In the chapter “This Is Your Ballot on Drugs,” Jaffe recounts the history of players using PEDs in less than three and a half pages, from the 1930s through the Mitchell Report…

Note the breezy and concise way Jaffe recounts history, walking the reader back through events they likely already know, but not in a condescending way. It reminds the reader of the main bullet points, but doesn’t drown them in minutiae. He also spices the text up with gems like the Tom House quote, and noting the Red Sox fans taunting Canseco, something I didn’t remember even as a Red Sox fan (though to be fair, I was nine at the time). Those small points show that he really does know what he’s talking about. These examples, obscure yet pointed, demonstrate that if he needed to, Jaffe could have dropped another half-dozen anecdotes into these three paragraphs, but that’d be beating you over the head and he wisely doesn’t do that.

…The Cooperstown Casebook is a book nearly 15 years in the making, and it was most certainly worth the wait. The book is a master stroke for Jay Jaffe, and if you consider yourself a serious baseball fan, it’s a book that you need to add to your bookshelf post haste.

I couldn’t ask for a better review!

Baseball America Reviews the Casebook

Given that so much of their focus is on draft picks and prospects — the NEXT thing, rather than baseball history — you wouldn’t necessarily expect Baseball America to give coverage to a Hall of Fame book, but the beauty of the topic is that it resonates in so many places. BA’s Matt Eddy gave the Casebook a wonderful review. In part:

“The Cooperstown Casebook” is essential reading for all baseball history enthusiasts and is recommended for anyone interested in intelligent discourse about the Hall of Fame.

Jaffe writes informative, entertaining capsules about every player enshrined in Cooperstown, from inner-circle members to the most dubious Veterans Committee selections. He devotes space to more than 50 additional players who deserve at least some consideration for the Hall, saving the most deserving for pullout essays that precede each of the “Around The Diamond” chapters.

…It is the most comprehensive, most enjoyable evaluation of the Hall of Fame since [Bill] James two decades earlier. I know I will return to “The Cooperstown Casebook” year after year to get my Hall of Fame fix.

 

 

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.

 

 

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!