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.

Upcoming Appearances

In addition to my upcoming appearance at Brooklyn’s Bell House on August 7, I have two more appearances to add to the calendar:

Monday, August 7, 7-10:30 pm
Pitch Talks
The Bell House
149 7th St, Brooklyn, New York 11215

Thursday, August 24, 6:30-9 pm
El Paso Chihuahuas vs. Sacramento River Cats
Southwest University Park
1 Ballpark Plaza, El Paso, TX 79901

An actual ballpark appearance — in Texas, no less. Thanks to the imagination of ESPN El Paso’s Steve Kaplowitz, with whom I’ve been doing weekly radio spots since 2009,  a sponsor, Longhorn Distributing, is flying me in for a game, during which I will throw out first pitch (!!!), spend an inning in the broadcast booth alongside play-by-play announcer Tim Hagerty, and sell and sign copies of my book. I’d better get my arm in shape!

Saturday, September 2, 2-3 pm
The King’s English Bookstore
1511 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84105

I’m pairing an upcoming visit to my parents’ home — which I left long ago, after graduating high school in 1988 — with a stop at a local independent bookstore. Hope to see some longtime friends there!

Rounded Up Radio and Podcasts II

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The great Joe Posnanski dropped by my table on Cooperstown’s Main St. to invite me onto the Poscast

Bergino Clubhouse, New York, July 26. Here’s *most* of the interview I did with Bergino proprietor Jay Goldberg during my Launch Week appearance there. Alas, for some reason the recording stopped at some point during the Q&A.

WRAL SportsFan, Durham, July 28. Discussing the book, the system and this year’s Hall of Fame Class with Adam Gold and Joe Ovies.

Ed Randall, New York, July 30. A good Induction Day chat about the book and the advances of sabermetrics within baseball on WFAN.

This Week in Baseball History, August 2. For the 38th anniversary of the tragic death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, I spoke to longtime SABR pals Mike Bates and Bill Parker about his Hall of Fame case and my memories of his career for their weekly podcast.

The Poscast, August 3. There aren’t many writers who geek out on the Hall of Fame more than I do, but the great Joe Posnanski may be one of them. Here we discuss the book, the origin of JAWS and the upcoming 2018 Hall of Fame ballot and its controversies.

Richard Neer, New York, August 5. Chatting with another WFAN host, this time connecting current catcher pitch-framing metrics to a discussion of the book and the Hall.

 

We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

Thank you to everyone who bought The Cooperstown Casebook during its first week of availability, whether online, in stores, or in person at one of my half-dozen appearances. It’s a genuine thrill to hear people tell me how much they’ve been anticipating this book and how much they value my work. What’s more, the reviews have been uniformly positive, and the initial sales strong as well. In fact, either the hardcover or Kindle version has ranked number one in Amazon’s Baseball category every day since the release date. Eight days later, the hardcover — which climbed as high as #600 overall on Amazon — is still number one, which is amazing!!!

For the moment, those strong sales have apparently made it harder to get the book, with Amazon customers reporting mid-August ETAs, and Barnes and Noble and Powell’s temporarily out of stock. I’d love to believe that demand is so high that the thing is just impossible to find, but the more likely explanation is bad distribution algorithms and supply chain hiccups, and so I understand the frustration of anyone who wants this in his or her hot little hands but can’t get it.

I’m told by my publisher that those situations should clear up soon, and that canceling your Amazon order and then reordering might speed up your delivery time (some who have tried this have said it’s not the case, so caveat emptor).

Update: I’ve officially been informed that the book is into its second printing (!), which should help clear those situations up fairly soon. Holy cow!

Meanwhile, there are other ways to get the book. Books-a-Million is still showing availability as I write this, and you can use the IndieBound system to find an independent bookstore that stocks it or will sell it online.

And speaking of independent bookstores, I am using Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore to fulfill requests for signed, personalized copies. I’ll be heading over to sign the first batch to go out later this week.

 

 

 

Rounded Up Radio and Podcasts I

Between my pre-existing connections and the work of the book’s PR team, I’ve had no shortage of radio and podcast spots since the book appeared on the horizon. Some of them disappear into the ether immediately, but here I’ve gathered a bunch of links to the archived ones into one post.

The Bernie Miklasz Show, St. Louis, July 20. Some Cardinals-related chatter here as well. Any day where get to talk Hall stuff with Bernie is a good day.

WGN, Chicago, July 23. When you bring up the Hall of Fame, some people can’t let go of the topic of steroids, so it’s all the more important that I take a deep breath and talk them through my logic.

The DA Show, July 24. One of my favorite spots amid this media whirlwind, a 30-minute in-studio appearance with Damon Amendolara of CBS Sports Radio

The Felske Files, July 26. Interviewed by John Stolnis of the Phillies-phlavored blog, The Good Phight.

The Ringer, July 27. Discussing the book and the Hall with former Baseball Prospectus colleague Ben Lindbergh and his partner in crime, Michael Baumann.

The Jeff Blair Show, Toronto, July 27. On Tim Raines’ candidacy and election, the book, and other Hall stuff.

Going Deep, July 28. Chatting with NBC Sports Radio’s Dan Schwartzman on the eve of my Cooperstown weekend.

Chin Music, Washington, DC. July 29. Discussing the book with Al Galdi on his sabermetrically-inclined show on ESPN 980.

Around the Big Leagues, Atlanta, July 29. My conversation with Grant McAuley for the Braves’ pregame show on 92.9 in Atlanta.

The Jody Mac Show, July 30. CBS Sports Radio.

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.

The Wall Street Journal Reviews the Casebook

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Paul Dickson is the author of over 60 books, including some staples of any baseball bookshelf. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary is an essential reference book, one that I consulted many times in writing the Casebook, so I was tickled pink when I was told that he did the Wall Street Journal‘s review of the book — and enjoyed it, even if he was daunted (and a bit off base) when it came to Wins Above Replacement. No matter.

Mr. Jaffe is a clear and clever writer who does an excellent job of putting statistics into play and explaining how his own metric evolved as a tool for Hall of Fame voting. (Indeed, many Hall of Fame voters now point to JAWS ratings when explaining their votes.) The statistical portion of the book, however, will appear somewhere on a scale of daunting to dull to many readers. Fortunately, Mr. Jaffe is far more than a skilled sabermetrician, which he shows when he gets down to the specific cases of men whose election to the Hall of Fame has been either denied or delayed. His chapter on third basemen, for example, dwells on the career of Ron Santo, who despite obviously worthy credentials wasn’t elected until 2011, 37 years after the end of his career and a year after he died. In Mr. Jaffe’s final ranking, Santo ends up in seventh place at his position, somewhere between George Brett and Brooks Robinson.

Mr. Jaffe warns us at the beginning of the book that as much as he personally admires Sandy Koufax, the JAWS system shows him no mercy: Mr. Koufax places No. 87 among all starting pitchers and in the lowest quartile of the starting pitchers now in Cooperstown. The author admits that this ranking alone may cause some readers to become very upset and politely asks those who break the book’s binding by throwing it against the wall to consider buying a new copy. He ends his Koufax entry by adding that, despite his poor JAWS score, “if you needed one pitcher to win one game, prime Koufax would get strong consideration.”

In his most provocative sections of “The Cooperstown Casebook,” Mr. Jaffe rails against past injustices. Larry Doby, the first African-American to play in the American League, was turned down in 1967; an additional 31 years had to pass before he was elected by the veterans committee, five years before his death. After recounting this travesty, Mr. Jaffe adds a one-word sentence, in which a term unsuitable for this forum is inserted between “un” and “believable.” For a man of numbers, Mr. Jaffe can sound a lot like the guy at the other end of the bar. But that’s why his book is so much fun to read, whatever one might think about our ability to precisely measure baseball greatness.

This actually isn’t the first time I’ve been noted for dropping an F-Bomb in the Wall Street Journal, you know. Don’t act so surprised.

 

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.