Posted by Neil Paine on June 29, 2010
In recent years, there have been a number of really great books that prominently mention baseball statistics, but not so many that are specifically about the stats themselves. For instance, Michael Lewis' Moneyball is a good story in which sabermetrics play a large role, but at its heart the emphasis is the story, not the numbers. And the books that do attempt to teach core principles of sabermetrics (notably The Book by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, & Andy Dolphin) are extremely detailed but not exactly intended for a casual audience with a limited background in math. What baseball really needs is a book that focuses on the advanced statistics but explains them in an accessible way to the average fan... A "Sabermetrics for Dummies", if you will.
That's why I liked Beyond Batting Average, a new book (also available in digital format) by Lee Panas of DetroitTigerTales.com. Although he starts it off with a chapter devoted to the history of baseball stats -- more reminiscent of Alan Schwartz's The Numbers Game than anything else -- Panas quickly moves out of the past and into the present, advancing readers step-by-step from the basic stats they're familiar with to those at the cutting edge of modern sabermetrics. The book is laid out such that it covers batting for several chapters, then pitching, then fielding, & finally player value metrics; within each section he touches on just about all of the major sabermetric talking points a reader would need to be aware of.
The point of a book like this is to simply & effectively explain what each metric does, why it's important, and how it builds on the stats that came before. Panas does a very good job of this -- rarely do I think someone new to sabermetrics would find him or herself overwhelmed by the content, nor would I expect someone to be confused as to what the purpose of a given stat is. The level of prerequisite knowledge is not challenging, so if you're reading this blog at Baseball-Reference, I have no doubt that you'll find it easy to keep up with the stats that Panas presents. I was also impressed with how comprehensively Panas covered each topic; on several occasions, he delved into metrics that even I would not have thought to include in the discussion. Simply put, after reading this, you will be able to converse about sabermetrics with pretty much anybody and hold your own.
Beyond Batting Average is not necessarily for those who are already well-versed in sabermetrics, as much of what is discussed will be treading old ground (although I'd bet that even an experienced sabermetrician will pick up at least something from the read). But for fans who are interested in learning about advanced statistics and want an easy-to-read guide as a starting point, this is the book for you.