I'm happy to report that this November heralds the return of a great tradition: a book containing all the statistics released within weeks of the World Series. From 1990 through 2001, that was the Major League Handbook, published by STATS, Inc. But STATS stopped publishing that book, leaving a void in my life last November.
Now that book is back, with a new title (The Bill James Handbook), a new publisher (ACTA Publications), and a new data source (Baseball Info Solutions) ... but the same wonderful information, and (this is the best part) delivered now, when we need it.
Anyway, the book's out there and it's got everything you'd want in a book about active players and managers.
And ballparks. The first thing I did was flip to the back of the book for the "Park Indices," where I found something that surprised me.
Best hitter's park in the major leagues over the last two seasons? Yes, Coors Field; that's an easy one (actually, it's not so easy, but more on that in a minute). From 2002 through 2003, a Rockies home game witnessed 31 percent more runs than a Rockies road game.
Here's the surprise ... Right behind Coors Field is Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, which has apparently inflated run production by 30 percent over the last two seasons.
Before I go any further, let me stress something because a lot of people still don't understand it ... the "park factor" has nothing (or very little) to do with the team's personnel. Every time I write that a particular stadium is a "hitter's park," people tell me that it's not the ballpark, it's the team's good hitters and/or bad pitchers. No. We're comparing home games to road games, and if it were simply the hitters and the pitchers, it would show up in the road games, too.
Anyway, the point is that for whatever reasons, Kauffman Stadium has been a great hitter's park for the last two seasons. The Royals' hitters haven't been as good as their numbers suggest, and vice versa for their pitchers. In fact, it's Kauffman Stadium that pushed me into the Hideki Matsui camp, regarding the AL Rookie of the Year.
Not that Angel Berroa wasn't a solid choice. His numbers were almost as good as Matsui's, and he played a pretty good shortstop to boot. What bothers me is how Berroa won the award.
As you might have heard, two voters didn't list Matsui on their ballots at all; not first, nor second, nor even third. Both voters have publicly stated that they didn't consider Matsui because of his extensive experience in Japan.
I hesitate to criticize my colleagues, but these guys -- the Worcester Telegram & Gazette's Bill Ballou and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Jim Souhan -- couldn't be bigger clowns if they wore red noses and big floppy shoes.
1. Matsui is, according to the rules, a rookie.
2. The rules instruct the voter to vote for the best rookies.
Case closed. If a voter thinks the rules don't make sense, he has two viable options: he can refuse the ballot in the first place, or he can accept the ballot but decline to return it. Either of these actions would make the point, and might lead to a change in the rules. Heroic even, in a very small way.
But no. Instead, Ballou and Souhan want to have it both ways. The writers love to vote, because it's as close to playing God as they'll ever get. So they vote and they protest, except the protest rings hollow, since it's accompanied not by sacrifice, but by whining.
What I can't understand is why the BBWAA doesn't do something about these renegades. What's done is done, but shouldn't Ballou and Souhan be stripped of their future voting privileges? Of course they should. Will they be? Of course they won't.
Every time something like this happens, I'm reminded that not being allowed to join the Baseball Writers Association of America isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Granted, two voters also left Berroa off their ballots entirely, but at least we can guess they did so on the merits (unless they happened to be New York writers, in which case they probably left Berroa off to curry favor with the Yankee brass). I don't understand how anybody could leave Berroa off -- Rocco Baldelli or Jody Gerut, yes -- but it's easier to excuse a mistake born of stupidity than one born of willful stubbornness.
(You can leave off Baldelli because he really wasn't all that good, and you can leave off Gerut because he played in only 127 games. But by any standard, Berroa was one of the three best rookies in the league.)
Earlier, I parenthetically mentioned that it's really not easy to know which park is more hitter-friendly, Kauffman Stadium or Coors Field. It's not easy because Baseball Info Solutions is comparing each ballpark to the other ballparks, but only in its own league. Further, home games are being compared to road games, and the unbalanced schedule creates difficulties with that comparison, too. I'm sure that a super-sophisticated analysis could result in meaningful comparisons between any two ballparks, but to this point I haven't seen that analysis.
Just one more thing that I happened to notice in The Bill James Handbook ... Todd Walker. I don't see what all the fuss was/is about. He has this reputation as a poor fielder who compensates with a big bat, but his bat is medium, at best. Here are his numbers over the last three seasons when he was not playing for the Rockies:
OBP Slug Team
2001 .361 .418 Reds
2002 .353 .431 Reds
2003 .333 .428 Red Sox
Well, at least he's consistent. But he's not worth the $3.4 million he earned in 2003, and he deserves to take a significant pay cut when he signs his next contract.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.