Before Baseball-Reference.com, the annual publication of The Bill James Handbook was the best way to get a complete register of statistics for every player, a must for every rotisserie or Strat-O-Matic player who had to look up all the rookies. The player register remains the heart of the book and it's still fun to flip through the pages to check out all the numbers and more convenient in many ways than staring at a computer screen.
The book, published by Baseball Info Solutions and ACTA Publications, is better than ever, with many new additions. This year's version includes short essays from Bill James that are, as always, worthwhile. Here are a few tidbits I found particularly interesting.
1. The pitchout is dead.
Former Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon led the majors with 30 pitchouts. The Cincinnati Reds’ Bryan Price called for 28. Those figures are anomalies. Take Joe Maddon, for example. In 2007, with the Tampa Bay Rays, he led the AL with 50 pitchouts. In 2015 with the Cubs, he called three. In his early years of managing the San Diego Padres, Bruce Bochy called as many as 65 pitchouts. He was down to eight in 2015. Dusty Baker ordered 96 pitchouts in 1996 and 93 in 1997 with the San Francisco Giants; neither figure led the league. When he last managed the Reds in 2013, Baker called for 21, which did lead the league. Overall, the AL average was nine pitchouts per team while the NL average was eight.
Had you noticed this while watching games? I guess I hadn't. Maybe the death of the pitchout is simply related to the decline in steals. Teams averaged 0.52 stolen bases per game in 2015, a drop from 0.57 in 2014 and 0.67 as recently as 2011, and the lowest figure since 1973. Pitchers do a better job of holding runners as well. And maybe the stat guys in the front office have relayed the message that wasting a ball on a pitchout isn't worth the chance of the runner actually running.
2. One more reason Matt Williams got fired.
The book not only keeps track of intentional walks but also what happened after, classifying the results into "good," "not good" and "bomb." Williams issued 37 intentional walks, right at the NL average, but only 17 were "good," easily the lowest percentage in the majors (the NL average was 68 percent). He led the majors with 20 "not goods" and tied with McClendon and Maddon with 10 "bombs."
3. Zach Britton gets a lot of ground balls.
The Orioles' closer recorded a 1.92 ERA and 36 saves in 2015, so you already knew that he was good. But here's a fun tidbit: He induced 125 ground balls and only 15 fly balls (and 18 line drives).
4. The Tigers were a terrible baserunning team.
A lot could be written about the hidden benefits of baserunning, but one thing that stood out: The Detroit Tigers were slowwwwwww. The book looks at bases gained on things like going first to third or second to home -- as well as singles, other bases taken (or thrown out), and the team's value on stolen bases -- to arrive at a net-bases gain. The Texas Rangers led the majors with a +142 net gain; the Tigers were last at -107. For example, both teams had 321 opportunities to go first to third on a base hit; the Rangers did so 115 times, the Tigers just 73. Those bases can add up. The Tigers scored 689 runs but created an estimated 765, so they underproduced their hitting stats by a whopping 76 runs.
Your top five teams: Rangers (+142), Arizona Diamondbacks (+110), Reds (+78), Toronto Blue Jays (+74) and Houston Astros (+60). The Royals ranked ninth at +41 bases, with 36 of that coming from stolen bases. Kansas City has some fast individual players, but it also has some cloggers such as Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez who hold down the overall total.
5. Billy Butler was the worst baserunner in the game.
The Oakland A’s DH had a net gain of -38 bases. Was he the worst overall last year? I think so. He went first to third just twice in 27 opportunities and second to home just three times out of 17. And he grounded into 26 double plays. Jhonny Peralta was second-worst, with a net again of -33.
6. Billy Hamilton was the best baserunner.
The secret awesome baserunner? Paul Goldschmidt, with a net gain of +32.
7. Bryce Harper can hit fastballs.
Harper led the majors with a 1.145 OPS versus fastballs. But he was also third in OPS against curveballs. So, umm, good luck.
8. The Twins were efficient, the Indians were not.
Baseball Info Solutions tracks something it calls Team Efficiency, which looks at each team's component stats to arrive at expected totals of runs scored and allowed (similar to the Base Runs numbers you can find at FanGraphs). The Twins had an efficiency index of 114, winning 83 games instead of 73. The Cardinals also had a rating of 111, and won 100 games as opposed to an expected 90. Keep that in mind when evaluating the talent bases of those teams.
The underachievers? The Indians, with 81 wins instead of an expected 94, and the Reds, with 64 wins as opposed to a projected 75. That's one reason I like the Indians in 2016.
James has a system he calls the Hall of Fame Monitor Score, which rewards points for various statistical achievements. Any player who gets to 100 on his scale would be regarded a clear and definite Hall of Famer. A score of 70 makes the player a viable candidate. The active players that already have scores of more than 100 are Alex Rodriguez (200), Albert Pujols (163), Miguel Cabrera (127) and Ichiro Suzuki (106).
What's interesting are some of the guys hovering around 70: Robinson Cano (79), Joe Mauer (79), Joe Nathan (79), Francisco Rodriguez (76), David Ortiz (74), Carlos Beltran (71), Adrian Beltre (68) and Jimmy Rollins (68).
The system probably overrates relievers; I don't know if Bill has revised it since the 1980s, and we don't know yet how Hall voters will treat modern relievers. Rodriguez doesn't "feel" like a strong Hall of Fame candidate, but maybe he is.
10. There were only six starts all season of 125+ pitches.
Mike Fiers had 134 in his no-hitter. Clayton Kershaw was the only other pitcher to top 130, with 132 (in his 2-1, 15-strikeout complete game win against the Giants on Sept. 2). Marco Estrada, Cole Hamels (in his no-hitter), Chris Sale and Johnny Cueto were the others to reach 125.
By the way, in 2005 there were 40 games of 125-plus pitches. In 1998, there were 272. In 1988, the first year of complete pitch-count data, there were 385 -- including a 167-pitch game by a 22-year-old kid named Greg Maddux.
Anyway, check out the The Bill James Handbook for nuggets like this and much more.