Offseason joy: The Bill James Handbook


With the season over and the hot stove league's coals just heating up, if you're like me, you're probably moving into your offseason rituals. As a kid, that meant trying to get a copy of the December issue of Baseball Digest, to make sure I had complete year-end numbers. This was important for those of us struggling to decide whether Donnie Hill or Tony Phillips was the better answer for the A's at second base without having the numbers readily available. Who says things were better in the old days? Not me, not when the past 25 years have meant getting the latest edition of Baseball Info Solutions' The Bill James Handbook in November.

I know it's silly to want something as concrete as a book when Baseball-Reference.com is there to answer almost any question you have. But it's oft been said that books are the perfect technology -- mobile, accessible, durable and usually easily replaceable -- and the 2014 edition of the Handbook is a classic example. It's a reference tool, of course, but just flipping through the pages prompts as many questions as they answer, perfect for a long winter of wondering what the spring will bring.

Take defense. Thanks to the work of John Dewan and his team, you can quickly find out which team netted the most runs with defensive shifts. It should surprise nobody that the always-clever Joe Maddon and the Rays led baseball in runs saved on defensive shifts with 16. But which team was second? John Farrell's world champion Red Sox with 15. And which team led the NL? Dusty Baker's Reds with 11, which should be interesting to follow next year now that former pitching coach Bryan Price is managing the team.

The same table gives you the spread in Defensive Runs Saved for every team at every position, which gives you some pretty extraordinary results. From the Braves saving 42 runs at shortstop thanks to Andrelton Simmons to the Yankees losing 23, you have a 65-run spread, but that isn't the largest such gap. Those were found at center field (from the Brewers' plus-41 to the Mariners' negative-34) and right field (between the Diamondbacks' plus-53 to the Astros' negative-22). The biggest spread among team defenses? The Royals led at plus-92, while the Phillies were last at minus-103. Does that compute? It's certainly worth thinking about, and we haven't even gotten to page 10 yet.

This year, same as others, I like flipping to the back to see what new suggestions James' Hall of Fame Monitor provides. Sorted by birth year and scaled so that 100 points gives you a slam dunk Hall of Famer, it's interesting to see Mike Trout has already notched 20 points in two full seasons, more than anyone born in the two years before him. Miguel Cabrera's 109 points make him the youngest no-doubt Hall of Famer; he and Albert Pujols are the only guys born in 1976 or later who are already locks by this metric.

In addition to old standbys, the 25th edition is packed with new toys to play with. These can be entertaining and unusual, such as complete write-ups of last year's trio of no-hitters and a breakdown of home run robberies in 2013, including the active career leaders and victims. (Let's just say that Carlos Gomez figures prominently in both lists.) But the other cool tool that has been added this year is a comprehensive hitter analysis, which gives an easy way to review everybody's pitch taken/seen/swung at data and more, plus it aggregates them neatly into types (from "Very Aggressive" to "Very Patient," as well as where they get their hits, via air or ground). It's stuff you can find online, though perhaps not as quickly if you wanted to look at multiple hitters and compare them.

With that sort of goodness ready for reading, who needs Christmas?