Brandeis University researcher Lee Panas has written the primer on advanced baseball statistics that I so badly needed when I began studying the sport seriously this summer. As many readers will know, websites such as FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus do have glossaries but they often lack adequate explanations or are incomplete. There are extraordinarily useful websites such as Sabermetrics Library but these are difficult for the Sabermetrics Newbie to find. Even popular books such as
Panas’s book, on the other hand, does an excellent job treading the territory between superficial and deep treatment of the major sabermetric topics of the day, and it arranges those treatments in quite a clever way. Beginning with a brief history of the development of sabermetrics, starting with Alexander Cartwright and Henry Chadwick and ending with Bill James and Moneyball, Panas then reminds us that the goal of baseball is to score more runs than the other team, something that is easily forgotten by many amateur analysts. After giving us the Big Picture, Panas slowly moves from basic hitting to advanced hitting statistics, repeating the process for pitching, then for defense, wrapping things up with contextual considerations and total player contribution metrics (so you can finally understand what that WAR row on ESPN means). In clearly expressed language, Panas reminds shows us the many ways in which baseball players fit contribute to helping their teams win. The result is an accessible and insightful read.
There are, however, some shortcomings. I would have preferred a “mathematical” appendix including explicit formulas for the metrics mentioned and some relevant explanation. I would have also liked a comprehensive glossary with definitions for easy reference. The book also has the appearance of a children’s coloring book and the title sounds a bit too much like Baseball Between the Numbers for my taste. A small paperback with slick cover design and a title like Sabermetrics for the Practical Man would make this book instantly more attractive, as would removing Curtis Granderson from the cover and replacing him with someone a bit more relevant—Kevin Youkilis, perhaps?
That said, what is in the book deserves to be there. What Panas does best is explaining the meaning of the various statistics, showing how they relate to one another, and defending the older, more mainstream statistics such as ERA and batting average on the grounds that they do tell us something. Over and over again he emphasizes that the reader understand what a statistic means and that, nearly always, there is not one single stat that tells the whole story, not even WAR; evaluating players is a complicated and evolving task. The completeness of the book, however, is its primary strength: if you patiently read this Beyond Batting Average—which, at 142 pages filled with graphs and tables, should not take long—you will be up to speed on the modern analysis of the game. As Panas writes in the introduction, “My goal is to explain the new world of baseball statistics in a way that any knowledgeable and curious baseball fan will comprehend.” Beyond Batting Average accomplishes that goal.