BOOKS: THE BASEBALL ECONOMIST

Economics professor J.C. Bradbury of the blog Sabernomics.com penned this extremely ambitious look at some of baseball’s oldest quirks and tenets with some pretty surprising conclusions along the way. Subtitled “The Real Game Exposed” and with the statement “The Next Step In The Bill James Revolution” across the top, it isn’t surprising that you can easily find several book reviews that challenge many of Bradbury’s findings.

Those findings, supported with voluminous research from the angle of the mind of an economist, can indeed be debated. Bradbury makes some assumptions in setting up his plans of attack that not everyone would agree with.

But, regardless of some of the execution, the book is a very compelling read for anyone interested in the “game-behind-the-game” that is so much a part of evaluating baseball performance today.

The book is separated into four parts: On the Field, Almost Off The Field, Way Off The Field and What Field? The first of those, On The Field, gets the read off to a very intriguing start. Bradbury examines on-field events such as the belief that American League pitchers are quicker to hit batters because they themselves don’t have to come to bat and face the music. Does the on-deck hitter really “protect” the batter at the plate? Is there a good reason that there are no left-handed catchers? And, what good does it do for a manager to lobby for balls and strikes from the dugout?

These studies are very detailed and Bradbury breaks down the logic of some ideas that have been held as known facts by fans and broadcasters. Some of them end the way you might expect, some don’t.

After that, the book goes into things that are a little trickier to prove or disprove. What effect does Leo Mazzone really have on his pitching staff? Can you put a dollar figure on a player’s value? Which teams are built the most efficiently? And no scrutiny of traditional baseball beliefs would be complete without comparing and contrasting scouting methods against statistical analyisis.

Topical breakdowns from the view of an economist have their positive sides as well as some down points. Some reviews have criticized some of Bradbury’s up-front assumptions and thus thrown out the rest of the argument. The on-the-field stuff is obviously baseball-heavy and stat-heavy while some of the more business-minded topics rely on explanations of economic models and theories probably not familiar to a good portion of the target audience. It can drag on or take a few “go-backs” to read back over the detailed explanation.

Ultimately, this is a very worthwhile read for fans of the economic side of baseball as well as sports business enthusiasts. You may agree with all of it or parts of it but it is hard to imagine anyone would think the bulk of it is baseless. Some age-old topics are examined in depth while others you never thought of are brought up and put under the same microscope. It is definitely worth the time and has a pile of appendices at the end to offer background and explanation. You might learn something!