Saturday, August 16, 2008

Book Review: Eric Seidman - Bridging the Statistical Gap

A few months ago, I received a copy of Eric Seidman's recently-released book, Bridging the Statistical Gap, that the author graciously agreed to send to me. As you can probably guess from the title, Bridging the Statistical Gap is a book about baseball statistics, but with a twist: looking to show "more casual fans that they're already very close to understanding the ultimate goal in sabermetrics but just don't realize it yet," Seidman wrote his opus hoping to lessen the gap of understanding between baseball fans. Think of Bridging the Statistical Gap as a field guide to the motivations of your modern stathead and you'll get the idea behind the inspiration.

For the most part, Seidman succeeds in his quest, primarily because he knows where to start. The book begins with a discussion of batting average - long a battleground between statheads and traditionalists - and why it (or slugging percentage or on-base percentage or isolated power or on-base plus slugging) is not the be-all end-all of statistical measurements of hitters. But as a part of his bridging philosophy, Seidman doesn't throw batting average out entirely; he brings up the slash line instead, incorporating batting average into a larger statistic that gives a slightly clearer picture of a batter's abilities, letting the novice take refuge in the familiar while offering him or her the opportunity to learn about more indicative numbers.

Seidman continues the theme of building on known quantities to reach unfamiliar ground, using the familiar metric of the quality start to introduce his own statistic (the adjusted quality start) and discuss new ways to measure the win/loss records of pitchers. As with the batting average discussion, the chapters on pitchers are full of clear explanations and examples of Seidman's ideas in action. Your head might spin a bit from all of the number tables, but the ideas have the power to stick.

The remainder of the book focuses on practical examples of statistics in action, albeit in the type of estoric situations number geeks love: Michael Jordan's year in minor league baseball; a new look at the old debate on clutch hitting; Cy Young and the greatest pitchers of all time; insight on what makes a great playoff pitcher. The point of all of these chapters is the same, though: anyone can understand (and dispute, if they choose) the methodology. Anyone can read the results and use the numbers in their own arguments about best and worst, taking part in the rituals that fans enjoy. Bridging the Statistical Gap doesn't have all of the answers and it doesn't answer all of the questions, but it does a great job of starting up a dialog that lets anyone participate.