Book Review: The Graphical Player 2007

I’ve been pouring over The Graphical Player 2007 since I got it mid-week. Composed in part by fellow Brewer nut and sabermetric stud Jeff Sackmann, under the leadership of John Burnson and with the help of Marc Normandin and Craig Brown, this is one of the most interesting and useful books of baseball analysis I’ve ever seen. Not since I read Baseball Prospectus 2005 cover to cover in March of that year have I spent so much time with a book in so short a time, and considering that I spend, on average, at least two hours per day reading about or researching baseball, that seems significant.
Some fans might be initially turned off by stats that they are not used to. Even the statistically inclined baseball fan may not recognize a stat like GOG3 or PX, but the stats and their graphical manifestations are explained in a thorough but straightforward manner at the beginning of each section. PX, for instance, is not so different from Baseball Prospectus’ ISO. GOG is a bit more complicated in that it determines how five factors that a pitcher has some control over (K, BB, GB, FB, LD) contribute to his more mainstream stats (ERA, WHIP, W, and K). Once you acquire the cursory knowledge, the graphs make more sense with every profile you view.
There are no normal stats, per se, no tables listing the counting and rate stats from the player’s last three seasons like a lot of books have. There is no assessment of farm systems or prospects. Player commentaries are minimal (although not insignificant), but there are plenty of other places to get that info. The strength of this book is that it provides quick reference to information not readily available in other analysis. One of the areas in which it proves remarkably useful is in the identification of pitchers who were lucky or unlucky in 2006. Baseball Prospectus has their LUCK stat, but what it actually represents (the concept of “luck” is a bit abstract) is not readily apparent. The Graphical Player, on the other hand, has two graphs that represent the idea of pitcher luck in more accessible ways. One uses a simulator loaded with a pitcher’s peripherals (etc.) to determine how likely it was for the pitcher’s ERA to be a particular number, and creates a bar graph that allows you to see that range, in comparison to his actual 2006 ERA. For hitters, my favorite aspect is the split OPS production chart, which compares their overall OPS, and OPS vLHP and vRHP, to the positional average.
I could go on and on. Yet, the best thing about it is that it helps you to make your own insights into players, statistical analysis, and the current nature of the game — the stuff is there, and you decide what it means, or whether you are convinced. For instance, what does it mean that Vlad Guerrero’s K rate dropped by 10% in the last two months of 2006? Or that Pedro Martinez’s GB% and K% basically inversed as the season went on?
This book cannot stand on its own in that it doesn’t provide recent stats or offer projections. But it is a fantastic and even necessary supplement for the serious baseball fan and fantasy GM. Combine your other resources with this book’s visual facts and you’ll be more than ready for your fantasy draft or auction, not to mention any arguments that arise with your smug buddies this spring.