Book Review of The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed

Book Review of The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed by J.C. Bradbury

A Review By: Bill Jordan

The Hardcover


The Paperback

Bradbury’s research in this work could no doubt be considered innovating, not only does he statistically prove many aspects of the game of baseball that were thought to be true already, but he also disproves many that even those who know the game very well assume to be correct.

The first part of his book is an undertaking of whether the innovation of the designated hitter in the American League has had a profound affect on how many hit batters there are per season. Bradbury’s premise is that since pitchers in the American League do not have to bat, they don’t have to face any repercussions from their actions, but since those in the National League do come to the plate, they would be less likely to hit a batter since they could be hit themselves. His findings are very interesting, but I will not share them in entirety because I do not want to take credit for his research.

Like the DH question, most of what Bradbury researches in his book doesn’t come out the way most would expect.

Another subject that he tries to explain is whether the player who is on deck makes any difference in the outcome of the player who is currently at bat. Since the overall philosophy is that a pitcher may change how they face a batter depending on whether a stronger or weaker hitter is behind them, Bradbury set out to see if this had any affect on player’s averages or on base percentages.

The other on the field issues he tackles are whether there is a reason for almost all catchers in the last century being right handed and whether arguing balls and strikes as a manager makes any difference in the outcome of a game.

Bradbury also tackles some issues he considers to be “Almost Off the Field.” The most interesting of these issues was that he tried to explain whether teams from larger markets really had that much of an advantage over smaller markets. His jumping point was the 1997 World Series featuring the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins, two mid to small market teams. The author attempts to explain how much the population of the cities where teams are has an influence over their winning percentages. From this data, he created a statistic called average wins adjusted for population, showing which teams did the most with their available population.

Other topics that he tackles in this section of the book are how much does a “good” pitching coach really affect major league level pitchers, whether steroids really had that much affect on the game and what baseball era had the best talent.

In the third section of his book, which Bradbury calls “Way Off the Field,” he examines parts of the game such as whether or not the new phenomenon of using statistics to rate a player rather than having an old school scout travel across the country to look at him makes sense. During this part of the book, he makes continual references to Michael Lewis’ revolutionary work Moneyball. While some of the section can be picked up simply by reading Lewis’ book instead, Bradbury does add his own spice to the mixture.

A few other topics covered in the section are whether those who are innovational have a better chance of winning, the best way to judge a pitcher and a hitter and an analysis of how to judge how much to pay a player in the free agent market.

The final section of the book entitled “What Field?” mainly focuses on the question of whether MLB is a monopoly. This section has a lot of facts about the legal workings of the league that the casual fan may not know.

The issue of expansion is also addressed in this section, but it is almost more about the history of expansion than if it does any good.

There is no doubt that the strongest part of this book is the analysis and data that is provided to show evidence for or against everyday issues of baseball. While the writing is not inherently strong, Bradbury does a good job of simplifying complicated economics issues for those of us who don’t spend our lives studying these things.

Overall it is a very interesting read for those who are interested in outside the box issues of baseball.

The Grade: 3.75 out of 5.

JC Bradbury is an economics professor in the Atlanta, GA area and is also a blogger. You can read more by JC by going to his site: Sabernomics.

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