By Dan Schlossberg
The best companion for the long off-season is The Bill James Handbook 2023. There’s no doubt in my mind.
The external numbers should be convincing: 643 pages for $32.95.
But the internal numbers are even better: pages of player, team, and league records, projections of 2023 performance, and even a computer-generated look at the enormous odds against anyone joining The 300 Club [even you, Justin Verlander].
I absolutely love this book — and marvel at its prompt appearance on Nov. 1, even before the Phillies and Astros finished their six-game World Series.
Published by ACTA Sports in conjunction with Sports Info Solutions, the hefty paperback has no pictures but doesn’t need any. What it does have is irreverent essays by Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, Bobby Scales II, and SABRmetrics guru Bill James, whose byline appears on five of them.
So many overlooked topics are presented in this single volume: predicting injury risk, managerial tendencies, ballpark influences, defensive runs saved, pinch-hitting stats, and even how The Shift impacted wins, losses, and batting averages.
The biggest and best edition of this annual off-season treasure also features fielding stats and awards, strike zone runs saved, RBI percentages, productive vs. unproductive outs, lefty-righty breakdowns, tributes to the late Vin Scully and Bruce Sutter, and so much more it would take the whole winter to study its contents.
There are also tributes to both MVPs, Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt, and an ode to the longevity of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. A piece on baseball overseas — specifically in Asia — is a welcome addition.
Personally speaking, I don’t always agree with the content.
Ranger Suarez over Max Fried as the best-fielding pitcher? There’s a reason Fried has won the Gold Glove three years in a row.
Nine players on the new Hall of Fame ballot worthy of strong consideration? That’s what the Hall of Fame Value Standard created by Bill James for the 2019 edition of The Handbook shows. My choices, if I were voting, would include ballot holdovers Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner but none of the newcomers, including Carlos Beltran.
To be sure, civil debate is a good thing, especially when it comes to baseball. And this book is full of opinions from many different sources, including computers.
Controversy is always good for the game, as it stirs up baseball talk all year long — something other sports would love to emulate.
So go out there and get a copy. See www.actapublications.com and get one to keep and extra copies as holiday gifts. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, serving as a valuable reference until the next edition comes out a year from now.
Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ considers The Bill James Handbook his primary baseball reference. He’s covered the game for AP, Latino Sports, forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Memories & Dreams, and other outlets. E.mail Dan via email@example.com.