Review: Watching Baseball Smarter

I have been trying to reconnect with major league baseball (MLB)for a while.  Baseball is  my kind of spectator sport.  It’s essentially an excuse to sit in the stands and have a few beverages and jaw about the game.  That game is paced to encourage speculation about strategy, rumination on the history, and statistical analysis of any aspect of it.  Perfect for me.

Lately, though, I’ve been noticing that there’s lots of little stuff that’s just understood about the game that I missed out on as a casual fan.  I’ve been looking for a primer that I can use to fill some of those gaps.  Something like David Benjamin’s The Joy of Sumo, but for baseball.  Zack Hample’s Watching Baseball Smarter is a cut at it.

Hample’s a hardcore fan who comes at the game from interesting angles.  He’s also published a blog and book about the best ways to freely acquire baseballs used in games.  For example, those works describe the best places and techniques for catching foul balls (I think).  He’s not just a collector, though; he’s a student of the game and enthusiast.

The good thing about Smarter is that it covers a lot of ground without getting too deep into any one thing.  That’s its limitation as well.  Hample writes intelligently about everything from the basics of fielding and positions to the statistics fans quote most often.  The stats description shows how the depth is set.  Baseball is undergoing a revolution as amateur and professional analysts are mining MLB’s vast troves of data looking to understand and predict the game better.  Smarter recognizes this without attempting to lead the fan/reader too deep into that area.  I came away with a clear impression that there’s more to know and a good description of the most commonly used stats (as in the ones an announcer would mention).

Of course, the broad coverage means that there are areas one would like to know more about that get short shrift.  I expect that there are areas I want to delve into that were completely unmentioned.  I don’t think of that as a terrible shortcoming. I came in with knowledge and ideas of what I want to know more about.  More importantly, Hample’s focuses largely match my own.  Overall I both enjoyed Smarter and learned some things.


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