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Mar 9

All-Stars For All Time by William McNeil

Posted on Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Reviews, Sports

CoverAll-Stars For All Time is subtitled “a sabermetric ranking of the major league best, 1876–2007.” I found the book to be balanced, position-specific, adjusted, and, as a former catcher, I loved the depth of the analysis.

Balanced
“Baseball’s All-Time All-Star team was determined by a comparison of each player’s offensive and defensive contributions as measured by his most important statistics.”

Position-Specific
“Each position had to be evaluated separately since each position had unique responsibilities that required its own measurements. For instance, catchers had to be evaluated for their ability to throw out potential base stealers, while pitchers were evaluated for their success in the art of pitching. Other position players were measured primarily for their success at producing runs on offense and for preventing runs on defense.”

Adjusted
“Each player’s statistics had to be adjusted to eliminate the differences in the game from one era to another, and to eliminate any contributing factors resulting from the geometry of a player’s home park.”

Catchers
A catcher’s primary responsibility is to run the game from his position behind the plate. He is considered to be the field general of the team. He has the whole field in front of him, and he some- times positions the fielders depending on the particular batter, the game situation, or the strategy that is being used. He calls the pitches a pitcher throws, both the type of pitch and the location of the pitch. It is his responsibility to know the strengths and weaknesses of every batter in the league and to keep them off-balance by mixing up the pitches thrown by his pitcher. He must also be the team psychologist, who knows the temperament of every pitcher on his staff. He must know how to get the most out of each pitcher, when to stroke him, when to cajole him, and when to get tough with him…

A catcher is also responsible for keeping base runners honest by not let- ting them take too long a lead off base and by not letting them steal bases. If a runner takes too long a lead off base, even second base, the great catchers will invariably pick him off. And if he attempts to steal a base, the great catch- ers will throw him out a high percentage of the time, usually about half the time…

A catcher also needs to have quick reflexes in order to respond to the batted ball, whether it is a pop-up, a bunt, or a ball that is topped in front of the plate, and he should have good speed in order to reach those balls in time to retire the batter. He is also responsible for backing up first base on ground balls hit to the infield…

In addition to those characteristics, a catcher has to be physically tough because he is responsible for blocking the plate to prevent base runners from scoring on close plays and the abuse he is subjected to from base runners determined to make him drop the ball can be brutal. Unfortunately, some of a catcher’s greatest skills are intangible and cannot be measured, such as calling the game and handling the pitchers. But a review of the great catchers in baseball history reveals that essentially all of them are strong in intangibles, so the fact that those strengths cannot be measured should not affect the final ratings. For this study, the catcher’s defensive statistics, like those of the shortstop, were rated equal to his offensive statistics.

Catchers70p

Conclusion

Though this book is somewhat dated (stats through 2007), and I didn’t always agree with his conclusions, I loved the insights, statistical data, analysis and thoroughness of the presentation.

This is a stat-geek special and thinking-fan’s treatise. If you love baseball and especially baseball history, you’ll love this book.

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