In 2006, O’Reilly released a book that became one of the best guides for those new to sabermetrics: Baseball Hacks, by Joseph Adler. The book lays out 75 different tasks that can take someone from baseball novice to competent analyst of baseball data. It’s still a good book, but it definitely shows its age. Sadly, the author has stated there are no plans to update the book. Thankfully, the book is still easy to find through booksellers of choice, and it’s also available on Safari, O’Reilly’s online service.
Given how many things have changed in the last 12 years in sabermetrics in terms of data, technologies, and metrics, it’s time to look at updating this book. That’s what I’ll be doing in this series of blog posts. The plan is to go through each of Adler’s hacks, updating those that should be updated, and then adding some new hacks that aren’t covered in the book but will touch on key components of sabermetrics today.
Baseball Hacks organizes the hacks into chapters. For this post, let’s review Chapter 1 of the book, which includes Hacks #1-#7.
Hack #1: Score a Baseball Game
The only update to what Adler wrote for this hack is to highlight the presence of mobile apps for scoring baseball games, because the smartphone as a consumer product didn’t really take off until the launch of the iPhone a year after this book was published. My personal favorite app for scorekeeping is iScore
Hack #2: Make a Box Score from a Scoresheet
No updates here. Apps will do this for you if you score electronically.
Hack #3: Keep Score, Project Scoresheet-Style
Almost 35 years after Project Scoresheet became a reality, this system is still in use by Retrosheet. They’ve made a few minor modifications to the system such as accounting for replay reviews, but it’s by and large the same as when Adler published. The current state of the system can be found here.
Hack #4: Follow Pitches During a Game
Confession time: I’m not very good at identifying pitches. I have worn glasses for a long time and have never really been good at picking up spin. Thankfully, the principles Adler lists for identifying pitches are still good while you’re watching a live game. Watching at home gives the added benefit of on-screen strike zones and sites you can bring up on a second screen. Speaking of which…
Hack #5: Follow the Game Online
This is the first hack where the book shows its age. Adler lists 11 sites, 4 for player statistics and 7 for commentary. It was a good list for when it was published, but it omits a few key sites in the current landscape that didn’t exist at the time and it also includes some now-defunct commentary blogs. The original list and and my changes are combined in the table below, with the new sites in italics and the removed sites crossed out:
|Baseball Reference||Baseball Musings|
|Baseball Savant||Baseball Think Factory|
|The Baseball Gauge||Tango on Baseball|
The changes, explained:
- Baseball Graphs has not been updated since 2004. Dave Studemund, its proprietor, moved his work over to The Hardball Times (now a part of Fangraphs).
- Thorn Pricks stopped being updated when John Thorn became the Official Historian of Major League Baseball. His writing moved to his blog for that role, Our Game. It’s a great blog for the history of the game, but not really a site for statistically-based baseball commentary
- Most Valuable Network went defunct in 2010. It had one blog with statistically-driven baseball commentary that was worth reading, Stat Speak. My favorite of their authors, Russell Carleton a.k.a. Pizza Cutter, is now writing for Baseball Prospectus. The StatSpeak archive can be found here.
- Brooks Baseball became the go-to site for pitchF/X data when that became available in 2006. It’s still a valuable resource, thanks to the manual pitch classification done by Harry Pavlidis.
- Baseball Savant is a part of the MLB.com family after hiring Daren Willman to help find ways to present Statcast data. It’s the prime source for the new metrics being created from Statcast, and thus merits its own mention separate from MLB.com’s own stats page.
- The Baseball Gauge, created by Dan Hirsch, is similar to Baseball-Reference in how it presents stats. It’s affiliated with Seamheads.com and powers the Negro League Database and the Ballparks Database.
- Fangraphs launched in 2005, and gained my notice in 2006 with the addition of live Win Probability charts during games. It has expanded steadily since then to include some of the best commentary on baseball through its own daily writers and the acquisition of The Hardball Times in 2012. It also features the most accessible presentation of traditional and advanced metrics outside of Baseball-Reference.
Add Baseball Searches to Firefox Follow the game on your phone
Technically, it’s still possible to do this. A couple things have changed in the world that make the original hack obsolete. First, Chrome became available and currently holds 60% market share for internet browsers. Second, the smartphone became a consumer device. So, instead of adding search tools to a browser you don’t use, here are some my favorite baseball apps for your phone. All are available for the 2 major phone operating systems:
- MLB.com At Bat is the must have app from the league. The easiest way to access information about any team and the only way to watch MLB.tv, their excellent streaming service for out-of-market games
- MiLB First Pitch is Minor League Baseball’s equivalent of At Bat. With increased attention on teams farm systems, this is the ideal way to track prospects for your favorite MLB team.
- A app to buy tickets on the secondary market. StubHub and SeatGeek are my go-to apps when I want to do this.
- I mentioned iScore earlier when talking about scorekeeping in Hack #1, and will repeat that recommendation here. It’s free to download and use. If you want to spend money, you can buy a file with rosters of every major league team for the season that will update throughout the season for $20, which is handy if you use it on a daily basis.
Hack #7: Find Images of Stadiums
This hack has held up surprisingly well. Sure, corporate mergers have turned Pac Bell Park in AT&T Park, but such is life. The Pro version of Google Earth is now free, something that wasn’t true when Baseball Hacks was published.
Next time, we’ll start digging into Chapter 2’s hacks.