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Book Review: Extra Innings

Most books on baseball are not particularly technical, because most people who buy books are not interested in technical writing. Baseball history and biographies are the most common, with dozens out a year, and novels are the next most common, with two major releases out this year. But books that make an argument and try to change the knowledge of the game aren't nearly as common.

Part of this is the limited ability to actually find new material to discover. Most academia subjects are varied enough to justify every type of specialist, but there's only so much to be said about the actions of baseball, and much of it has already been discovered. Baseball Prospectus and other online journals have made a place for serious baseball thinking, and last month they released their second book, Extra Innings. Their original book, Baseball Between the Numbers, is a classic, and was released in the wave after Moneyball was released. If many got their first taste of sabermetrics from the latter, then Numbers was what really moved the conversation forward.

So does their follow-up effort match the previous book?

There's much to like about Extra Innings. It's formatted as a series of articles, some rather long and engrossing, and others shorter and to the point. It's anthology format allows the reader to skip around for the most part without feeling like they missed anything. They've also helpfully broken down the sections in large categories like pitching, fielding, and offense.

Most of the actual content is good, too. Jay Jaffe has multiple articles on the Hall of Fame that were well written, interesting, and convincing as hell. Jason Parks has a couple articles on scouting that present information not accessible to the average fan. Both of these sets of articles represent what I enjoyed about the book. Jaffe's articles were well researched and argued. Park's presented information not easily found elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the entirety of the book does not live up to these standards. Some of the articles seem more like thought experiments in search of theory, instead of research and arguments. That might be fine on the web, but I would hope the most polished articles would make it in the book. Extra Innings might be the only Baseball Prospectus work many people read, as they'll stumble upon it online or at their local Barnes and Normal. If this is the only thing people will see of your work, you have to make it top-notch.

Other articles rehashed much of the same arguments and information that has already been available. It's tough to critique a book over that, and perhaps the information would have been useful to someone who had never thought seriously about baseball, but it made for a frustrating read in places. Also frustrating was the occasional sniping and call-outs of more traditional baseball writers. I understand the sabermetric community oftentimes feels under-appreciated, or even ignored, but the truth is that you guys won the war already. Engaging in this sort of points scoring is unbecoming in a book such as this.

I would give a hesitant recommend for the book. I enjoyed it, and read it fairly quickly. Even disregarding some of my problems with the book, there's a lot to enjoy in it. It's a nice little book (or as little as a 500 page book can be), but I also have a hard time imagining this volume will change much in baseball thinking. It isn't the game-changer that Moneyball was, or even Baseball By the Numbers. But it's still pretty nice.