The good news at the Boswell house is that I bought The Elias Analyst last week, and it's the best book of baseball statistics ever created. By a multiple of about 10. It revolutionizes baseball stats and obliterates all competition
The bad news is I'm not sure yet whether my wife is going to let me sleep with it under my pillow. For the rest of my life.
Not a lot has been accomplished the past week because, frankly, this cursed 407-page tome of small print has been leaping upon me at odd moments, pinning my shoulders to the floor for hours at a time and forcing me to snicker with delight when I learn that, since 1979, Jim Rice has batted .211 with men on base in late-inning pressure situations.
For a decade, The Elias Analyst has been a shadowy cult document, sold to as many as half the teams in baseball at one point. It has caused trades, defined salary offers and stirred bad blood in arbitration cases. But it's never been public. Until now.
If you don't really care about baseball -- its tactics and personalities, its quirks and internal mysteries -- if you do not have a knack for sensing human personality lurking behind cold numbers, then The Elias Analyst might be the dullest, silliest book you ever saw.
However, if you find baseball's details infinitely revealing, if you love fact as a starting point for poetic flight and psychological inquiry, then you may look at the $12.95 price tag and say, "I'd want it even if they moved the decimal point."
Consider some of the book's more esoteric stats: Cal Ripken hit .398 in late-inning pressure last year, and, when men were on base in those late pressure spots, his average jumped to .441. Ripken also hit .398 when he led off innings. The big at bats define the big players. Eddie Murray slugged .838 with runners on base in the late innings of close games. Over his career, Murray has hit .323 under late-inning pressure -- ie., from the seventh inning on with his team tied or behind by three or less runs -- compared with his overall average of .298. Murray's home run rate increases by nearly 50 percent in such clutch situations. Rick Dempsey drove in only 15.2 percent of all runners in scoring position last year and Rich Dauer managed 15.3 percent -- the two worst marks of any regulars in baseball. Dauer walks four times as often when nobody's on base; he must chase any pitch that doesn't bounce with men on base. The worst clutch year in baseball belonged to John Lowenstein (a star in '83). He came to bat in two-out situations with a total of 101 runners on base. He drove home TWO men and stranded the other 99. Lee Lacy hit .432 last year with runners on base and two outs (best in the game) and .361 in late-game pressure spots, and Fred Lynn hit .225 and .191 in such vital circumstances. Over the last four years, Lynn has hit .204 with two outs and men in scoring position. Lynn's career slugging percentage is .602 in Fenway Park, .471 in Anaheim and .375 in Memorial Stadium. In the '80s, Lynn hasn't been able to hit left-handers, hit in the clutch or hit in Memorial Stadium. Why worry? He only has a $6.8-million, five-year contract. Right-handed Dennis Martinez is one of baseball's freak "reverse pitchers." He eats left-handed batters alive but righties crush him as though he were lobbing underhanded. For comparison, lefties hit .234 against Martinez and .238 against righty Mike Boddicker. But righties hit .215 (and slugged .349) against Boddicker and hit .296 (and slugged an amazing .523) against Martinez. Baltimore should have a team eye exam. In the last three years, Wayne Gross has hit .301, .298 and .306 in the day and .225, .192 and .175 at night. Other Not Ready For Night Time Orioles who hit more than 50 points higher in sunlight include Lowenstein (.291 to .203 in '84), Dauer (.295 to .233 in '84) and wild-pitch chaser John Shelby (.270 vs. .215, whole career).
All this, and much more, comes from just a cursory evaluation of one team. Storm Davis can't pitch with men on base and has little stamina; hook him quick. Mike Flanagan is the opposite, having held foes to a .214 average in late-inning pressure situations with men on base over his entire career; let him clean up his own messes. Gary Roenicke is a terror against lefties, a Punch 'n' Judy against righties. Mike Young's the reverse. So why not platoon them? Rick Dempsey should always play against lefties (great eye, .500-plus slugger) and Dauer should never miss a game on artificial turf (over .300 every year). Tippy Martinez can't pitch with the bases empty (.518 slugging percenbtage vs. .295 with men on); maybe Martinez should always use a stretch.
Baseball is a game of situations and circumstances. Situation: men on first and third, two outs, late innings, close game. Circumstances: lefty hitter vs. righty pitcher, turf field, night, road game for the hitter.
Those dimensions have gone almost completely unexplored because, until the last decade, the computer technology required to do the job cheaply and simply did not exist. Now The Analyst can tell us everything worth knowing about how players (and teams) perform in different situations. And it can tell a great deal about circumstances.
If there's a shred of Earl Weaver in you -- he's the little man who invented The Cards that showed what every player had done against every pitcher in every at bat of his career -- then it's essential to know that Reggie Jackson hits .483 against Doyle Alexander, .050 against Aurelio Lopez.
The Analyst studies every player and pitcher in baseball in the following categories: hitters vs. right- and left-handers; with runners on base or bases empty; under late-inning pressure; on grass and turf; home and road; day and night; with runners in scoring position, runners in scoring position and two outs, runners on third with less than two outs and leading off innings.
Of course, the player that each man most loves and hates to face is here, too. Pete Rose's worst career average is against Bob Owchinko (.095).
The man to thank for this masterwork, which ranks beside the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia as both a reference work and a source of idle joy, is Seymour Siwoff, owner of the Elias Sports Bureau, which does the official stats for the National League, NFL and NBA. He's the king of stats and this is the crown atop his meticulous life work.
"To me, this is the book I always dreamed existed, so I created it," said Siwoff. "What amazed me was that it was the fans, not the teams, that seemed most interested in it. When we (Macmillan) decided to publish this book, do you know how many major league teams had signed up to buy it for 1984?
If the public doesn't take The Analyst to its heart in a hurry, it may not live long in the bottom-line world of publishing. If that argument doesn't sway you, then think of it this way. The next time you see a manager send up a left-handed pinch hitter against Dennis Martinez with the game on the line, you'll know exactly what to yell:
"Why don't ya go to a book store sometime, ya dumbo."