I write this review on the night my Oakland A’s clinch a berth in the 2018 playoffs. Yes, MY Oakland A’s. My father made that decision for me. He said it was easier to drive from Marin County across the Richmond – San Rafael bridge to Oakland than over the Golden Gate and through San Francisco to Candlestick. I’ve been through a lot with this team: The Earthquake, the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time,” a merry-go-round stadium controversy, and five guys named Davis: Storm, Mike, Rajai, Ike, and my favorite, Khris. This love, this life-time devotion, makes it easy for me to talk about Rob Neyer’s new book describing some dramatic shifts that have changed the game since the rise of the Moneyball era in the early 2000s.
Former long-time columnist for ESPN, Neyer shares a wealth of knowledge about the “Post Modern” age while recounting a game between the A’s and the Astros in the fall of 2017. He chooses this game because the last-place A’s symbolize the Moneyball era, and the Astros have been champions of the big-data trends currently dominating the game. Neyer uses the Moneyball era as a fulcrum between the past and the present; he answers the sticky questions left over from the introduction of sabermetrics. Is the pendulum swinging away at all from the stat heads and back towards the gut? What is still working in the way front offices evaluated talent in the past and what hasn’t exactly panned out?
At the heart of the book is the changing make-up of the ideal player. He has until he is 27-years-old to prove himself. As a pitcher, his ability to throw the fastball at least and preferably over 90 mph, his spin rate, and now, it’s ok now to battle through Tommy John surgery. As a hitter, it comes down to exit velocity, launch angle, and to some extend, advanced fielding metrics. All these numbers are derived from a system of cameras and computers called Pitchf/x, which has been installed in every MLB park. As Neyer writes and I paraphrase: Post modern baseball is about data… but it’s still humans collecting this data.
Power Ball reads like a trip to the ball park with a cool baseball sage. The one who has an appreciation for the history of the game, and at the same time, has the brains to easily crunch the numbers of the present. You can see him point to Altuve and say, “You see that guy? Well, there’s only been a few other players of his stature who have been able to play the game like that…” His conversational style thoroughly sustains the narrative of the 2017 game and the analysis of Post Modern topics that come up as each batter reaches the plate. From the defensive shift, to the change in how bullpens are now used, to the issues over pace of play, the strike zone, and video reviews.
I do caution that this book requires some prior knowledge of the game. Neyer assumes that readers follow the game; for example, “read or seen Moneyball.” In other words, this may not be for the casual fan, but for the boxscore reader, the fantasy nerd (me), and/or the Sabermetrician. This one goes on the shelf next to Law’s Smart Baseball and Sawchik’s Big Data Baseball. For fans who study the angles, the numbers, and the outliers… reading Power Ball gets me ready for the playoffs. As long as I don’t have to witness another Jermaine Dye moment… I was there. It was the worst baseball experience of the life. Surrounded by Yankee fans in the Coliseum, watching my A’s lose. But I digress.
Excellent book, Mr Neyer, and Go A’s!
5 out of 5 stars
Releases on October 9th.
Thank you to Edelweiss, HarperCollins, and Rob Neyer for an advanced copy for review.