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March 5, 2012 at 5:30 am ET
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B&C Exclusive: BP’s Steven Goldman

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Thursday, Bugs&Cranks interviewed Steven Goldman about the new Baseball Prospectus book. And on Friday, he resigned as editor of BaseballProspectus.com and the BP annual. Did he say anything about his impending departure to our Glenn DuPaul? Uh, no. And while we wish he’d left BP for us and not … who he left them for, we still wish him well. -smitty

In baseball, statistics are everywhere; sabermetrics are now as commonplace as cracker jacks.

Going into the 2012 season sabermetrics are the talk of the baseball world again. From Moneyball becoming an Academy Award nominated film to ESPN magazine publishing an entire “Analytics Issue,” statistics are as important and relevant as ever. Picking up a copy of  Baseball Prospectus 2012, the sabermatrician’s bible, is the best way for any true baseball fan to be statistically competent.

Bugs&Cranks had the privilege of spending some time with BaseballProspectus.com editor-in-chief Steve Goldman to discuss the book and the upcoming season.  Goldman reiterated the point that the BP annual, now in its seventeenth edition, is the number-one sabermetric publication out there. “(The BP Annual) is very established in its place as the most respected publication of its kind,” Goldman said.

The main argument against the revolutionary statistics used by BP and other sabermetric research sites and books is the validity of defensive metrics. BP 2012 features the defensive statistic FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average), which is the best defensive statistic possible, given the information available to researchers. Pitch F/X  data helped revolutionize baseball statistics and the game itself. Fielding F/X, similar to Pitch F/X, data is being collected in only some major league parks, and none of the data collected thus far has been released.  Fielding F/X data would eliminate the questions being raised on the accuracy of BP’s current defensive metrics.

“There’s no better way of estimating a player’s defense than not having to estimate it,” Goldman told us Friday. “[Fielding F/X] would show where a ball was hit on the field and how the player traveled from point A to point B, to intercept or not intercept the ball. This would eliminate the ambiguity that exists, but until [BP] has that information there’s nothing we can do.”

The BP annual features over 1,600 player stat-lines, projections, and commentary.  These player profiles contain some of BP’s innovative statistics such as WARP, VORP, and FAIR_RA, as well as, traditional statistics, like batting average and RBIs. It is widely accepted that traditional statistics don’t do a very good job of evaluating a player’s true ability, yet they are still included in the limited space of the book.

“The decision [on what goes into a player’s stat-line] comes down to not only what will give you the best picture [of a player], but also what people want,” Goldman said about traditional statistics. “The book can serve multiple purposes. It can be a fantasy guide, and a lot of people use it that way and I’m happy that they do. But it can also be read and give [fans] some insight that they can’t get anywhere else.”

The BP experts tackle the burning questions of the upcoming season in each volume of the annual. Goldman previewed answers to two of baseball’s biggest questions for us. First, will Albert Pujols’ freshly inked 10-year/$250 million contract will turn out to be an albatross? Or is he, as the BP cover teases, a super-human “devourer of worlds.”

“[The Pujols’ contract] is something I’m a little skeptical about; given his age and the length of the contract, even if he holds on to his productivity for longer than the average player because he’s starting from so high a point, by the end of that contract [the Angels] aren’t going to have Hall of Fame Albert Pujols, but a Pujols who is an average first baseman at best. Maybe that’s still pretty good, but it’s not worth the money the Angels are paying,”

The second question discussed is one of the biggest debates in the baseball world.

Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, who is the baseball’s best prospect? I personally would take Trout, and so would Goldman. “I love Trout. I love Trout’s versatility. It’s nice to see speed come back into the game as a component of an all-around player. I miss the days when speed and power made anything possible, the days of 30-30 guys like Rickey Henderson, Daryl Strawberry, and young Barry Bonds. It seems to me that Trout is going to develop into being like one of those guys and that to me is very exciting to watch.”

The book’s projections come from BP’s famous PECOTA system, which among other things, shoots out comparable former and active major league players for each player profiled in the annual. These comparables give fans a quick idea of what the future might hold for young players in their favorite organization. These comparables can be fun and useful. They’re snapshots of where a player is in his career, compared to other players. For example, Stephen Strasburg’s number-one “comp” is Mark Prior. But don’t panic, Nats fans.

“When Prior was healthy, man he was really good. I don’t think PECOTA is saying this guy (Strasburg) is doomed,” Goldman said in reference to Strasburg’s comparison to Prior, “It’s saying Strasburg’s really as talented at a young age as Prior was. And Prior was amazing.”

Finally, I could not let Goldman get away without trying to explain Adam Dunn’s historical and unfathomably bad 2011, as well as PECOTA’s projection that Dunn will return to form in 2012.

“Unless we’re looking at a Lou Gehrig situation — and there’s no reason to think that we are — where a guy has suddenly for some biological reason just doesn’t have the ability to play baseball anymore. This is really unprecedented. Guys have off-years, guys even have really, really bad years. But [Dunn’s year] was so far beyond that. This was like [Dunn] wasn’t even a baseball player anymore. Was it a perfect storm of physical and psychological problems? I don’t know. PECOTA is projecting him based on what he’s done, and where they think he’ll come back to. But of all the projections, that might be the one we’re least confident in.”

For witty commentary, deadly accurate projections for every player and team, innovative statistics and expert interpretations of those statistics, pick up a copy of Baseball Prospectus 2012.

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