- The Runmakers: A New Way to Rate Baseball Players
Every casual to diehard baseball fan knows that theirs is a game of numbers. Each generation has developed a unique relationship with baseball statistics. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this bond was engendered by mining through newspaper reports of box scores and offensive leaders. Others took shape, such as mine, during the resurgence of mass consumption of baseball cards in the 1980s. More recent aficionados have established their love of the game alongside increasingly complex statistical formulations, known as Sabermetrics, fueling fervor for daily tracking of favorite fantasy players. To the chagrin of some purists, OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage), RC/27 (runs created per 27 outs), and LSLR (least squares linear regression) have supplanted AVG (batting average), HR (homeruns), and RBI (runs batted in) as key indicators of offensive prowess. [End Page 200]
In Frederick E. Taylor’s first book, The Runmakers: A New Way to Rate Baseball Players, the retired professor of American government cogently introduces and explains a new measure, PRG (potential runs per game). PRG innovatively combines instances of a player’s ability to reach base safely, advance runners, and drive them in. He argues that PRG is more accurate than other statistics, and importantly, (to which I shall later return) asserts that one cannot interpret what takes place on the field without analyzing numbers. Subsequently, he arranges the history of organized baseball into eight eras based on differences in runs scored per game and then applies the formula by player and position. With the resulting information Taylor reevaluates players compared with the traditional and current measures.
The Runmakers is organized into three sections and book-ended by an introduction and conclusion (“Pregame Analysis” and “Postgame Report”). Part I makes up over onehalf of the book and reveals the crux of Taylor’s findings, while Part II compiles the information from the former into lists of the greatest hitters. Lastly, Part III is short (fifteen pages) and briefly addresses discussion topics such as stadium differences, clutch hitting, and the Triple Crown. The final part may have been more appropriate as a prologue or additional appendices.
In Part I, Taylor chronologically describes his eight eras and proceeds in linear fashion with detailed rankings of the top hitters. Each of the eight chapters follows an easy-to-read pattern including a brief summary of the era, the rankings, short biographies of the players, their overall place in baseball history, and which players are represented in the Hall of Fame. At times the biographical information is superfluous and arbitrary. Historical, sociological, and cultural scholars will be frustrated by the lack of notes, citations, sources, and detail in describing the time periods. Taylor does not draw upon the work of leading baseball history scholars to inform his description of the eras or intervals. In fairness, the book is clearly written for a popular audience so one should not expect it to follow academic standards.
Taylor claims that one cannot discuss and evaluate baseball players without statistics and, with few exceptions, exclusively turns his research to quantifiable raw data. Yet on field production cannot be divorced from off the field influences such as the magnates’ restrictive labor practices, and fluctuating desire to curb or foster offense and change rules. Taylor does not completely ignore these elements, but his consideration of them is inadequate. The extent to which he evaluates their impact is incomplete, as he devotes significant attention to how World War II and steroids complicate an understanding of statistics but does not fully examine Negro League, black baseball, and Latin and all players of color prior to integration. A list of the all-time greats that does not richly consider their contributions or discuss their place within these rankings perpetuates baseball’s tragic legacy.
Fans will certainly enjoy this contribution to baseball literature and revel in the continuing “Hot Stove” debate over the all-time legends. Contemporary followers can add this...