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Book Review: Baseball Hacks by Joseph Adler

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If you’ve ever been involved in a fantasy baseball league and gotten killed by people who seem to have time to do nothing but research obscure baseball players, Baseball Hacks is the book for you. In this book, Joseph Adler takes his love of baseball and combines it with an understanding of databases and data-mining technology to help fantasy-sports fanatics and baseball statistic junkies get their regular fix of the numbers that drive America’s Game.

The great thing about this book is that the software used is all open source. Adler includes Access and Excel hacks for those who have Office at home or at work, but the main hacks in the book involve MySQL for database queries and R for graphic statistical analysis. I’ve used MySQL before, but R was new for me, and I really enjoyed using the program.

Adler also uses Perl. A lot of Perl. But he doesn’t expect the reader to be Perl programmers; he shows how the program was written, and what everything does. More importantly, he includes the whole script so that it’s a simple matter of copying, and making modifications if needed. He even shows how to modify the scripts.

Downloading a beginning stat database is as easy as 1-2-3. Hack 25 tells you how to spider websites for statistical data — including getting data from MLB.com. Detailed instructions on working with R are included in section 4 (hacks 31-39). Adler even includes formulas for calculating the more arcane statistics (at least to non-sports people like me) such as OPS (on-base plus slugging average) and ISO (isolated power — a measure of how well a player hits the ball).

It’s obvious that Baseball Hacks is a book designed for fantasy sports fanatics. I’ve also pointed the book out to some computer applications teachers and statistics teachers — combining the study of stats and database construction with a subject that so many teenage boys enjoy studying is a great idea. Teaching database structure and analysis is tough, but give them something that they like to do, and they’re all over it. This book does exactly that.

Editor’s note: Another Blogcritics.org writer, Joshua Sharf, has also reviewed Baseball Hacks.

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