Saturday, January 19, 2019

Russell A. Carleton, The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinkin

Russell A. Carleton, The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinking
Triumph Books 2018
© Russell A. Carleton 2018
ISBN 9781-62937-544-1

Carleton is one of the newer generation of baseball analysts, and has written extensively for Baseball Prospectus and has provided analytical services for (according to the back cover of the book) several MLB teams.  It’s clear from reading the book that he is a life-long Indians fan.  He might also be unique among writers who approach baseball analytics largely from a statistical perspective (and he’s quite at home with advanced statistical techniques), in that he has also worked as a behavioral psychologist (including as a therapist),   So he is clearly attuned to not-so-purely statistical approaches as well.  (This shows up most clearly in Chapter 8, “Putting Down the Calculator,” but is obvious throughout.)

Carleton has an informal, somewhat breezy approach (and, if, for my tastes I learn more about him than I bargained for, an engaging writer).  He’s very good at making clear that even relatively simple-seeming issued can have complex –very complex—issue that may be hard to resolve.  I thought his discussion of the ability to identify player talent and acquire it through the amateur player draft was excellent.  And his discussion of “the shift” and the complexities both of how to deploy it and how to counter it was also quite good (if anything, I think those issues are even more difficult than he indicates).

I will say that anyone looking for ANSWERS to big baseball questions won’t actually find them here.  This is a book more about how to frame and approach questions than it is about the (tentative) conclusions one might reach.

I thought, overall, the book is valuable, although it has more about Carleton’s personal life than I thought necessary.  It’s also not the most gracefully written book I’ve ever read.   And I’m not sure it has a permanent place on my bookshelf.  But I also thought it provided sufficient value for the money. 

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