The former ESPN columnist and analytics pioneer dramatically recreates an action-packed 2017 game between the Oakland A’s and eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros to reveal the myriad ways in which Major League Baseball has changed over the last few decades.
In Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game,baseball journalist-analyst Rob Neyer acknowledges the pervading influence of Statcast. 'Using both cameras and a sort of radar, if it’s on the field and it moves, Statcast is watching. And recording. Yes, the baseball wherever it goes, but also every player and the hitter’s bat.' ... The scope of this book ranges and rambles engagingly, from the potential impact of climate change on the game and the influence of social media on players, to the evolving fashions of player uniforms and hair styles ... Mr. Neyer ends his book by lamenting that, if left to the owners and the players union, very little improvement can be expected. In the past 20 years, for instance, 'the only significant changes to the playing rules...have been made to lower injury risks, and not to make the game itself more entertaining.' What’s needed, then, to help usher baseball into its next era, is a voice—'the writers and the TV presenters and the radio people'—to call for 'a better, smarter, more exciting version of Baseball,' to speak up on behalf of the fans who, if attendance numbers are any judge, are already starting to lose interest.
Power Ball is presented in the same vein as Arnold Hano’s A Day in the Bleachers or Dan Okrent’s Nine Innings. The idea is simple: take a random, seemingly meaningless regular season game and use it as the scaffolding to tell a grander story about baseball as a whole. It’s a brilliant idea for a set up, and it works exceptionally well as a storytelling device ... The book flies by, with each half inning (or chapter) making its own distinct impression on the broader text. The book often reads like one of the endlessly satisfying baseball conversations you stumble into at a bar or riding on public transit. What begins with a light-hearted comment on a shared Evan Longoria shirtsey spirals into a good-natured debate over whether or not the ball was juiced, and if baseball history is truly cyclical or not. Power Ball works as a Greatest Hits compilation album of the past 10 years of baseball analytics, but also works as a thoroughly engaging Baseball Story from one of the most informed and professorial baseball minds we have around today.
...Neyer’s sharp play-by-play is a hook for extensive color commentary on changes in the sport, including the increases in home runs and strikeouts; the rise of infield shifts against pull hitters; the proliferation of specialist relief pitchers; uniform and hair-styling fashions; and the tsunami of stats, right down to the velocity and launch angle of every batted ball, that now dictates baseball management ... It’s a ramble, but Neyer’s deep knowledge and punchy prose—'The guy on the mound might be throwing aspirin pills, almost too fast to see'—make the book a treat for dedicated fans.