Monday, September 01, 2008

Book Review: Pro Football Prospectus 2008

It's difficult for me to objectively review Pro Football Prospectus 2008 by Aaron Schatz and the rest of the people at Football Outsiders. After all, I am thanked by name, as I was in the 2007 edition, for the poorly-compensated labor I provided to them as a game charter. They also published a book review I did, and I've contributed to both the 1995 and ongoing 1994 PBP transcription projects. Not much of a surprise, given it was earlier today I wrote a post using one of FO's methods, but just so you know what you're getting.

As the existence of a prior book (or prior books, as the case may actually be) and a year in the title would indicate, PFP is an annual publication. The context in 2008, as with the previous editions, is primarily a look at what each team did in 2007 and what we can expect from them in 2008, complete with FO's advanced stats for defensive players and tendency information, much of it gleaned from the game charting project, that you simply can't get from any other publicly available source. There's just way too much good stuff in each team's profile for me to summarize it successfully.

The book also contains FO's projections for the upcoming season. The most interesting of these are the team projections, which will also go up on the site in their final form on Wednesday, before Thursday's season-opening. The most controversial of these is probably that Baltimore will win the AFC North thanks to an improved defense. I'll just say I'm skeptical. I'm less so that Green Bay will probably be pretty good again, and that Houston has a good chance to finish ahead of the Titans and take the second AFC wild card slot.

The book also, of course, contains projections for all of the offensive "skill position" (aka fantasy) players. Alas, this is one of my bigger quibbles: a team's section includes an analysis of it overall, its offensive, its strategic tendencies, its offensive line, its defensive front seven, its defensive secondary, special teams, and coaching, but not its quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, or tight ends. To see what FO thinks these players will do, you have to flip to the respective section in the back of the book. I know why FO does it this way-to make it easier for fantasy football players, but as a non-fantasy player, it's ridiculously annoying to have to flip pages 8 times to see what FO thinks of Tennessee's offensive skill position players.

In addition to the 2008-specific info, there are brief essays that focus on more general subjects. Sometimes these are good and interesting-Will Carroll's piece on painkillers and Rob Pitzer's essay on wide receiver body types particularly stand out in this year's edition. Others, though, are more lackluster-see, for instance, Bill Barnwell's piece on running back "Speed Score," which helpfully predicted LaDainian Tomlinson, Justin Fargas, Ronnie Brown, and Chris Henry to be good NFL players and Travis Henry, Lamar Gordon, Brian Westbrook, and Brian Calhoun wouldn't be very good. There are also pieces in some of the team chapters looking at something that applies to that particular team-bad special teams games in a past book, or the running back "breather effect" and specifically what we can expect from Michael Turner in this year's Atlanta chapter. These are generally better than the essays at the back of the book, though of less general relevance.

Another nit: a particularly close observer of a team will almost certainly find at least two things that are wrong about their team. This is, alas, unavoidable when you have people other than a particularly close observer of a particular team writing about that team. As I realized about five or six years ago, it's simply too hard for somebody to keep perfect track of more than one team, or possibly two at the outside.

For reviews by people are who less biased than I, see Yakuza Rich and John Morgan. On Morgan's review, see particularly the long comment at the end of his post by FO's Doug Farrar. I'll also second Morgan's compliments toward the writing of Doug Farrar and Mike Tanier in particular. One general point that is worth noting is that all of FO's work, both that which appears in PFP's various incarnations, must be read "in the context of everything else." There's simply too much going on in a football game that's interdependent to make definitive statements the way you can with a simple game like baseball. If you can't get over that, there's not much point in buying PFP or even reading FO's work, and you're the worse for it.

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