When one is given what we in the media call "an advanced copy" of a literary work it is customary to first read the book and then to offer a review. So let's begin the book review of TPR11 by stealing the format of opening up an article with a lame joke from RJ Anderson to offset Josh Frank's theft of my Delmon Young Trade String which has since been "stolen" from him:
Q: What do you get when you take the best writers in the Rays blogosphere and produce one fantastic team annual?
A: Low sales volume as a result of only having an illiterate data hound left on the sideline failing to do the work justice in the form of a book review.
TPR11 has been in the works for over a year now and takes a sharp turn from team annuals of the past. Gone are the deeply analytical stat driven pieces, heat maps, and graphs. In its place the reader will find deeply satisfying pre-season reading that can be revisited on an annual basis so long as Team Sternberg is running the organization.
The party gets started with a foreword from Jonah Keri, the author of a little-known or referenced book about the rise of the Rays under team owner Stu Sternberg. Keri was a logical choice given the synergies that exist between the publications, Keri's considerable name recognition, and his business relationship at Bloomberg Sports with TPR writers RJ Anderson and Tommy Rancel. Keri quickly drills into TPR's methodology of focusing on the importance of process over results using "The Danks Theory" as revealed by Rancel as a primary example.
Nicholas Macaluso (@thekidpow) will quickly become the BJ Upton of the Rays blogging community as he likely will never be able to duplicate his debut piece of work, "The Process, The Beast, and the Emptiness of Winning." You don't have to be a stat geek to appreciate this piece covering the authors realization that pain and glory for a fan are only temporary. On the contrary, diamonds are forever and so is the Process. Macaluso's writing is brilliant and can appeal to sports fans who may not even like baseball. It's the type of quality writing that can be found in the Best American Sports Writing Series, of which I have invested countless throne hours reading about all sports from ultra-marathons to college hoops to water polo. This piece will leave Rays fans hearts swelling with pride, while leaving us chomping at the bit for opening day.
Tommy Rancel follows it up with an in-depth comparison of General Manager Andrew Friedman and one of his biggest influences, Branch Rickey. This represents the strongest writing I have seen from Rancel, no surprise given the amount of time and effort put into researching the piece. Using quotes from Rickey as separators, Rancel hits on some high points from Friedman's tenure that correlate to the concepts hinted at in the quotes. These concepts range building a black ops baseball department to the importance of not being the one left holding the bag on a declining player such as Scott Kazmir. This piece is written in a non-threatening fashion to a traditional baseball fan, while serving as a tool of enlightenment to those who take the time to read it.
Well past the risk of sounding cliché, RJ Anderson is at his finest on his piece looking at the mind of Joe Maddon, a concept he is quite familiar with after spending a good portion of 2009 focusing solely on the manager's decision making on the blog maddonsmission.com. The creative mind of Joe Maddon and the literary chops of RJ Anderson are a match made in heaven. Anderson uses a similar format as Rancel in viewing the subject through similarities to someone else. But where Rancel used Branch Rickey, Anderson went with the protagonist from a Kurt Vonnegut novel. A risk to be sure, but Anderson's writing really comes of age in TPR11. On the baseball front he covers platoons, defensive shifts, and game theory, but to beat a dead horse the writing is of such high quality you really don't even need to be a big baseball fan. The work of Macaluso, Rancel, and Anderson are worth double the price of TPR alone, but there is plenty more.
Steve Slowinski's piece titled "The ESPN Prism: Why Rooting for Small Market Teams is So Hard" is SteveSlow doing what SteveSlow does. What SteveSlow does is take advanced concepts and break them down in laymen's terms. What SteveSlow is doing is looking at how small market teams need to differentiate themselves from their big market brethren in order to compete. That is to say the Rays will never be successful out Yankeeing the Yankees. This piece should be a prerequisite for any sports talk radio anchor before they are allowed to discuss baseball on bay area radio. Professor Slowinski's gift is to get the message across to new readers without invoking something resembling the Salem Witch Trials.
Anderson and Macaluso return for encores as Anderson tackles many of the obstacles David Price has overcome in his young career while Macaluso's comeback, yea I'm calling it one, is a tribute to the recently traded Fernando Perez. There are also profile pieces of Dan Johnson, Manny Ramirez, and Johnny Damon. Jason Collette also grabs the mic to review the Edwin Jackson-Matt Joyce deal one more time.
For fans of the heavier stuff, Tommy Rancel takes a look at how Rays pitchers might want to attack new enemy Carl Crawford, and Bradley Woodrum makes his case in support of pitching coach Jim Hickey. My sole criticism of TPR is the format may not do Woodrum justice in trying to make his case for Hickey, where this is the one time some good old-fashioned show your work tables may have been more convincing. But that's a debate I look forward to continuing and no disrespect to the immensely talented writer.
TPR also includes an American League East preview, individual profile pages of all members of the 40-man roster, and highly professional formatting from Josh Frank. The whole publication is well worth the price, and the first four highlighted pieces I will reread before the start of each and every season until Stu Sternberg buys the Mets. I wasn't a big supporter of the Carl Crawford Thank You Ad but threw my money behind it in recognition of the hard and thankless work Steve Slowinski puts into draysbay. In the case of TPR there is something tangible worth well more than the price being asked for all the immense effort that went into TPR. it's a chance to directly support some of the writers who have brought you so much entertainment and analysis throughout the past several seasons. If you like the work at draysbay, theprocessreport, and dockoftherays you are certain to enjoy TPR11, but more importantly this is your chance to wisen up your friends who like the Rays without drowning them in a pool of DIP FIP SPIT. That is the true gift of TPR11. And this concludes the last literary critique/hype job I will ever do.