Friday, January 15, 2010
Baseball Reference announces e-Reader databasePosted by Evan Brunell
Sean Forman, the overlord at Baseball-Reference.com has created an e-reader version of Baseball Reference that will allow anyone to look up statistics while on the go. Forman was assisted by John Burnson of Heater Magazine, who also contributes to THT.
The goal here was to put all player statistics in a handy format to be used on-the-go or even as an offline version of Baseball Reference on a computer. There is a clear need for these type of things, as I am unable to use my mobile browser on my Blackberry to view statistics on either B-R.com, FanGraphs or other sites in a readable format. As a baseball fan and writer, I'm constantly thinking about baseball, even when away from the computer. It has long frustrated me in my inability to look up statistics anytime, anywhere. That's starting to change now.
Baseball Reference has formatted these PDFs to work specifically for the Amazon Kindle, although it can work in many other settings. In fact, having the PDF visually geared towards the Kindle makes it an aesthetically pleasing document in all respects. If you don't know what a Kindle is, think of it as an electronic book. You can carry the Kindle around -- much like you carry books around to read -- but instead of having a physical copy of the book, you can download multiple books to the Kindle and read to your heart's pleasure. Books are often very cheap compared to buying physical versions of the book -- new books cost $9.99 as opposed to shelling out over $20 dollars for a brand new hardcover. (To use the B-R Player Folio, you must have the Kindle 2 and download the latest firmware, version 2.3, which is free with a Kindle 2.)
There are different versions of the e-Reader Baseball Reference Player Folio available for download. You can download the complete encyclopedia in three batches, sorted alphabetically. You can also elect to download a version that holds only players that competed in 2009. This latter version is probably the one that comes in most handy.
As I mentioned earlier, it's rather difficult to find data on a player if one doesn't have a computer nearby. (Perhaps the iPhone has no such problems, but I don't have one, so... doesn't help me.) Having a reference tool like this will make it a lot easier for myself to research players. As a writer, things often strike me while I'm out and I'm forced to wait until I get home to research the topic, at which point I may have lost my initial burst of thought, even if I hastily jot down the concept on a napkin (okay, trying to be too old-school there, I usually use the 'Memopad' feature on my BlackBerry to jot notes down). As a fan, I'd also find use for this. Say you're out at dinner and news broke that the Tigers signed Jose Valverde and you're just itching to look up Valverde and what he's done. Provided you've brought your Kindle along with you, that itch can be scratched to your heart's content.
Unfortunately, the file size of these encyclopedias (unsurprisingly) dictate that I can't open them on my BlackBerry. Having a slimmed down version of the encyclopedias that I could open on the BlackBerry would be even better, as I always have my phone on me when I'm out. Can't say the same about the Kindle. As someone who generally uses the Kindle at home, I have more use for an e-reader version that can be opened on the BlackBerry. If I'm home, instead of using the Kindle, I'd just hop onto the computer.
Speaking of this function being geared towards the Kindle... while a PDF version should always be offered to allow for maximum use across multiple platforms, there should be a Kindle-only version (.azw, instead of .pdf) that would allow for highlighting or creating notes in the Kindle, a feature unavailable in PDF format. It would be useful in copying-and-pasting instances, as well as putting notes next to certain players. In addition, the PDF format causes me to be unable to click the link in the PDF that would send me to the player's page on the internet. If I'm doing research on a player using the Kindle, leveraging Amazon's wifi network, Whispernet, would allow me to check additional statistics if I so chose on the player.
One other nitpick has to do with a player playing for multiple teams in one year. Forman and Burnson seem to have elected to combine this into one single line denoted as "2tm" (meaning they played for two teams in a specific year) with no mention as to what these teams were, or the sample sizes for each team. This can be very valuable information that gets lost in the shuffle. Take Matt Holliday, for example (picture, up and to the left). In the Kindle version, we only get the complete showing of his 2009 season, whereas showing the split out of Oakland and St. Louis would show a stark contrast in effectiveness on either team. Not to mention that someone with no knowledge of Holliday's history would have no idea he didn't open 2009 with Colorado. It would add several pages to the PDF to include this data, but I think it's very much needed.
I think that Forman and Burnson are onto something here, and in a few years from now, e-reader versions of baseball databases will be available in many different formats across many different platforms. What Forman and Burnson have accomplished here is a great start.
Evan Brunell is currently editor of Fire Brand of the American League, a Red Sox blog he began in 2003. He also scores games at Fenway Park for MLB. He was the co-founder and president of MVN, an independent sports media web site.