The Hot Stove League gets smoking with a twin bill of recent releases from ACTA Sports which dig into the heart -- and controversies -- of the game; statistical consultant Doug Decatur explores the art of the deal in Traded: Inside the Most Lopsided Trades in Baseball History, while Baseball Info Solutions and Bill James crunch numbers around the diamond in The Bill James Handbook 2010.

Decatur pitches an entertaining 192 pages of utter joy and disastrous heartbreak for fans by utilizing Win Shares, a statistic developed by James to determine how many wins a player contributes to his team. A tricky curve ball is his ranking of the 306 most lopsided trades of the twentieth century. The 1920 sale of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to New York Yankees for $125,000 ranks second on the list. Pitcher Curt Schilling makes a pair of appearances in the top ten, but there is a personnel decision in 1914 that involved the Cincinnati Reds and the minor league team in Baltimore that could have changed the entire landscape of sports history.

"While this book does not address bad draft pick decisions, players lost in the Rule 5 Draft, or players not protected in the expansion drafts, an exception has to be made for the worst baseball decision of all-time, which was not a bad trade but a bad decision that cost a team 250 wins. That is 49 more wins than the most lopsided trade in history," Decatur writes. "But even James himself would admit that there is more to baseball than just the numbers. The human stories behind the stats matter just as much, and (the book) delves into some factors that may have contributed to these lopsided deals."

Each franchise has its own section, with the Cleveland Indians ranking first in making the best lopsided deals, while the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles are in the elite grouping. The best trade by Cleveland was in 1960, as outfielder Minnie Minoso, catcher Dick Brown and two others were shipped to the White Sox for first baseman Norm Cash, catcher Johnny Romano and infielder Bubba Phillips.

"The single best trade in Cleveland Indian history was undone just a few days later when the Tribe traded Cash to the Tigers for (third baseman) Steve Demeter," writes Decatur. "Demeter would only play in four major league games after that trade and earn a total of zero Win Shares."

Fans of the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Red Sox and Oakland Athletics better make sure a copy of the book gets to those front offices, as the clubs are respectively ranked twenty-seventh to thirtieth. Decatur identifies 13 red flags to look for when evaluating trades that could indicate a lopsided deal is about to take place. There are sections on trading deadline deals, lopsided trades over the past decade and 2009 deals from May 8 to July 31.

Where Decatur tallies the transactions, the thick 510 pages of text in the Handbook touches every base with grand splendor for fans, fantasy players and those inside the pro game who are looking for comprehensive stats from last season to prepare for the 2010 campaign.

Along with Win Shares, team statistics, hitter projections and pitcher projections, there are new sections that analyze pinch hitting and the brief history of instant replay, along with updated park indices to include new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. While the career register for every major leaguer who played in 2009 is a grand slam, it is the small ball with the manager's record and a trifecta of sections -- manufacturing runs, base running, fielding -- that digs deep into the data for numerous gems.

There are only an elite few mentioned in the hitting, base running and pitching categories for career targets that include homers from 600 to 900, swiping 1,000 bases and those most likely to toss a no-hitter for the first time. And when it comes to pitchers notching 300 career wins, the calculations deliver a pessimistic lineup card.

"As of the end of the 2009 season no pitcher seems likely to emerge as a solid 300-win candidate for the next several seasons," James writes. "The two pitchers who are well-positioned to emerge as 300-win candidates in about five years, if they can continue to pitch well, are Roy Halladay (Toronto Blue Jays, now with the Philadelphia Phillies) and CC Sabathia (Yankees).

"Dan Haren (Arizona Diamondbacks) does well in our calculation because Haren has made every start and pitched 200-plus innings a year for several years, which is characteristic of pitchers who last a long time."

AHP Rating: 4 Balls for both books writes its book reviews with the following rating scale in mind:

Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Two Balls: A book worth reading/owning and is usually above average.
One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.