ESPN senior baseball writer Keith Law discusses his new book, Smart Baseball, at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore.
Predictably Irrational meets Moneyball, as Keith Law, ESPN’s veteran writer and analyst on baseball statistics, challenges a century of the game’s accepted wisdom, proving why some of baseball’s most trusted numbers—from pitcher wins to batting average—are surprisingly wrong, sharing the statistics that actually work, and examining the future of the game in a Big Data world.
About the book:
For the past fifteen years, many baseball fans, writers, and commentators have remained mired in the muck of old statistics—baseball card numbers such as batting average, saves recorded, and a pitcher’s won-lost record—while newer, smarter, and at times counterintuitive, baseball stats known as sabermetrics have become commonplace throughout Major League Baseball. Yet, despite their popularity, confusion persists about these new stats, with much of the baseball world still following the “old” way—a combination of those outdated numbers and “gut” instinct—to evaluate players’ contributions and careers. Baseball, they argue, should be run by people, not by numbers.
ESPN senior baseball writer Keith Law, respectfully, or perhaps not so respectfully, disagrees. In this provocative book, the outspoken Law takes on the established view of baseball stats, undermining over a century’s worth of baseball dogma. With many of these numbers dating back to the beginning of the game, he examines how allegiance to these old stats is firmly rooted, not in the modern game as it’s played, but in baseball’s irrational adherence to tradition. Using entertaining anecdotes, logic, and occasionally just a little math, he exposes the flaws in much of the game’s orthodoxy, from the illusion of clutch performers, to the dishonesty of RBIs, to how the save rule - invented by a journalist - has ruined bullpens for decades.
But Smart Baseball is not just about tearing down tradition. Law also offers a clear-eyed discussion of the new stats that are helping teams win, changing how players are valued, and altering how we talk about the game. Exploring long underappreciated numbers like On Base Percentage, as well as newer stats like Win Probably Added and Wins Above Replacement, he simplifies the math that has gotten in the way for many curious fans, providing understandable explanations of what these numbers measure and why they work better. In addition he delves into the future of baseball stats, uncovering the escalating arms race for statistical talent being waged by almost every MLB front office, as the teams search for innovative ways to find the statistical edge on and off their field.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN Insider and an analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, focusing on all types of baseball analysis. Prior to joining ESPN, Law spent four and a half years working as a Special Assistant to the General Manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, handling all statistical analysis and was also a writer for Baseball Prospectus. Law holds degrees from Harvard and Carnegie Mellon and lives in Delaware.