Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Story Behind the Old Stats that Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones that Are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball

by Keith Law

Pub Date: April 25th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-06-249022-3
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A former Major League Baseball statistical analyst who now writes for ESPN shatters myths about how to accurately measure a baseball player’s ability and then explains modern criteria that offer better results.

Law—who served as a special assistant to the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and now is a senior baseball writer for ESPN Insider and an analyst for the network’s show Baseball Tonight—provides a spirited exploration of statistics sure to start arguments among devoted baseball fans. Not all the explanations of statistical measurements, computer programming, and sophisticated technology developments are easily understandable, but the author’s detailed explanations are as jargon-free as possible; readers need not comprehend everything to enjoy the book. In the chapter likely to cause the most passionate debate, Law relies on extensive statistical analysis to examine the Baseball Hall of Fame. The author names worthy players who were never voted in and calls out less-worthy players who achieved entrance. Law clearly explains the reasons for the poor decision-making by eligible voters. For position players, there is an overreliance on outmoded metrics such as batting average, runs batted in, and stolen bases as well as the lack of an effective method for measuring defensive prowess. For starting pitchers, voters focus too much on games won and earned run averages; for relief pitchers, it’s games saved. For all pitchers, the author stresses the lack of criteria regarding the nature of the stadiums when they enter games and the quality of their team’s defense. Law also shatters the conventional wisdom regarding “clutch hitters.” Rather than leaving readers with utter negativity, the author explains persuasively how and why the new analytics are likely to improve the performances of individual players and entire teams.

For baseball fans, Law offers a smooth combination of erudition and his obvious love of the sport.