Detroit Tigers Sabermetrics Newbies: Read Brian Kenny’s Book

As a lover of baseball and the Detroit Tigers, I love to read about baseball. My usual favorites are biographies of historic players and games.

But, after asking my fellow Detroit Tigers fans about book recommendations, one fan recommended that I give Brian Kenny’s book Ahead of the Curve a try.

So, I did. And I liked it.

Instead of reading the old-fashioned way, I chose to listen to the book on Audible. And to my surprise, Brian Kenny actually reads the book himself. This was a good choice for the publisher to have Kenny narrate his own book because the readers can hear his enthusiasm for baseball and the topic of sabermetrics.

For those who are resistant to embracing sabermetrics, this is the book for you. Kenny brilliantly explains the reasoning behind the need for new statistics. For example, he explains how batting average is no longer a valid statistic when evaluating and comparing players. Batting average comes from the original days of baseball and the “Dead Ball Era” when the game was played with singles. The batter would approach the plate and ask for a pitch. The pitcher would throw it and the batter would get to first. Now, batting average does not delineate between singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. According to Kenny, it is a stat that should go. His argument is compelling.

He also talks about other useless statistics, like pitchers’ wins. He explains how arbitrary the number is and how too many decisions about pitchers are made based on this unnecessary statistic. In my opinion, if Justin Verlander does not win the 2016 Cy Young, it will be because of his win-loss record. And that record does not showcase the brilliance of his pitching in 2016.

How To Make Baseball Better

Instead, Kenny shares his ideas about making the game of baseball better. Kenny shares ideas that would be considered radical, but then he mathematically explains why his ideas would make sense. He stresses the importance of WAR and the limitations of WAR. He also stresses the value of slugging percentage (SLG), on-base percentage (OBP), and OPS+, which takes the ballpark into account. For the mathematically challenged, Kenny makes these numbers very easy to understand.

The book covers all of the years of baseball and looks at how long it takes to bring new ideas to the “Herd” (the big group of people who tend to be resistant to new ideas). He talks about the resistance to big ideas like the shift, bullpening, and sabermetrics. The resistance to change is rather embarrassing.

Triple Crown & MVP Questions

As a Detroit Tigers fan, I was especially intrigued with the chapter about the Triple Crown since it focused on Miguel Cabrera. The chapter not only focused on Miggy, but on Mike Trout, too. Kenny clearly thinks very highly of both players, but he does not feel the same about the Baseball Writers and their writing association that makes decisions about major awards like the MVP. By all numerical accounts, Cabrera was the clear Triple Crown Winner in 2012, but he should not have been named the MVP in that same year, especially when taking defensive numbers into account.

If you love baseball and learning about the latest trends with statistics, Brian Kenny’s Ahead of the Curve should be placed at the top of your to-be-read pile. Even though I have the audiobook, I will be adding the hardcover version to my permanent collection. The book does not disappoint. It’s worth reading just to understand what bullpening is and what opening pitchers are (they aren’t starters).