MLB Network host Brian Kenny welcomed attendees to the 2020 SABR Analytics Conference with a talk entitled “The State of Analytics” on Friday, March 13 at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown in Phoenix, Arizona.
Kenny appears across MLB Network’s studio programming, including “MLB Now” and “MLB Tonight.” He is also the author of Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution. A 25-year national TV and radio veteran, Brian joined MLB Network from ESPN, where he was a “SportsCenter” anchor, host of the “Brian Kenny Show” on ESPN Radio and an Emmy Award-winning anchor for “Baseball Tonight.”
Here are some highlights from Kenny’s talk:
ON THE RISE AND FALL OF THE HOUSTON ASTROS
- “It was seven years ago  that I stood right here at this conference, and I asked the audience, ‘How many of you in five years see the Astros winning 90 games?’ And it was met with laughter, because they stunk. It was an absurd thought. … But I believed in their brainpower, I believed in their prospects, I believed in Jeff Luhnow and his whole team. I called them the ‘grand sabermetrics experiment.’ I rode that train all the way through the World Series championship, when they proved everybody wrong. … What are we to think of the Astros now? And the answer is: I don’t know yet. They’re in disgrace. It certainly feels dirty, what they did. … They lost track of where the line was. Were there other teams doing it? We don’t know that yet, either.”
ON THE HISTORY OF SIGN-STEALING
- “The most famous home run in the history of baseball was hit with a stolen sign: Bobby Thomson in 1951, the Dodgers and the Giants [playoff], the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. Are they disgraced? I don’t know. It came out, it was big news. … Hank Greenberg had one of his biggest seasons in a year when the Tigers were stealing signs [in 1940]. … This sort of thing has happened. It’s been happening for a long time. I’m glad the line has been drawn somewhere.”
ON PLAYER OUTRAGE AND CLEANING UP THE GAME
- “I like that the players were outraged [at the Astros scandal]. I was looking for player outrage for about 20 years during the Steroid Era. It was like a corrupt police precinct; well, where are the clean cops? Anybody ever seen the movie Serpico? He said, ‘We only have a flourishing society when the clean cops aren’t afraid of the dirty cops.’ What we had in baseball was, the clean players were afraid of the dirty players, and for some reason they protected them. … In baseball, this wink-and-a-nod culture, maybe that doesn’t have to continue. … For years watching baseball, most of what you always heard was, ‘Well, what are you gonna do about it?’ Collisions at the plate? Collisions at second base? Steroids? Throwing at a guy’s head? ‘Well, what are you gonna do?’ … No, these things can be corralled. You can disincentive these things from happening. And this is one of the first times I’ve seen it. … Maybe you have to get stricter, get stronger, and be outraged about these things. … Maybe that’s the new generation speaking out. They don’t have to hide behind a code of silence. Who are they protecting? Look out for yourself, look out for the greater good of the game.”
ON THE FUTURE OF ANALYTICS
- “It wasn’t long ago that you couldn’t get guys to take walks seriously as an offensive component. And now teams like the Brewers, who were one of the last to adopt analytics and sabermetrics, their entire old clubhouse in spring training is a performance-enhancing lab. … It wasn’t long ago that [people] like you would have had no chance of working in Major League Baseball … unless you were a great baseball player and could have made the major leagues. It’s much more of a meritocracy now. It’s a much smarter game now. That’s the wave that will come through.”
For more highlights from the 2020 SABR Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics.
Originally published: March 13, 2020. Last Updated: July 27, 2020.