2021 SABR Analytics: Watch highlights from Brian Kenny’s ‘Year in Baseball Analytics’ talk

At the SABR Virtual Analytics Conference on Thursday, March 11, 2021, Brian Kenny of MLB Network delivered the opening remarks with a talk on “The Year in Baseball Analytics.”

Brian KennyHere are some highlights:

On the Blake Snell decision in the 2020 World Series

  • “It’s fascinating — I think it just transcends baseball and gets into how we think as human beings and how we are influenced by certain factors, no matter how independent we like to think we are. … You have to have — call it what you want, liquid analytics, fluid decision-making skills, whatever it is — you have to make the best possible decision at the time, given the specific circumstances.
  • “I think we always have to be on guard to think independently, to think fluidly, [and] to think logically. It’s not easy in real time. It’s enormous pressure for these managers. Some of the best managers in the business … can make these mistakes. Even with a whole staff around them, it can still happen and it just did happen, to the team that is the very best at all of this stuff, the Tampa Bay Rays.”

On trends in baseball in the 2021 season

  • “Now, we have other tools that we can use besides the results data: batting average, on-base, slugging, weighted runs created, all of that … it’s interesting, but maybe we should be paying more attention to his barrel percentage, his exit velocity, his expected weighted on-base average given the quality of the contact. … It can all be measured. You can look at the sequencing. You can look at the science. … Going back to the craft of pitching: How are they throwing it? When is he throwing it? What does he have? Does he have an out pitch? Everything can be looked at, and that bears true fruit on the free agent market.”

On the future of the game

  • “We have known for a long time that the sabermetric, logical thinking leads to winning baseball — but winning baseball for an individual team does not necessarily always align with a good entertainment product. It can, but it’s not right now, [and] that’s not an individual team’s job, that’s not a player’s job, that’s not the manager’s or the general manager’s job. It’s the league’s job [to fix any problems with gameplay]. And that is of course, what has to be addressed.”
  • “Those who have a knowledge about the history of baseball, especially in the 19th century, have a good knowledge of [how] you can change all sorts of things — where the mound is, where second base is, how far first base is, where the batter’s box is, the gloves, the bats —they did it all the time, every year, in the 19th century to make it a better entertainment product. It can happen now, but it has to be arrived at intelligently, maybe slowly, but something should change and soon with everybody on the same page. Hopefully the players will see this not as a negotiation tactic, but as a way of making baseball bigger than ever and making baseball the national pastime again. And making it the number one sport again.”
  • “I welcome an open mind toward advancing baseball and making baseball more exciting. … People out there are going to blame sabermetrics — you know it’s going to happen. [Because] it’s still relatively new, there are still a lot of people who don’t quite understand it, unfortunately. I think we can all do our best to explain it to people, and hopefully throughout this conference we’ll have that same spirit.”

To learn more about the SABR Virtual Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics.

Transcription assistance by Reagan Lamp.


Originally published: June 1, 2021. Last Updated: March 23, 2021.