Predictably Irrational meets Moneyball in ESPN veteran writer and statistical analyst Keith Law’s iconoclastic look at the numbers game of baseball, proving why some of the most trusted stats are surprisingly wrong, explaining what numbers actually work, and exploring what the rise of Big Data means for the future of the sport.
For decades, statistics such as batting average, saves recorded, and pitching won-lost records have been used to measure individual players’ and teams’ potential and success. But in the past fifteen years, a revolutionary new standard of measurement—sabermetrics—has been embraced by front offices in Major League Baseball and among fantasy baseball enthusiasts. But while sabermetrics is recognized as being smarter and more accurate, traditionalists, including journalists, fans, and managers, stubbornly believe that the "old" way—a combination of outdated numbers and "gut" instinct—is still the best way. Baseball, they argue, should be run by people, not by numbers.
In this informative and provocative book, the renowned ESPN analyst and senior baseball writer demolishes a century’s worth of accepted wisdom, making the definitive case against the long-established view. Armed with concrete examples from different eras of baseball history, logic, a little math, and lively commentary, he shows how the allegiance to these numbers—dating back to the beginning of the professional game—is firmly rooted not in accuracy or success, but in baseball’s irrational adherence to tradition.
While Law gores sacred cows, from clutch performers to RBIs to the infamous save rule, he also demystifies sabermetrics, explaining what these "new" numbers really are and why they’re vital. He also considers the game’s future, examining how teams are using Data—from PhDs to sophisticated statistical databases—to build future rosters; changes that will transform baseball and all of professional sports.
About the Author
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer at The Athletic, and before joining The Athletic, he was a senior baseball writer for ESPN Insider. Previously he was also special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, handling all statistical analysis, and he wrote for Baseball Prospectus. He lives in Delaware.
“Mr. Law’s book will increase any fan’s enjoyment of the sport.”
— Wall Street Journal
“Smart Baseball is an engaging account of the evolution of baseball metrics...His experience and insight make him uniquely qualified to answer the driving question in MLB today: how best to account for everything that happens on the field. This look is a must-read for the serious fan.”
— --Billy Beane, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, Oakland A's
“Law provides necessary insight into how front offices have come to evaluate talent...Smart Baseball is an essential and accessible primer on how data and analytics shape America’s Pastime, and where it’s headed. ”
— --Sean Doolittle, pitcher, Oakland A's
“No flawed statistic is safe from Keith’s insights in this clear-eyed, data driven tour of the bases. Smart Baseball gives us a preview of the future as Keith introduces the stats that really matter in a way that all fans will enjoy.”
— --Molly Knight, author of New York Times Bestseller The Best Team Money Can Buy
“There is still, probably, someone in your life who thinks that “grit,” “intensity,” and “hustle” are more important than “on-base percentage” and “WHIP.” Give that person this book, and end the argument forever.”
— --Mike Schur, co-creator of Parks & Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and The Good Place
“Smart Baseball can help any baseball follower evolve along with the game. It provides an insightful and thorough look at how this great game is being viewed now and into the future. Definitely a great read for anyone who loves baseball.”
— --A.J. Hinch, manager, Houston Astros
“In Smart Baseball, Keith Law deftly answers everything you always wanted to know about sabermetrics but were too afraid to ask. Its final three chapters probably each deserve their own books, and hopefully Law will oblige. I will think of Joey Bagodonuts often.”
— -- Molly Knight, author of New York Times Bestseller The Best Team Money Can Buy
“Law brilliantly dismantles some of the game’s most sacred and most misleading statistics...with a style in which smart trumps snarky…Law challenges longtime fans to think differently about a game that he says has been hindered by inefficient traditions for far too long.’
— Publishers Weekly
“[Law] shatters myths about how to accurately measure a baseball player’s ability and then explains modern criteria that offer better results…provides a spirited exploration of statistics sure to start arguments among devoted baseball fans… a smooth combination of erudition and his obvious love of the sport.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“In mercifully plain English, Law explains how the new statistical tools can answer questions that previously baffled baseball experts. A must-read for everyone who brings a curious head as well as an impassioned heart to the ballpark.”
“Law’s background as an analyst gives him the knowledge and experience to put these different statistics in perspective…If you’re unsure of the way the new statistics operate, or wonder why the old approaches are being disparaged, this book is for you.”
— Library Journal
“Keith Law is one of the best baseball minds on the planet.”
— -- Will Leitch, Sports on Earth
“[Law] is as cocky-confident in his analysis as the title suggests. But he backs it up not just with numbers but his experience in the game...His charting of the ways baseball uses metrics...is clear-eyed and, even for traditionalists, hard to argue with.”
— Milwaukee Journal Sentinel