Keith Law: “Smart Baseball” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER: Good morning. Today at Google, we are
delighted to have Mr. Keith Law. Mr. Law is a senior
baseball writer for ESPN, where
he writes a column and appears frequently on
television and other media outlets to offer his analysis. He was formerly a writer
for “Baseball Prospectus” and worked in the front office
for the Toronto Blue Jays. He is also a member of
the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Outside of baseball, Mr.
Law reads very widely and, on his blog, writes
about many topics, including literature,
music, film, TV, and food. Joining him on stage is
Google’s very own Matt Teper. Matt is Google’s head of
editorial and, prior to that, was chief speechwriter for
former Vice President Joe Biden. The two of them will be
discussing Mr. Law’s new book, “Smart Baseball– The Old Stats That Are
Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and
the Right Way To Think About Baseball.” Please join me in welcoming
to Google Mr. Keith Law. [APPLAUSE] MATT TEPER: Welcome. KEITH LAW: Thank you. MATT TEPER: Yeah. Before we really get
started, let me just ask how many of you have
read the book so I know how many in the room have read it. OK, that’s good. That’s good because we’re
going to read a little here. You can see I’m wearing a
Milwaukee Brewers shirt. So I figured we’d spend the
first 45 minutes talking about the Brewers, which
I think is probably really interesting to you guys
and just figuring out what they should do at the deadline. KEITH LAW: But I
hate the Brewers. MATT TEPER: Right. He hates the Brewers, and he
hates all of your teams, too. So what I thought we’d do is,
Keith would read a little bit from the book so you guys got
a picture of what it’s about. Most of you, I’m
assuming, are a little familiar with his
writing and his approach to everything,
not just baseball. We’ll talk a little baseball. I’ll ask Keith a
couple of questions. Then we’ll open it up and
get a bunch of questions from you guys. And I know there’s some
people on the live stream. So hello to you. And we’ll get going. KEITH LAW: OK. So Matt asked me to read. This is from the
seventh chapter. Clutch hitters. Lineup protection. Other things that don’t exist. So this chapter, unlike a lot
of the others in the book, is kind of a collection of many
essays that, as I was writing, I would sort of get
the urge to say, I want to say that
this is stupid. Like, say, lineup
protection isn’t real. Clutch hitters aren’t real. And kind of wrote a few
of these on the side and went to my editor
and said, I want these in the book somewhere. And we chose to collect them
into this one omnibus chapter. And the section I’m
going to read here is about the myth of the hot
hand, which still persists within baseball circles,
within the baseball media too, despite the fact that
there’s actually, again, no real evidence that it exists. “The hardest myth for fans
and even baseball folks to give up, in my
own experience, is the myth of the hot hand. The term itself derives
from basketball. But there are many equivalents
you’ll hear in baseball, from ‘in the zone’ to ‘locked
in’– an unfortunate term given its second meaning in
medicine– to ‘feeling it.’ The story goes that a player,
nearly always a hitter, has somehow captured
some extra magic and is on a run at the plate
in which his results are consistently better. “He’s hitting the ball harder
or balls are falling into play. You’ll hear announcers say
a pitch must have looked like a beach ball to him
or that his confidence is through the roof. The problem with this
myth, as with the others, is that the evidence
from reality shows that this effect either
barely exists or doesn’t exist at all. It’s merely our brains’ attempts
to find patterns in data that are pretty close to random. “Hitter performances
throughout a season include a lot of randomness. There certainly isn’t
any predictability in when a hitter will be
more or less productive. Like, say, Joey Bag of Donuts
is a really great July hitter. Or Twerpy McFlaperson is much
better on Tuesday afternoons. You expect that a hitter’s line
at the end of a full season will probably look
a lot like his lines from the season or
two before that. “The more at-bats
a guy has, the more we expect his production
to look like whatever his underlying true
talent level might be. A hitter who’s true
on-base percentage, meaning his natural ability to get
on base, is around .400. Could easily have a
month where he only gets on base at a .300 clip. “You might think he’s
slumping but, in reality, it’s just a normal turn
of the baseball screw. Every hitter has periods
of highs and lows. But barring some other
explanation like an injury, players will eventually
return to form, the baseball version of what
statisticians refer to as regression to the mean. “However, our
brains are not well wired to handle randomness. We tend to think random
distributions look more like uniform distributions
when random series tend to be clumpy and uneven, given
the impression of pattern where there is none. “Alex Bellos, who’s written
several wonderful books on mathematics for
the popular audience, wrote in London’s ‘Daily
Mail’ in December 2010, ‘As humans, when we come
across random clusters, we naturally
superimpose a pattern. We instinctively project
an order on the chaos.’ “He brought up the example of
the random song shuffle feature on the original iPods, which
produced random results like clusters of songs by
the same artist, which, of course, confused
listeners who thought that the system
was, therefore, not random. Apple had to make its randomizer
less random to convince people it was random enough. “This is what happens in
baseball and other sports, as far as I can tell– although
it’s heretical for me to even admit the existence
of other sports– when a hitter has some sort of
hot streak, slump, or anything that doesn’t seem random to
our pattern-seeking minds. In fact, you hear a lot that
a certain hitter is streaky. All hitters are streaky because
random distributions are not uniform. If a hitter never
had a streak, I’d suggest we all bow to our
new robot player overlords. “A landmark 1985 study of
streakiness in basketball by Cornell psychology professor
Thomas Gilovich and Stanford professors Robert
Valone and Amos Tversky looked at data from several
players and teams in the NBA and found no evidence of the
so-called hot hand effect. A player who has made
several recent shots is, in fact, no more likely
to make his next shot. “If you like semantic games, you
would say that he has been hot, but he is not hot. That is, he’s made a
few shots in a row, but he’s still the
same shooter he was before that streak of success. Indeed, many
researchers continue to try to find evidence
of the hot hand effect in various
endeavors as if we just don’t want to accept that our
sports narratives are untrue. “Many attempts to identify and
quantify the hot hand effect have appeared with
a recent paper from two economists, Jeffrey
Zwiebel and Brett Green, claiming to have found
evidence of this streakiness in baseball at a
magnitude previously unheard of in the field. It didn’t hold up
under scrutiny. They used small samples to
establish the players’ base ability levels and,
thus, tended to confuse changes in true talent
levels with streakiness. “The resulting consensus
among sabermetricians who examined this study was that
there might be some hot hand effect in baseball, maybe. But if it’s there, it’s
minuscule to the point where managers could
safely ignore it. There are real changes
in player performance that teams need to monitor. Players get hurt and
see temporary changes in skill levels. “Hitters who suffer
hand or wrist injuries lose some of their grip strength
and, thus, may see a decline in power or in the
quality of contact, while pitchers fighting just
about any kind of malady can see a change
in their mechanics and lose velocity, the ability
to locate pitches, or both. Mechanics can change
for the better, typically between seasons,
but sometimes during the year. Pitchers can add new
pitches or change grips. “Hitting and
pitching coaches work with players on all of these
things as part of their jobs, often reviewing video
after each game, and sometimes between
at-bats or innings to identify tiny yet
tangible differences that might prevent the
player from performing at his optimal level. I was in the
clubhouse occasionally for some of these
conversations while I was working for the Blue Jays. Some were beneficial,
but others involved a lot of complaining
about the umpires, too. “This is why teams long
employed advance scouts, watching the next
series opponent to see who might be
healthy, who didn’t seem to have a good grip on
his breaking ball, who wasn’t running as well as
he normally did, and so on. Today, some teams have
dispensed with advance scouts in favor of sophisticated
video and computer systems that can track players
and plays more thoroughly, often with young front office
employees reviewing the results to provide detailed notes
for the Major League coaching staff. “But none of this is
hot hand nonsense. It’s looking for physical,
verifiable changes, not arguing that some player
has been temporarily possessed by the spirit of Honus
Wagner at the plate. So the next time you hear
that a hitter is locked in or that a starting
pitcher is cruising, just remember, it’s probably
a narrative sitting awkwardly on a pile of random data. This appeal of
the narrative says a lot about why all
of the myths here are able to persist in
the absence of data. “We want baseball to be
the sepia-toned sport of our constructed memories. In a game that goes
back at least 150 years, there is no shortage of
stories for the sharpshooter to pick to try to support
his preconceived notions about the game or his desire to
find a narrative in the noise. We romanticize the past. We canonize the players we
like, while demonizing those we don’t, and we
pick and choose what stories to remember to believe. “This irrationality
drives so much of baseball coverage
in the discussion because of what we want baseball
to be when the game provides plenty of real
fact-based stories that are rooted in
truth, not mythos. For a long time, we lacked
the information or the tools to adequately dispel these
ideas about baseball, and other sports as
well, to the point where we might see behavior change. “But the last 15 years
have seen a revolution in baseball thinking. This upheaval in
baseball thinking from using better metrics,
based on the traditional stats, to the incoming wave of new data
that’s changing the way front offices build their teams
won’t get rid of great stories. We’ll get new great stories
now, stories about underdogs who were overlooked
by traditional methods of evaluation, but whose
hidden talents came out because of the new data. Most important though, our
stories about the stars will be driven by fact,
not wishful thinking, which makes the stories
more compelling and the greatness of
the game’s best players that much easier to appreciate.” MATT TEPER: That’s great. I asked Keith to read
that because I think the idea of books like
this, and the people that do a lot of the writing and
the work, the analytical work in baseball front offices,
like, their job is breaking through this narrative. And the narrative that’s
built up around baseball is you mentioned like this
sepia-toned romanticism. I mean, that hits baseball
more than anything else. Baseball has been around like– Genghis Khan was playing
baseball 1,000 years ago. KEITH LAW: It’s mentioned
in page one of Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey.” MATT TEPER: Yes. KEITH LAW: Which was
written around 1805 or so. And it mentions base
ball, two words. MATT TEPER: Right. And she probably
loved the RBI, right? KEITH LAW: Yes. 100%. MATT TEPER: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] So basically, I grew
up before Bill James, before you, before Theo Epstein,
before Michael Lewis, so I believed in all of that stuff. And then, you read
some Bill James. You read this book, and
it all seems so obvious. And just like, yeah,
these are the facts. This is the way it works. So then the trick
is, I guess, busting through all that narrative. So tell me where you think
we are in that process. And I guess a little
bit of history, too. Like, where do you
think it really started? Is it Bill James? Is it because Michael Lewis
decided to write a business book about baseball? Like, where do you
think it all began? And where are we now? KEITH LAW: I think there have
been several inflection points. Bill James was writing
in the late ’70s and all through the ’80s and
really found no audience within the industry. He found a popular audience,
a niche, but still enough, obviously, to keep
publishing the books, to have a major publisher. But within the industry,
it was kind of dismissed. This is an outsider,
a non-baseball guy, daring to tell us about
baseball and, therefore, he has nothing interesting to say. “Moneyball” was the
first inflection point within the industry. The publication of the book,
not the movie, which many of you know I think the
movie is terrible. But the book was
actually important. And the book had some details
wrong, some facts wrong, but it tells the right story. And that got the attention of a
lot of people within baseball. I heard stories of other team
owners were getting that book and saying– going to their GMs–
why don’t we do this? Why is Oakland, with no
money in a garbage state, why are they doing this
and we’re not doing this? And then the following year, the
Red Sox win the World Series. And so Theo gets hired in ’03. Obviously, they have the
close call in ’03 and then win in ’04 and then
win again in ’07. So you might even argue it’s
not an inflection point. It’s sort of this whole period
where other teams would then look and say,
well, the Red Sox– I mean, I could understand. The A’s are doing that because
they’re desperate, right. They don’t have anything
else they can do. They can’t outbid us. So they’re going to try
some tricks, some novelty, to try to compete. But the Red Sox, they
don’t need to do that. But they’re doing this,
and they’re beating us. And they won two World Series. They didn’t win for 86 years. Now they win two in four years. I think that got the attention
of the sport, as a whole, more than anything
that came before. But you could argue it doesn’t
get to that point if you don’t have Bill James and if
you don’t have “Moneyball” coming out in ’03. But after ’07, then you can
start to see the acceleration in adoption of analytics
by other front offices to the point where– as I was writing this book–
the last two holdouts, the Diamondbacks and the
Twins, changed their GMs and added actual
analytics departments. I always tell the
story that Diamondbacks had two people, kids, who
were basically analysts. And Dave Stewart would
sometimes come in and say hi, and that would be the
end of the conversation. So they were there. I think he just
sort of kept them in a cupboard under the stairs
and never actually used them for anything. And because there
was not a department with an actual head, somebody
with a seat at the baseball table, whatever input they had
never got into the decision making process. Now they went and hired
somebody from Pittsburgh to come run their department. The Twins set up
department there. Not only did they
set up a department, they were actually knocking
down– literally knocking down walls and metaphorically, in
the front office because there was nowhere for
those people to sit by what was Terry
Ryan’s old office, which is now Derek Falvey’s office. So now we’re at the point
where everyone’s on board. And I kind of used the
phrase a few times, the revolution is over. What’s next is
evolutionary because we’re seeing lots of new data. And teams are differing
in how much they’re using the data, what conclusions
they’re drawing from the data, but everyone’s decided– data, analytics– that’s
part of our decision making process every bit as much
as traditional scouting is. MATT TEPER: Yeah. And you mentioned
in the book that– I mean, it kind of culminated
in last year’s World Series where you had Theo again. KEITH LAW: Yes. He just keeps coming
up in the story. MATT TEPER: I know. It’s like we’re talking about
busting through myth with fact. And like, Theo has
busted the biggest myths in baseball history, basically,
with an analytical approach. KEITH LAW: Despite
being a Yalie. MATT TEPER: Right. I know that’s hard
for you to admit. KEITH LAW: Yes. MATT TEPER: So you’ve
got analytically inclined front offices going
to the World Series. You’ve got managers
who are running their teams in those
dugouts really analytically. So I think it’s like the
teams, as you mentioned, have gotten it, right? KEITH LAW: Yep. MATT TEPER: Do the fans have it? Is that next? What’s more important? KEITH LAW: Last is clearly
going to be the media. MATT TEPER: Yeah. Right. Right. KEITH LAW: I think that’s
become unfortunately clear. In fact, my book has
now been criticized by, as far as I can
tell, Dan Shaughnessy– I don’t even remember his name– Doc Daugherty in Cincinnati, and
Mark Whicker, the SoCal writer who decided to make
light of Jaycee Dugard’s being kidnapped. MATT TEPER: Yeah. You hit for the cycle, I think. KEITH LAW: None of them
has actually read the book, but they all hate it, which,
to me, is a little bit of a badge of honor. You’re not going to like it. And I’m very specifically
saying your style of writing and your way of
thinking about the game is just wrong, and totally
out of date, and out of sync with the way the
industry is thinking. If all 30 GMs look at you and
say, that’s not how this works, then you’re not doing your
job as a member of the media. Look, I may introduce ideas. I may talk about players
and differ on details from the way front offices
think about these things. But ultimately, my job as an
analyst of the industries, I have to know and understand
what all 30 teams are thinking philosophically. Even if I don’t agree
with a specific move– like the JD Martinez trade– I can at least understand what
their overall direction is. So for all 30 teams to
have adopted analytics, and for various writers and a
lot of writers in the media– beat writers and
national writers– to still say, no, it’s wrong. It’s not going to
work, dude, you lost. It’s over. So either adapt and
accept that this is the way of the industry,
whether or not you like it, or go write about
something else. MATT TEPER: Yeah. I mean, if you think about it,
you worked in the front office. And you were doing analytics
in the front office. And your impact has
been larger since you entered the media, right? KEITH LAW: Yes. MATT TEPER: It’s a tougher
one to topple, almost. KEITH LAW: And I got in early
enough on the media side too that I was, at the time,
one of the few voices in the mainstream media who
was talking about this stuff. Who would talk analytics,
and then who could also talk about the
scouting side too, which is very close
to my heart, just going out and seeing players. Now there are a lot
more voices doing that, which is great because
it will be lonely being the only one saying, I’m right. Everyone else is
wrong, and I’m right. It’s not really the most
comfortable position in the world, certainly. And you take a lot of heat
and a lot of abuse for it. MATT TEPER: Yeah. KEITH LAW: Now,
not only are there more voices in the media–
so the balance has shifted. There are certainly still
people who are holdouts. But there are more
people in the media and there are more media
outlets talking in these terms. But also, who are
the front office guys going to gravitate to? They’re going to talk
to the people who speak their language. So that’s why you
can read my stuff. It’s why you can go read Eric
Longenhagen on FanGraphs. And we’ve got good info
because they want to talk to us because we speak their language
now and the old guard, maybe, doesn’t. MATT TEPER: Yeah. And then, as far as the
fans, I guess the storyline about just a bunch of nerds
with pocket protectors who never played the
game, that seems to be– KEITH LAW: I don’t
even have a pocket. MATT TEPER: You
don’t have a pocket. But you would have a
protector in there. KEITH LAW: Yes, of course. My dad was an electrical
engineer his whole career, by the way, too, and owned
pocket protectors and a slide rule. MATT TEPER: And a slide–
oh, a slide rule, yeah. KEITH LAW: And a slide rule. I only know what a slide
rule is because he had one. MATT TEPER: There are plenty
of slide rules at Google. KEITH LAW: Oh, yeah. I figured. MATT TEPER: That’s how we do
most of the engineering we do. KEITH LAW: Yes exactly. That’s the algorithm, the
search algorithm, right? MATT TEPER: Yeah, it’s
all by slide rule, yeah. KEITH LAW: Yes, absolutely. MATT TEPER: Very
well-protected pockets here. KEITH LAW: And my
mother’s name is Lynn too, which I always thought,
oh, so you married the natural logarithm, right? That’s the joke. MATT TEPER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. KEITH LAW: She didn’t
see it that way. MATT TEPER: [LAUGHING]
The fans, though. So there’s an argument
out there that, like, this sucks the
fun out of baseball. KEITH LAW: Yeah. MATT TEPER: And I
don’t think the people in this room believe it. But it’s basically
like it’s all numbers. What happens on the
field and all this stuff we grew up loving, like the
storytelling and all of that, it gets sucked out of it. You do a good job in that
chapter of explaining how new stories get told. But what is your ultimate
argument to the fact that, no, this actually makes it more fun? KEITH LAW: There’s two
responses I have to that. One is just that I
consider myself a learner. I enjoy knowledge. Knowing more about
whatever it is I’m interested in, whether it’s
baseball, or literature, cooking, whatever. I want to know more. I’m always looking to learn
more as much as I can. So anything that lets me
learn more to understand more about baseball is going
to make the sport, and consuming the sport,
more enjoyable for me. Understanding why that happened. I mean, even the basic
thing of, OK, so that ball that was just hit to the
gap for a two-run double. Well, did the hitter
hit a good pitch? Did the pitcher
execute his pitch? Did he miss his location? Did the breaking ball come
out of his hand too early? They’re always looking
for an explanation. Even the play-by-play
guys and the color guys, as they’re describing
the game, they’re trying to explain
what you just saw. Now we actually have data to
answer some of those questions and maybe get correct answers. Whereas, previously, it
was a lot of guesswork. To me, that doesn’t
make it less fun. We’re not saying stupid
stuff as much as we used to. And we’re not guessing
as much as we used to, which makes it much
more enjoyable for me. I can also look– you know, Aaron Judge is one of
the biggest stories in baseball this year. Is he less fun because we
know the exit velocity– because he’s actually setting
exit velocity records? I don’t hear
anybody complaining, I wish he didn’t hit
the ball that hard. Or I wish I didn’t know how
hard he was hitting the ball. People want to know
that information. They want to know how
fast Byron Buxton runs. I’m still kind of flummoxed
that Byron Buxton’s sprint speed numbers are better than Billy
Hamilton’s because I would swear to you Hamilton
is the fastest guy I’ve ever seen on a field. I might have said
Buxton was second. But it turns out
I had them wrong. And my eyes are telling
me something different, but the data doesn’t
lie– don’t lie– that, OK, Buxton’s faster. And to me, that’s much more
interesting to know the truth. And to then be able to say, all
right, well, what did I see? Why did I think the other thing? Why is it the belief
that I had previously turned out to be incorrect? So I don’t think we’re
lacking for great stories. I don’t think we’re lacking
for interesting players. And we’re still
going to have guys who pop up out of the 18th round
or the 25th round who defeat the odds, or make some
change, and end up having significant roles
in the big leagues. I had a blog post this morning
about a 31st-round pick for the Red Sox. He was picked in 14. He missed all of last
season with some injury and showed up this winter with
a couple of more miles an hour on his fastball. And I saw him use 92, 97. His last name’s Duron. Now he’s in Lowell. I don’t know if
he’ll ever get there. But if he does,
that’s a great story. That’s a 31st-rounder
who some scout– that’s probably one
scout– identified this guy as having the ability,
athleticism, maybe the makeup. If there was any analytics,
any data on him at all, it was probably pretty minimal. Those stories aren’t
going to go away. And I think having
more open-minded people in front offices mean we may
get more of those stories. We’re less likely to just
dismiss a player because he was a low draft pick, or
he got a tiny bonus out of the Dominican. We’re more willing
to just say, where you came from doesn’t matter. It’s what you’re
actually doing today that’s going to determine your
progress through the system. MATT TEPER: Yeah, I mean, you’re
talking to a company built on the flow of information. And we believe in that entirely. KEITH LAW: These are my people. MATT TEPER: Yeah. KEITH LAW: Yes. MATT TEPER: So OK, we’ve
conquered front offices. We’re working on fans. I have a question about players. So it seems like I
hear a lot of players, either in post-game interviews
or former players who are in the box now or in the
media who talk about this stuff like they believe it. Talk about the narrative myth
stuff like they believe it. KEITH LAW: Oh, yes. MATT TEPER: They talk about RBIs
and about how important they are. They talk about chemistry. They talk about the hot hand. They talk about
all the things you kind of debunk in that chapter. And then, you’re like, well,
they did play the game. They should know
better that chemistry does or doesn’t exist. So have you tried to
convince players of this? I mean, what does
it take to make– there have to be more
analytically inclined players out there who
understand this stuff. Like, we know a few of them. They pop up on Twitter a lot. But there are still,
when you’re talking about getting the
media, there are a lot of former players in the media. And they’re kind of
spouting this stuff. And I mean, it probably doesn’t
make you question it at all. But if I’m hearing David Ortiz– KEITH LAW: It makes me
hit the mute button. MATT TEPER: Right. KEITH LAW: Yeah. MATT TEPER: But if I’m
hearing David Ortiz talk about the chemistry
of the 2004 team. I mean, you just
disregard it right. KEITH LAW: Sure. It’s kind of in one ear
and out the other too. And a lot of people
within baseball will tell you it’s not that
chemistry breeds winning, it’s winning breeds chemistry. And losing breeds
bad chemistry, too. I mean, the Orioles,
you would hear for years that Buck runs a
great clubhouse there and everyone’s on the same page. It’s good chemistry. Well, now they’re losing. And suddenly, you hear a little
sniping about Showalter too. That’s not a coincidence. And I don’t think Buck has– at his age, I doubt he’s
changed his style much at all. And certainly not from
last year to this year. It’s that the
results are changing. And then, that’s changing
the attitudes or the feelings in the clubhouse at this point. I also will say too– having
done a handful of games where I’ve been in the booth trying to
do color or doing when we still had “Baseball Tonight”– there is a constant
temptation when you’re doing live TV or radio,
too, to answer every question. To do this job, at
least to do my job, you have to be willing
to say, I don’t know. And I don’t think anyone
really wants to do that. You’re worried you’re
going to sound stupid. I think you actually
sound better if you admit you don’t know
the answer to something either because I don’t have the
information at my fingertips or because we just don’t know. But to say I don’t
know why that happened. Why is this player better
than he was last year? Or why is he worse
than last year? You know, I don’t actually know. Someone’s asked me Luis
Severino has been– he’s been different
in a lot of ways this year versus last year. He’s got a better slider
than he’s ever had. And he’s throwing at a
tremendous amount more. That’s part of the difference. But I criticized his
delivery in the past. Well, does it look
better this year? You know, I have not
physically gotten to see him live from the side
to say if it’s any different. If I didn’t see that
angle, I probably couldn’t answer the question. So the answer is, I don’t know. Yeah, it bothers me not
to have the information. But I have had to
teach myself to say I don’t know to questions– TV, radio, wherever– rather
than to just make up an answer. And if you want to make up
an answer, those narratives, those myths, they’re
really good for that. They fill the air quite well. They sort of expand to fill
all of the dead time allotted to them. And then you don’t have the
dead air on a TV broadcast that I think a lot of
people in the business fear or are just taught to fear. You got to say something, right? I’m coming to you. You got to answer the question. And we’re almost taught
that “I don’t know” is not really an acceptable
answer, even though I would say it’s often the best answer,
if it’s the right one. MATT TEPER: Yeah. I want to ask a
couple more questions, then we’ll open
it up to you guys. And shifting gears a
little bit to the one place where mythmaking and narrative
probably owns everything and you write about,
which is the Hall of Fame. Right? KEITH LAW: Yes. MATT TEPER: So I mean,
that is a museum. It exists to tell the story
in the history of baseball. But as we know, who gets in
and out, that’s big business. There’s a lot that
goes into that. And it seems to be
changing for the better. KEITH LAW: Yes. MATT TEPER: And will continue
as the voting pool gets more diverse, both,
demographically and in people who view the game like you do. We’re assuming that things
will get a little better. And the Lou Whitaker
situation won’t repeat itself. KEITH LAW: Right. And that’s why I told the
story of why Whitaker– for those of you who don’t
know just real quick– he got one year on
the writers’ ballot. He did not get the 5%
required to even stay on the ballot for a second year. He fell off, and that’s it. He can’t be considered again for
it’s either 15 or 20 years now. His original eligibility
had to expire. And then he would
come up on whatever they’re calling the Veterans
Committee these days. Maybe he eventually gets in. It’s not that likely. But by raising the point
saying, not only should he have gotten more consideration,
he should have gotten in. The next time there’s a Lou
Whitaker type of candidate, maybe he’ll just get a
more thorough hearing from the writers rather
than simply be one and done. MATT TEPER: Yeah. And the Lou Whitaker
thing, I mean, he does a very good
job in the book– you should read the
chapter on the Hall of Fame explaining the Lou
Whitaker situation. And I grew up in the ’80s. And I’m a Brewers fan. So at that time they
were in the AL Central. And so I saw a lot of Lou
Whitaker and Alan Trammell. Those guys were Hall
of Famers to me. KEITH LAW: And they were spoken
in contemporary news accounts too, they were spoken
of as these guys are going to the Hall of Fame. Wouldn’t it be great if
they went in together? MATT TEPER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. KEITH LAW: Not neither of
them is ever going to get in. MATT TEPER: Right. KEITH LAW: Which
is what turned out. Which, at least, to this
point, is what has happened. MATT TEPER: Yeah. And you nod in the
book that there might have been some racial
undertones to his not getting in. KEITH LAW: Yes. MATT TEPER: And that’s
messy in its own way. Now that was,
what, 10 years ago? How many years ago
would it have it been? It was a while ago. KEITH LAW: Whitaker’s one year
on the ballot was around 2000. MATT TEPER: Right. So a long time ago. KEITH LAW: Yep. MATT TEPER: So as we mentioned,
the demographics have changed. It’s still a lot of
crusty, old, white men. But for the most
part, it’s changed. KEITH LAW: Yes. MATT TEPER: Would Lou Whitaker
get into the Hall of Fame today? KEITH LAW: Yes. It might take the full 10 years. We just saw that
with Tim Raines. But he certainly
wouldn’t be one and done. There would be enough of a
court– well first of all, there would be enough writers
right out of the chute who would look and recognize
using Wins Above Replacement or other total value stats who
would vote for him immediately. MATT TEPER: He’s the
highest WAR offensive player not in the Hall right now? Is that right? KEITH LAW: Is it him or Grich. I think he’s a little
bit ahead of Grich. And I just read Jay Jaffe’s
book on the Hall of Fame, too, where he actually ends
up making the case for Grich. And it’s sort of just
like, that’s perfect. You just put our
two books together and you got second base. We’re covered there. If Whitaker isn’t at the
top, he’s very close. He’s one of the more
egregious omissions outside of, like, Bonds, who’s
that’s a whole separate– MATT TEPER: Right. KEITH LAW: I mean, I
would vote for Bonds. MATT TEPER: Well, I
did want to get there. KEITH LAW: OK, well we’ll
get there in a second. But there would be such a chorus
for the next Lou Whitaker. And part of why I
discussed Mike Mussina then in that same chapter too was,
as I was finishing the book too, I kind of thought Raines
was going to get in. Then he did. I had already sort of wrapped. But I wrote this thinking
Raines will probably get in on this last ballot. I’m not going to spend
a lot of time on him. He’ll be in, which it took
forever, but at least he’s in. Who might be the next cause
for those of us in the media or the fan base who are
more statistically inclined? And I thought Mike
Mussina, who is, I think, of the non-PED-suspected
pitchers– I think he’s the
highest WAR guy not in. And his case is particularly
good for a lot of the arguments I’m trying to make
in the book too because he does so much
better on advanced stats than some of the traditional
benchmarks we use. Also, I was thinking let’s
light that next fire. Right? Let’s just get started
on the next guy. And I Mussina is
going to get in. But to say we– “we” helped get Raines in,
we helped get Blyleven in, and I’m not saying I personally
had anything to do with those. But those of us who are
analytically inclined pushed for certain candidates. Who might be the next
guy we should push for? And Mussina, to me,
was the most deserving of guys who are
still on the ballot. MATT TEPER: Yeah. Yeah, and he seemed, like
you said, a good case for you because he never
won 20 games, right? KEITH LAW: His last season,
he sort of limped to the 20– I shouldn’t even
say it like that. But he got the 20– one 20-win season. And it almost seemed
like he got it because he knew he
needed to check it off, which is– you
know, that’s silly. MATT TEPER: Right. Right. Never won a Cy Young. Never finished in
the top whatever. KEITH LAW: Right. MATT TEPER: Yeah, all of
the traditional stuff. So quickly, you mentioned Bonds. The voting pool is changing. Barry Bonds is the best player
of the lifetime of everybody in this room, I believe. Will he? Will Alex Rodriguez? Will Roger Clemens? KEITH LAW: Yep. MATT TEPER: Will
they end up there? KEITH LAW: I think Bonds
is going to get in. I think that’s almost
inevitable, at this point. And I know a lot of writers
who said that Bud Selig getting hand-waved into the Hall in his
first time under consideration was, essentially, the signal
from the Hall to the voters, we don’t care about
the steroid stuff. And that’s part of why you
saw both Bonds and Clemens see big jumps in their voting
totals last time around. I feel better about Bonds’
chance than Clemens’ chance. I think Clemens is
just more disliked. I, personally, would
vote for both guys. I don’t have a vote. Not this off-season. The following
off-season I will get my first Hall of Fame ballot. I expect they’ll
both be on there. And I will vote
for both of them. MATT TEPER: It’s saying
a lot if someone’s less liked than Barry Bonds. KEITH LAW: Right. MATT TEPER: You know. [LAUGHTER] KEITH LAW: Yeah. Yes. MATT TEPER: It’s an
impressive hurdle. KEITH LAW: Right. It’s the race to
the bottom, right? We just keep lowering it. A-Rod’s going to be tough
because the one argument that I’ve always been able
to make, even to these PED moralists or purists,
was neither of these guys was ever actually suspended. Neither failed a test. A-Rod, like Manny
Ramirez, was suspended. Did fail tests. Like, there’s actual–
there was in baseball– there were consequences
that Bonds and Clemens never had to face. So I would vote for A-Rod, too. But there, I think, is a
better argument against that. And he may not get in. And the one I’ll
throw in there too, as much as I despise Pete
Rose for what he did, you sort of end up in
the same situation. Is it really a Hall of Fame
without an acknowledgment that Pete Rose– who would have been
a Hall of Famer on the merits– he’s just not really there? That’s problematic to me. Even though, personally, I would
have a very hard time actually checking the box
next to his name because I think what
he did is way worse than what any of these guys
is accused of doing with PEDs. MATT TEPER: Yeah, I would agree. Just quickly going
to the future now. So you write a
lot about Statcast and the reams and reams of data
that Major League Baseball now has at its disposal. So explain a little
bit about what it is. Tell us what you really think
the next frontier of this stuff is. You’re– probably some
engineers in the room. They can build
something that’ll really change the face of baseball. Where do you see
technology taking the game? KEITH LAW: That’s the next
step in the data evolution that I hinted at earlier. The start of 2015, Major League
Baseball developed this– sorry, introduced this system
in all 30 Major League parks. It’s got two technologies–
one is radar based, one is optical based– that provides data
on every pitch. Not just characteristics of
the pitch itself, its velocity. It’s where it’s released,
where the pitcher is releasing it relative to– between the rubber
and home plate. The spin rate on the pitch. If the hitter makes
contact, its exit velocity, its launch angle. But also the locations of
everybody on the field. Every fielder at the
start of the play. Every base runner. Every umpire. The coaches in the boxes in foul
territory, that’s all recorded. And so every pitch
now has its own record with all of these different
fields for every season, 2015, ’16, obviously part
way through ’17. I was told that
the 2016 data set was about a terabyte and
a half of data, which is several hundred times larger. I’m sure in this room,
that’s not impressive. [LAUGHTER] But in Major League
Baseball, it is because the PITCHf/x data was– this is several hundred
times more data per year, several hundred times
larger than what they were getting from PITCHf/x. And I compare it to the stuff
I was doing in Toronto where I could– I mean, I was the
analytics department. And it all lived on my laptop. Can’t really do that anymore. And now you have to
have an army of people. The Phillies hired someone
from here, actually. AUDIENCE: Andy Galdi. KEITH LAW: Yes. And I don’t think he had much,
if any, baseball background. But they needed somebody
to build the architecture, hardware and software,
to handle this data. And then, set up
the middleware to be able to communicate
with the existing systems for PITCHf/x data
for old scouting reports, pro and amateur. I mean, they walked in, and
it was terribly shocking that Ruben Amaro left nothing. But there was absolutely
nothing in place. There were no systems
whatsoever to handle Statcast, which was introduced
in Ruben’s last year as GM. But not really much for
handling any of the data that was there before. So they said I was
actually probably better than having to come in and just
junk systems that were already in place. But still, there was a huge– it took almost a whole year
for them to get enough in place that they felt like they could
really regularly run queries against the Statcast data. With only 2 and 1/2
years of data so far, though, I tried to
make the argument that I do believe this
is changing the game. Teams have certainly
found certain things. Launch angle, I
think, is probably the one that’s gotten the
most public attention. Teams are learning new things. We still don’t know as
much as we’d like to know. It’s a lot of data in
terms of the storage size. But that’s not a lot
of years, certainly, if you want to be able to
look at players’ changes year over year. Do you want just
one year baseline? Two years baseline? Well sorry, that’s all we
have is 2 and 1/2 so far. I would say we probably need
four or five years of data to be able to draw some more
serious conclusions about what does spin rate mean on a–
especially– the example I love to give is spin
rate on a fastball. When I learned to scout, if
I was talking about spin, that was a breaking ball. No one ever talked
about whether a fastball could have different spin. It was its velocity. We talk about its movement,
its visual movement. But the idea of talking about
its spin rate was just– it wasn’t an idea. Nobody discussed it. Now we have data on that. And the guys at Major
League Baseball– Corey Schwartz, Tom
Tango, that whole team. I sat down with those guys. And they showed me a chart just
from last year that graphed velocity against spin rate. And it turned out that high spin
rate, high velocity, obviously, is great if you can do that. Average velocity high
spin rate was pretty good. High velocity average spin rate
was actually not very good. It was the [INAUDIBLE]
problem, where he threw 100, and he’d get his ass handed
to him because hitters were constantly squaring it up. But it turned out low
spin rate was much better than average spin rate. Now that was
something that, one, I think you might say
it was counterintuitive, or simply just nobody
considered it before. But I looked at that and said,
that’s really interesting. It could certainly change the
way that we scout and evaluate players. But I’d want to see more than
one year of data on that too. And I’d want to
see how repeatable that is for certain pitchers. So things we think are true
now may turn out to be not true or to need more detail as we
get more data from Statcast. And I’ll also say too. This is probably something
very familiar to those of you in the room who work
with this kind of data. Everyone, including
Major League Baseball, said 2015 being year
one of the system, there were a lot of
errors in the system. And so Major League
Baseball themselves had to spend a lot of time
looking for systemic errors. And then, a couple
of teams told me they’ve specifically hired
folks with computer science backgrounds whose primary
responsibility now is just cleaning Statcast
data, looking for errors that can be solved algorithmically as
opposed to individually looking for mistakes. One, that job just didn’t
exist three years ago. And two, also says
to me we probably still need more years of data
to work enough of those out. Like, you wouldn’t want
to run a lot of queries against 2015 only to find
out 30% of the data was off. That seems like a
recipe for disaster. But hopefully, the more
years that we run the system, the more that those will
get worked out of it, and teams will be able to
do more work with it going forward, and find more
unconventional uses for the data like the one I
mentioned in the last chapter about identifying pitchers
who are fatigued by changes in their velocity or spin rate. I give the example of the
Padres sending down a pitcher last year because
they noticed his spin rate was dropping in August. They sent him down,
but it was effectively like a forced rest thing where
we think you’re fatigued. You’re not hurt yet,
but you might get hurt. So we can’t put you on the DL. But we can, at least, make
you not pitch for a week or so by sending you down
rather than have you continue to
pitch through this and, potentially,
cause real damage. If you’re a Major
League GM and I told you you can get rid of one
pitcher DL stint per year, how much is that worth,
especially if it’s one of your better pitchers? What is that worth
in saved value? Probably enough to fund
your analytics department for a year. So the bar is pretty low. And that’s why teams
are willing to, even with the limited years of
data that we have so far are willing to take chances
like that and say, well, we think this is right. We think this is telling us
that this pitcher is fatigued. This pitcher might be on
a road towards injury. Let’s, at least,
work with it now. Even if we might need
more years to prove that that hypothesis is
true, it’s worth it to us now to just use it
as if it were true and maybe prevent a disaster. MATT TEPER: Cool. So I want to give you guys a
chance to ask some questions. And if you guys are familiar
with Keith’s live chats he does on his website or the ones
he used to do on ESPN, he answers a lot of
questions about a lot of different things. And he’s gracious enough to
answer pretty much anything. KEITH LAW: Anything’s
fair game, yes. MATT TEPER: So we’ll
walk around with the mic. AUDIENCE: Thanks. First a comment. Yeah, Andy is still surprised
that the Phillies hired him from Google because Google
has no World Series ever. Google has never
won a World Series. KEITH LAW: No, no. AUDIENCE: It’s amazing. KEITH LAW: Neither
has Houston, though. So you’re equal, right? AUDIENCE: Right. Right. And by the way, you’re
absolutely right. Like, a lot of his
first hires have been software engineers
to just process the data, as well as QAs. So in the spirit
of the Statcast, we were just talking
about, my question, which is somewhat like interview
questions we ask here is, suppose you could have
any data collected to answer any question. So after Statcast,
what data do you want to start seeing collected? Is it off the field health data? Suppose we mine Statcast
in the next five, 10 years, and learn defense, and
learn all this stuff you just talked about. What data do you
want to collect next? KEITH LAW: There’s two answers. And we’re starting to do the
TrackMan portion of Statcast data. We’re starting to get some more
of that on amateur players. Certainly, so in 10 days from
now, I’ll be at Wrigley Field for the Under Armour
All-American Class, which is kind of an all-star game
of high school rising seniors for next year’s draft. The Cubs just turned
the TrackMan system on, and they can collect
data from that game on all of those players. And evaluating
high school players has always been
entirely subjective. There has just been no data
because high school stats great. You hit .600. That’s really not
useful to me at all. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: I hit
.600 in high school. KEITH LAW: Or yes, he struck
out two guys an inning. He throws 95. And no one else in the
county throws more than 70. So again, not very useful. But having TrackMan
data at least help us, even if it’s just putting those
amateur players into buckets to help us give another
objective component, or to help us compare
high school players to college players,
which was a problem when I was with the Blue Jays. I think it’s still a
problem figuring out how to value those guys. So we’re heading in that
direction, certainly. The cost of the system
is a little prohibitive. But they’re putting
TrackMan systems in a lot of minor
league parks to which, if you’re running a
minor league park, hey, let’s do a local
high school event. Just flick the
system, and then you can turn around and sell
the data to the teams too. The other thing,
and I think it’s coming but it might be a
few years down the road, is more biometric data. And there are people
trying to invent, like, the Motus sleeve is one. I don’t know if it actually
does what it’s claiming to do, but I love the idea. It’s a sleeve that pitchers
would wear and then actually pitch– whether it’s in games or merely
just doing side sessions– that would track
things like stress on certain parts of the joint. Like the valgus force on the
elbow, which is possibly, probably, one of the
potential causes of UCL tears. Even more so on the shoulder,
which, once the shoulder goes, it’s a lot harder to
fix than a torn elbow ligament, which Tommy John,
80%, 85% success rate. Shoulder surgery success
rate’s a lot lower. If we could identify things in
the shoulder, signs of fatigue. You know, what I
talked about was second order, this idea
that spin rate is dropping. What if we could see changes
in the shoulder sooner, or knees, lower back? I mean, baseball
players get hurt a lot for a non-contact sport. AUDIENCE: A lot of these
are cascades, right? KEITH LAW: Yes. AUDIENCE: It starts in a leg,
and it turns into a shoulder. KEITH LAW: This
is always my fear, and I feel pretty
confident I’ve seen it happen with pitchers
over the years, too, that something goes wrong. A little ankle injury. Well I want to pitch through it. I’m gonna change the
delivery slightly. Next thing you know,
it’s the elbow. It’s the shoulder. Anything we can do to just
spot it before it happens. Players are always going to
get hurt, especially pitchers. But if we can stop it before it
gets too far, like I was just saying earlier, that’s a
huge financial savings. And I think it makes
it a better product. We want the better
players on the field. And I hate everything– sort
of a running gag on Twitter– every time a pitcher blows out,
it’s also an acknowledgement that this is just
part of the sport. If we could reduce that
sooner using data– it’s not like we found
another way to do it. Data is kind of like our last
best hope to try to do that. AUDIENCE: I have two questions. The first one is, how
much [? stat ?] activity do you still see in
the front office based on, say, the race, or the
height, or the outfit, or the background
for the players, despite having the data
[INAUDIBLE] in the past decade? That’s the first question. KEITH LAW: Go ahead. AUDIENCE: And the
second question is, how much data
do voters nowadays use to vote for MVPs
or Hall of Famers? Do they still use their
subjective observations? KEITH LAW: So to the first
question, it’s changed. I’m sure there’s still
racism within baseball, as there is everywhere in
the industry, everywhere in society. I think it’s gotten
a lot better. And I think that the
change in the composition of the front
offices where you’ve got more of a mix of people
from different backgrounds too means that that kind
of thinking, if it pops up, it’s just going to kind
of be dismissed or swatted away a little sooner. You mentioned height. That, to me, is one that is
probably still overconsidered, especially for hitters. Like, we’ve seen Andrew
Benintendi, Alex Bregman, they’re all listed
at, like, 6 foot. If they’re 6 foot, I’m 5′ 11″. I mean, I’ve met
Alex Bregman twice. And I can look him in the eye. It’s like, dude, you’re 5′ 8″. Marcus Stroman is
probably 5′ 8″. He might be 5′ 9″. But these guys are pretty good. But there’s still a fairly
strong bias against players who are undersized like that. To me, we’re still working
to create some separation because I do think
there are aspects where height, especially for a
pitcher, might really matter. You know, if you are a
pitcher, especially if you’re throwing a four seamer, and
you’re not particularly tall, and that fastball is
coming in fairly flat, you’re going to give up
a lot of air contact. You may just be giving
up harder contact period. That’s real. That’s a real effect that we
might be able to measure better going forward, too. There’s also this
longstanding mentality that short pitchers
get hurt more often. I’ve never seen any
evidence to back that up, and it still kills
me when I hear that. We see tall pitchers
get hurt all the time. And then, there’s a corollary
that really tall pitchers also get hurt more often because
they can’t coordinate. They can’t all be 6′ 2″. I’m sorry. Like, we’re not putting
them out of a factory here. You’re gonna have to
figure out what the– first of all,
you’re going to have to prove either of those
assertions, which I don’t think are true. And second is figure out what’s
your comfort level if you really do think a
shorter or taller pitcher is going to get hurt. To your second question,
using more data, better data has shown up
more in annual award voting because that electorate
changes constantly. You have to be an
active writer to be able to vote on those awards. The Hall of Fame, though,
they did change it. They got rid of some
of the dinosaurs recently with a rule change. But still, there are people
who have not covered baseball for eight or nine years who
still have Hall of Fame votes. You get a vote. It used to be lifetime. Once you spent 10
consecutive years as an active badge holder, which
I am a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association. And then, once you got the vote,
it was yours till you died. Now you get it, and you hold
it as long as you’re active, plus 10 years when you
stop covering baseball, 10 years beyond. So we’ve still got a lot of
guys who have just missed the analytics revolution. Don’t care. I mentioned some names before. Guys who just don’t
agree with it. They still have votes. Whereas they may not be voting
on annual awards anymore. And so it’s going
to take more time. Sort of the Max Planck thing
on science, when science really changes. It’s not that one side
convinces the other, it’s that the other side dies. And that’s when the new
idea manages to win. I mean, that’s kind of what’s
happening in the Hall of Fame voting too is the older
anti-analytics people are just gradually going to
stop voting because they passed away, or they just
get old enough and they don’t vote
anymore, or they age out. And 10 years from now, I think
it’s going to be much more– I don’t want to say data driven. It’s going to be better. We’re going to get
better results. We’re going to get more
fact-based voting, which is all I ask for. We don’t all have to
agree on the players, but I would like it to be
more grounded in reality, not on whether Jim Rice
was really feared. AUDIENCE: I have a
question about how some of these advanced
metrics and the availability of information might
affect the umpiring. So we talk a lot
about pitch framing. And you see catchers that are
really good at it or bad at it. Do you think that,
eventually, that this could lead to either front
offices or even people in the media pushing for a
different type of umpire? I mean, I read in Brian Kenny’s
book that, back in the day, the umpires had to
be big and strong and potentially break up
actual physical altercations. And that clearly
has still bled over to the type of umpires
that are around today. You get a lot of them that
you talk about your ump shows on Twitter. And you see people that
love to insert themselves in the middle of the game. Do you see the profile of
an umpire changing over time as a result of this
available information? KEITH LAW: I haven’t. I don’t think so. My one hesitation is
Major League Baseball does have more
umpire accountability behind the scenes than we see. Umpires are evaluated
on things like their ball-strike accuracy. They don’t release any
of that to the public. I wish they were a little
more transparent about it, certainly. And I don’t really understand
the idea why they’re not. I think– and I’ve expressed
this to some people at Major League Baseball too– these guys are more accurate
than the average fan, I think, gives them credit for being. Rob Manfred even
said yesterday he thought if we went to
automated ball-strike calling, we’d have a larger margin
of error, I think he said, with the technology
than we do with people. That may be true. If you actually invest
in the technology, it’s probably going
to shrink over time. I’ve also argued too, I think
you’ll get more consistency. I think batters and
pitchers would say, we’re fine if we don’t actually
improve the accuracy right now. We want predictability. We want consistency. I want to know
that that ball that is 2 inches from the
edge of the plate is always going to
be called a strike. But I think Major League
Baseball would do pretty well to release more of
that information and show us that, hey,
some of these umpires are actually more
accurate than you think. I don’t get the sense
that they’ve necessarily changed the type of people
they’re looking for. And I know people at
Major League Baseball that have said they do still
value the big personality umpire who can– I mean, Joe West, and I
pick on him all the time. But if there’s a real
scrum on the field, he’s a good person to
have out there for it. If there’s actual
conflict, that’s where I think he really excels. And that is something you want. We don’t want to be hockey. We don’t want fights to be
a huge part of the sport. Well, then, you probably do want
some umpires who can do that. I would argue that now
you’ve split the job, though. Somebody who’s good at
that isn’t necessarily going to be good at
ball-strike accuracy. Maybe that means Joe West should
always be a first base umpire and should never be
behind the plate. I’d be OK with that. I don’t know if
the umpires would. But maybe that means
splitting the job. We want different
kinds of umpires so that we’ve got different
skill sets represented in the four spots, four people,
or in the post-season, the six people on the field. AUDIENCE: Have you ever
watched a national broadcast on ESPN or Fox? They’re so bad. Why can’t they get this right? KEITH LAW: I use the
mute button a lot. And that’s not specific to ESPN,
or to Fox, or to anyone else. One problem I have also
is I know these players. I know a lot about the players. Often, you’re not telling me
anything I don’t already know. Or you’re telling me
something I know isn’t true. That drives me up the wall. And I don’t want to start
talking back to the iPad because now I’ve got a
wife and a daughter who will both point out to me that
that’s not really appropriate. I will say it’s frickin
hard to do those things. This came up at one
of the recent signings I did around the book too. When you’re trying to do color
commentary– so I did a game– they had me do a whole game
in spring training this year, which is good. Much better than dropping in
for two, three innings where you barely have time to say hi. I got to give a lot of
content, but you can’t educate. You get no opportunity. If I wanted to talk
weighted on-base average in the middle of a game, you
have 10, 15 seconds, maybe, to get something in. You can’t explain concepts. You have to talk details. You have to talk about
what just happened, and give something
very pithy, which sometimes the pithy
explanation is not necessarily the right explanation. And if you start
rambling, there’s a voice in your ear saying wrap. We got to go to commercial,
the next hitter’s up, whatever. Or I’m very conscious of it. I see, all right, there’s
a ball in play now. I have to stop talking. That’s really hard. Whereas in a studio show,
you have a little more room to breathe. And then you can choreograph
everything from the start too and say, the
B block tonight, we’re going to talk
about prospects. We’re going to talk
about sabermetrics. We’re going to
introduce one concept and spend a couple
of minutes on it. It’s hard to figure
out how to do that in a game when you know
your main job is to just talk about what’s
happening on the field and give people the basic
information that they need to understand what’s in front
of them, which still doesn’t excuse hey, he’s
a clutch hitter. Hey, it’s a big RBI spot. He smells that RBI
on second base. It’s like, you could probably
skip that and we’d all be OK. AUDIENCE: Keith, you have a
lot of eclectic interests. And you mentioned that you
love learning about, basically, everything getting more data. So other than baseball,
what’s something in either your personal
life or out in society where you would just love more data? KEITH LAW: Oh, that’s
a really good question. Because when I
think of learning, I decide when I started
learning to cook 20 years ago, it wasn’t really data. But I was looking
for people who took a more scientific approach. So it was Alton Brown, now
Kenji Lopez-Alt where not just their recipes but their
entire style of talking about something
is driven by data. Driven by, in their
cases, experimentation or understanding the
science behind cooking so that it works every time. You get it right the first time. That’s the kind of thing I
like, regardless of what it is. When I’m– when it’s– even when I write
about books or movies, I’m nobody’s critic
or expert on this. I just read a lot. And so I write a lot. But you’ll notice a
lot of my reviews, they sort of follow
certain patterns. There’s certain things that
I’m specifically looking for. I kind of think more
methodically about anything that I’m doing when I’m
talking about board games, or talking about art and
anything in the arts, or I’m talking about cooking. I’m always trying to break down
what are the criteria here. Maybe what are the criteria– hey, I liked playing that game. Well, what are the
specific criteria that made me like that game,
to get behind my own thinking? So that’s probably
not an exact answer to your question because I’m not
thinking of an interest of mine where I could necessarily
say I want more data on that. But it’s the whole sort of
more rational, analytical way of breaking down my
thinking on everything. Because then I can also
say, well, all right, now I know what I like,
or now I know what worked. Hey, I can go make
my own recipe. Hey, I can go figure out
what board game to play next, what book to read next. Well, I know these are
three or four things that I’ve specifically
liked in the past and then target what I’m
looking for next to meet those criteria that I’ve
identified for myself. MATT TEPER: On combining
the love of cooking and the love of baseball,
I put out a call to some folks, baseball
fans at Google. And one of the
questions that came back was, with your love
of both things, what stadium has the best food? KEITH LAW: Citi
Field has great food. They’re mostly Danny
Meyer restaurants. So it’s like a Shake
Shack, Blue Smoke. I’m trying to think of
where else I’ve been. I’ve not been to the new Atlanta
stadium, but Hugh Acheson– who I think did one
of these talks– has a sausage stand there, which
will be the place I go eat. Target Field. Actually, Target Field,
that’s the first one I’ve been to where they seem to get a
diverse selection of local food vendors because– the problem with
stadium food and why I don’t eat a lot
of stadium food is it’s either the Aramark
type garbage stadium food, or it’s national chains. Like, I don’t need Panda
Express at a stadium. If I wanted to eat bad,
imitation Chinese food, I can get that on
any corner, right? Like, I’ll pay more. I’m at a stadium. I’m expecting I’m
going to pay more. Give me a better product. MATT TEPER: Yeah. KEITH LAW: And when
the Futures Game was at Target Field a
couple of years ago, I was floored by how many
different local restaurants. Andrew Zimmern’s got a–
the “Bizarre Foods” guy– he’s got at least one
food stand in there. The Butcher and Boar, which is
a high-end restaurant there, has a food stand where
it’s just two items, but it’s this incredibly
high-quality food to be getting at a stadium. And especially now with the
high price point of Major League tickets, it just makes
sense that if you’re going to ask them to
pay $14 for a beer, you might as well
actually provide them with better food at
that same price point. MATT TEPER: Yeah. One last question from me. KEITH LAW: Yeah. MATT TEPER: I have
two little girls. We’ve discussed that. You have a little girl. Will a woman ever play
Major League Baseball? KEITH LAW: Ever? Yeah, probably. It’ll be a long time. It would be a long time. I mean, there are
cultural factors. They’re just discouraged
from playing baseball. Girls play softball, right? So even if someone shows
the ability, most of them are going to get steered
off into the wrong sport. And you asked earlier
about biases around size. I mean, that’s
always going to hurt. It’s going to have to be a
woman who’s exceptionally tall, exceptionally strong. She’s going to have to be more. The standards that we
would hold male players to, the woman is going to have to
exceed all of those standards by a fairly large margin
before she’s taken seriously enough by the industry. And that’s not even
just gender bias. It’s just the way baseball’s
always treated its outliers. It was the reluctance to let– not to let but to pay. Like, when Hideo Nomo came over,
it’s like, that’ll never work. Japanese got a weird delivery. That’s never gonna– I mean,
Japanese pitchers have been OK, right? We’ve had a few
pretty good ones. But there was a huge bias
because that was other. That’s just not how we do
things because we’ve always had a hard time
fitting players who don’t fit our archetypes
into traditional evaluation. Data is blind. So we don’t know what
the guy looks like. We don’t know what
the delivery is like. We don’t know how
hard he’s throwing. We just know he’s
missing a lot of bats. MATT TEPER: Yeah. KEITH LAW: Yeah, thank you guys. [APPLAUSE]

8 thoughts on “Keith Law: “Smart Baseball” | Talks at Google

  1. What up! Good talk!! For real. Warning, pitch coming: I'd love to come talk about education. Im not famous, but I speak on tech, innovation, Google. Lez go!!

  2. Keith seems energized speaking to smart Googlers and being able to speak at a more intellectual level. I enjoy this positive energy. Reading Keith Law helped me find a job inside baseball.

  3. I can agree partly on the myth that clutch hitters actually exist. I think it brings some perspective if you look at it in hindsight, but I'd say it's useless for predicting future productivity. Like looking at David Ortiz in the 2004 ALCS. Looking at it in hindsight, Papi definitely stepped up in crunch time and singlehandedly saved his team from elimination. Extra props to him for providing results when his team really needed some. It kind of just makes the achievement more venerable. However, I think it would be a somewhat flawed strategy plan if say, from that point on in future playoff situations, if it would have like discouraged Dale Sveum from waving home a runner on a two out hit and testing an outfielder's arm because Ortiz is up next and therefore would supposedly be the better chance of driving that run in, because Ortiz has proven himself in past situations, then that I think represents the idea of clutch hitting being a myth.

  4. Matt Teper, you did a marvelous job interviewing keith law…thanks for that, and congratulations on the NLCS
    brewers performance (as of now the series stands 3-3 with the 7th game upcoming tonight).

  5. I don't mind other countries having baseball teams. Unfortunately today my son's don't go to baseball games anymore. Lots of of players are from South America. Definitely not as good as Brooks Robinson or others. I remember watching the 70s Baltimore Orioles. All Americans. Love it. Ha you Spanish punks go back to Mexico. Americans are tired of felling sorry for your non talent. You guys have more fuckups than anyone. Go back to making drugs, your definitely good at that. Nancy Pelosi loves your drugs but Americans don't.

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