Book Review: Ahead of the Curve

Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution by Brian Kenny explores new theories in baseball and what the future may hold for the game. Throughout the book, he uses analytics to support his strategies and how they can be used by teams to benefit from. He challenges readers to break from “the herd” as stated in the book and to be more open-minded when reading about his new tactics. The game of baseball is filled with tradition which has only continued to build over the history of the game. As tradition grows, people have become accustomed to the game that they know. People who watch baseball don’t tend to question what they are observing. It may be rare for a fan to ask, “Why did that pitcher get the win when he didn’t pitch well?” It would be even rarer for a fan to ask, “Why is the manager saving his best relief pitcher for the ninth inning instead of putting him in now when the game is on the line?” It is those very questions among others that Brian Kenny answers in his book and may change the way you think about baseball.

I found this book to be very influential as it was one of the very first books that I had read about sabermetrics. For many, their first exposure to this different level of baseball thinking was Bill James. However, for me, it was Brian Kenny and his book Ahead of the Curve. The way I now think about the game has strongly been influenced by this book.

Once Brian Kenny finishes his attempt to persuade the reader to be open-minded about his potentially far-fetched ideas, he jumps right in. His ability to be straight forward and disprove old assumptions is what makes the book so great.

One hypothesis that Kenny writes about is how managers are hired based on bias and that the best candidates are not always hired. During the hiring process factors like their past playing career, height, and appearance all play a role in bias either for or against a specific candidate. Kenny makes his arguments effective because he is able to back up his opinions with data. Not only is that data effective but he communicates it in such a way that makes it easy for the reader to understand. Today, with the increased use of analytics in the game of baseball it’s becoming more complex and difficult to understand. However, in this book, the data is communicated effectively and in a way that is easy to understand.

Out of all of the theories that Brian Kenny discussed, the one that stuck out to me the most was his argument for bullpenning. I think that this is a competitive advantage that can definitely be implemented into major league baseball someday. Bullpenning is a pitcher usage strategy when teams eliminate the usage of a starter and only use modified relief pitchers. Some pitchers may still pitch something like four innings, but no pitcher is left in the game for the same amount as a usual starter. This strategy had already begun to be seen in Major League Baseball as a handful of teams experimented with the opener last season.

Bullpenning is a tactic that Brian Kenny supports and he makes a convincing argument for why. It won’t work for every team but it can work for many. For a team with an unreliable starter anywhere in their rotation, they can replace that spot with a bullpenning tactic. Now, if you do have a reliable starting pitcher, then it may make sense to stick with him. The usage of bullpenning will vary from team to team but almost all can benefit from it in some way.

The analytics, as Kenny expresses, behind bullpenning are in favor of it. With the constant fresh arm pitcher being in the game, the hitters are facing pitchers with a higher velocity and a higher spin rate. Batters also aren’t able to adjust to the pitcher in the game since they will only get the chance to face them once, maybe twice. The sabermetrics behind bullpenning support the theory and I encourage you to read further about it in Brian Kenny’s book.

I found this book to change my perspective on baseball and how I think about the game. I strongly encourage anyone to read this book who is even just a casual baseball fan. Kenny is able to describe these new strategies in an efficient and understandable way that is still at a high thinking level.
Ahead of the Curve is a revolutionary book that can change so many minds in the way that they think about baseball.

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