Religious Orders

Why I Dislike Brian Kenny

Posted: Friday January 24 2014 @ 4:38pm

Religious Order: Sports

I love watching the MLB Network. It's the only TV channel I watch with any regularity. I also like most of the on-air personalities. I love Mitch Williams. Mitch knows about what he's talking, but he's not a dick about it. In fact, he hides it behind an aww-shucks country boy demeanor.

The antithesis of Mitch is Brian Kenny, a man who does not really know his own subject matter, yet is insufferably smug. (Watching Kenny is a little like watching Dubya talk about foreign policy, or about anything, for that matter.)

Now, I'm no expert on Kenny. He annoys me so that I try hard to limit my exposure to him. Given that, here's a sampling of why I dislike him and think he's basically a smug moron.

1) Home Run Trots

I first noticed that Kenny isn't all that smart in the context of home run trots. Some player had trotted around the bases rather slowly and had received some criticism. Kenny's response was that David Ortiz had the slowest time in the majors in terms of circling the bases after a home run. So, if that time is okay for Big Papi, then any time below that is also okay.

I know. WTF? Apparently the fact that Ortiz is a huge slow guy doesn't factor into this at all for Kenny. You can be the fastest guy in baseball, but as long as you circle the bases post-home-run faster than the slowest guy, you're not showing any disrespect?

At first, I thought I had misheard. Surely Kenny meant some sort of ratio of base circling time to, I dunno, time to first base under duress? (I made up the terms. It's the concept that's important.) Something like that would be useful. If you want to gauge disrespect, the ratio of how fast a guy trots to how fast he can actually run would seem a good measure. Yet, later that week, on a different show, he made the same claim!

At that point, it became obvious that he wasn't someone I wanted to spend much time watching. Yet, sometimes we would catch the end of his show while waiting for the next one. Even given that limited exposure, I'd still see things like...

2) Misplaced Zero Sums

Problem two came up in the context of whether it's harder to pitch and hit in the 9th inning compared to earlier in the game. Players say yes, to both. Kenny smugly proclaims that, logically, it can't be both.

Huh? Did he think effort was some kind of zero sum game? What if I poke out an eye from both the pitcher and batter? I guarantee you it'll be harder for both of them.

It's this sort of thing that really bothers me. He's so smug while saying things that show he hasn't really thought through the implications of his statements.

3) The Shredder

So, the MLB Network has some statistical model called The Shredder that they use to rank players. That's fine. Maybe it's a good model. Maybe it's a shitty model. That's not the point. The point is that Kenny totes it as being unbiased. Again, WTF? Any statistical model is going to be a conglomeration of human decisions on how to weight different factors. This is all open to bias. The benefit is that the model will be consistently biased. The idea is that you can later compare the results of your model against real world results and tweak the model to become better, slowly eliminating bias. (Whether they do this with The Shredder is an open question.)

But you'll never eliminate bias.

This is part of a broader misunderstanding on Kenny's part about statistics. He's often shown in sound bite form telling us that the newer statistical methods give the true story. They don't. They give a truer story. (Ten years from now, we'll have even better methods that will give an even more truer story.) The only true story is reality. You see this in George E. P. Box's observation that Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

Now, I know, I'm being a little harsh. I'm wrong about stuff all the damn time. Unlike Kenny, I try hard to not be so smugly self-satisfied while doing it.

Except here, in this post, obviously.


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