In this groundbreaking book, Keith Law, baseball writer for The Athletic and author of the acclaimed Smart Baseball, offers an era-spanning dissection of some of the best and worst decisions in modern baseball, explaining what motivated them, what can be learned from them, and how their legacy has shaped the game.
For years, Daniel Kahneman’s iconic work of behavioral science Thinking Fast and Slow has been required reading in front offices across Major League Baseball. In this smart, incisive, and eye-opening book, Keith Law applies Kahneman’s ideas about decision making to the game itself.
Baseball is a sport of decisions. Some are so small and routine they become the building blocks of the game itself—what pitch to throw or when to swing away. Others are so huge they dictate the future of franchises—when to make a strategic trade for a chance to win now, or when to offer a millions and a multi-year contract for a twenty-eight-year-old star. These decisions have long shaped the behavior of players, managers, and entire franchises. But as those choices have become more complex and data-driven, knowing what’s behind them has become key to understanding the sport. This fascinating, revelatory work explores as never before the essential question: What were they thinking?
Combining behavioral science and interviews with executives, managers, and players, Keith Law analyzes baseball’s biggest decision making successes and failures, looking at how gambles and calculated risks of all sizes and scales have shaped the sport, and how the game’s ongoing data revolution is rewriting decades of accepted decision making. In the process, he explores questions that have long been debated, from whether throwing harder really increases a player’s risk of serious injury to whether teams actually “overvalue” trade prospects.
Bringing his analytical and combative style to some of baseball’s longest running debates, Law deepens our knowledge of the sport in this entertaining work that is both fun and deeply informative.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
As he digs into the science behind baseball, Keith Law promises that you’ll never see the sport the same way again—and he’s right. Law considers Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow—a book about cognitive psychology and behavioral economics—to be required reading in the baseball business. And in his own book, he uses lessons from these subjects as a starting point for understanding some of the best and worst decisions in baseball history. But don’t be scared off by the science talk; Law is a funny, captivating writer who loves controversy (as well as delightfully old-timey words like “codswallop”). Through analysis, interviews, and anecdotes, he shows how biases affect everything on the field, from where to put your best hitter in the batting order to deciding who deserves MVP status (get ready for a heated Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams argument). You don’t need to be a baseball nut or a social scientist to appreciate this fascinating take on the Great American Pastime.
Law (Smart Baseball), a senior baseball writer at The Athletic and former special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, takes a thought-provoking look at human behavior through the lens of major league baseball. Building upon the work of psychologist Daniel Kahneman and others, Law uses the sport to explain "some key ideas about how we think and make decisions" in a way that will appeal to sports fans as well as business-minded readers. For example, research on how umpires call ambiguous pitches, which could arguably be either a strike or a ball (they are much more likely to follow a ball with a strike, and vice-versa) makes clear the concept of anchoring bias, in which the mind's estimate of probability is affected by previous information. Another factor in faulty decision making is what he calls availability bias (a "cognitive illusion where you misjudge the frequency of some event or characteristic because of how much you can remember seeing it") a plausible explanation for the selection of Joe DiMaggio, with his 56-game hitting streak, as MVP in 1941, despite Ted Williams's historic statistical season. Law's take is as entertaining as it is informative. This intelligent and accessible work is a grand slam.