Harrelson’s ripping sabermetrics and then their subsequent debate on MLB Network was a PR jackpot. It generated a ton of publicity, getting the word out about Kenny’s new show, MLB Now (4 p.m. ET).
Also, most people agreed with Kenny. If anything, Kenny has evolved as the new face of sabermetrics.
In a Q/A, Kenny, 49, talks about leaving ESPN for MLB Network, his morning show on NBC Sports Network and how he continues to be baffled about people who don’t share his point of view on sabermetrics, and that includes his MLB Now co-host Harold Reynolds.
You left ESPN in Sept., 2011. How has the move to MLB Network worked out for you?
Life is great. For me, if all I do baseball all day, I’m a happy man. Doing a radio show was something I also missed.
It was very difficult to leave ESPN. It wasn’t an easy choice. It had to be near perfect for me to go, and it really was. The chance to do baseball really appealed to me. It was great the way they really came after me. I felt wanted and appreciated.
I had a sense that they really got me. I was given a show (Clubhouse Confidential) that I was passionate about. Being tossed the keys to a sports car is a good thing. You don’t take these opportunities for granted.
What do you like so much about sabermetrics?
I find baseball fascinating. Sabermetrics helps put things into context. It allows you to try to figure out who is valuable and who is not. What to do in certain situations. We’re looking at baseball with an intellectual rigor.
My research staff and I find ourselves learning a lot about the game. For instance, are $100 million contracts a good idea? You think you know the answer, but you wind up finding things that are fascinating.
So are $100 million contracts a good idea?
We found out the red flags. Wrong side of 30. Wrong side of the defensive spectrum. Misreading the metrics of pitcher who was a 20-game winner. Branding over baseball. Are you doing it for PR reasons?
We found that half of the $100 million contracts you wouldn’t do again. It’s interesting when you figure it out and actually do the math.
What is a stat that stands out since you started to do the show?
Oh, there are so many.
Our first year we looked at the blockbuster contracts. Albert Pujols had been terrific; best first-baseman since Lou Gehrig. But his offensive metrics were telling us he was in a decline. You always can choose to ignore that and say this guy is different. Most of the worst contracts occur when you say this guy is different. You ignore the evidence at your own peril.
People are saying it now about Pujols, but we were saying it before he signed. This thing had a lot of red flags.
You bang heads every day with Harold Reynolds. What’s your relationship like with him?
Harold and I like to carve each other up. He was one of the reasons why I came to MLB Network. He was telling me how great it was here. We always boggle each other’s mind. We just see the game differently.
How did you view Harrelson’s feelings on sabermetrics?
I like Hawk. I enjoy watching him call a game. You know he is a homer and that he is pulling for the White Sox. It’s high comedy at times.
I just don’t agree with what he said. I’m puzzled why he would say those things and why so many others in his baseball say those things. Hawk said sabermetrics is “overrated.” There’s nothing to overrate. It’s just wanting to know more and try to put things in their proper context.
You do seem puzzled and irritated when people like Reynolds or Harrelson question the value of sabermetrics. Why?
I am puzzled. I grew up thinking batting average was the batting champ and the best pitcher was the wins leader. I’ve since learned better. I understand that’s not the case. They have a correlation to runs or preventing runs, but they don’t have the best correlation. You have to look for more context.
I’m always puzzled when people say they love baseball and statistics and yet they haven’t evolved to this position. It’s a culture divide that soon will not exist.
You recently launched a new morning radio show on NBC Sports Network. How is it working out?
It’s a little baseball-centric, but we attempt to bring the same intellectual rigor to all sports. I have a research staff. I want smart people around me.
I’ve been around now for more than 25 years. I have some perspective now. I couldn’t have done a decent show in my 20s. I didn’t have the perspective back then.