Kill #killthewin: The Fight Over Stats In Baseball Has Gotten Stupid

Television is the worst. Look at what's happened to the MLB Network's house numbers guy, Brian Kenny, who's spent the season preaching to the choir by beating horses to death right in front of them. It's fucking awful.

Earlier this year, Kenny engaged in a pro wrestling-style feud over the merits of sabermetrics with doddering Chicago White Sox announcer/cool old guy Hawk Harrelson. "You missed the revolution," Kenny sneered. That fish floating in a barrel full of bullets, he moved on to an attempt to convince people to not enjoy no-hitters for some inane reason. Now he's out to speak truth to power, or at least to Cy Young Award voters.

Kenny is very worked up about the possibility that someone might vote for Detroit's Max Scherzer more because he's 19-1 than because he and Seattle's Felix Hernandez have been the best pitchers in the league. And so he's revived a campaign, started earlier this year, to #killthewin. It entails a lot of tweets that put words like wins and losses in scare quotes and calls for his fans—he calls them "the Intellegentsia," the way Jim Rome calls his listeners "clones"—to help him murder the beloved, if daft, statistic.

All of this brought on a response from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, which, fuck. He sort of insisted that wins mean something for reasons having mainly to do with his thinking that he's the kind of guy who should be saying that wins mean something, dammit, but he also conceded the exceedingly obvious point that wins are bizarre and arbitrary. This would have been a good time for Kenny to just move on, perhaps noting that even people writing smarmy responses to him won't actually say he's wrong, but on he goes anyway, hammering at a point that no one is really arguing. At this stage there are more bullet casings in the barrel than there are live fish.

It's possible that Kenny just doesn't realize that, 10 years after Moneyball was published and three years after Felix Hernandez won a Cy Young Award with a 13-12 record, the fight is over—that there is absolutely no one in need of a lecture about how a 19th-century accounting technique isn't necessarily the best tool with which to judge pitchers. It's more likely, though, that he's just taking advantage of, er, a market inefficiency: There are lots of pundits who will use big national platforms to troll statheads, and very few who will use numbers to troll on their behalf. Kenny, in this reading, is just filling a niche, serving the needs of people who both understand that pitching wins aren't at all important and really want to see an angry man ranting about it on national television, as a sort of wish fulfillment.

Which, fair enough. The logic of capitalism dictates that there should be a seemingly disturbed man on the television who assures his fans that their understanding of basic baseball concepts marks them out as a secret elect who alone grasp the scientific principles of history for the same reason that there is, I assume, a brooding, edgy member of One Direction. It's still terrible, though, and it's still a problem.

The purpose of the tools and ideas that Kenny is so exercised over, after all, isn't to draw narrow, invidious distinctions among baseball fans, or to provide opportunities for narcissistic demonstrations that one has been touched by the Enlightenment and that one's enemies, like former players and troll columnists, haven't. They're just meant to help people enjoy baseball more, and to raise the quality of play. And if a few people can't understand that, if some don't want to, and if some just don't fucking care, that's OK, because for the vast majority of fans and pretty much everyone in the game, the important parts of the debate are settled. All that's left is some dwindling, nearly invisible patch of territory over which to gin up the kind of fake conflicts that make political television just about the worst thing in the world.

There's money in that kind of conflict, though, and in dividing the world up into us and them, and so it's a cinch bet that the endless tedious debates—over Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame candidacy, over what the latest applications of the newest iterations of derivative statistics mean for Mike Trout's MVP case, over what value means—will continue, unto fucking infinity, with the MLB Network's numbers guy doing his part to keep them going. What any of this has to do with baseball is beyond me, but someone somewhere must like it; even Kenny has to settle the Intellegentsia down from time to time.

Image via Getty