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Over the Baggy

Twins' broadcaster Dick Bremer discusses advanced stats in the booth

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Fox Sport North's Dick Bremer and Bert BlylevenWith the exception of one seasons in the early 1980s, Dick Bremer’s rich, jovial voice has been the definite sound of summer for Minnesota Twins fans in the Upper Midwest since 1983. His professionalism, knowledge and ability to entertain a wide audience for many years are the reason the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame recently selected him for induction.

This honor, without question, was well deserved.

It is interesting to think how people watch and understand the game of baseball has changed radically from his first days on the job. Back then the bulk of statistical analysis was being done covertly using computers the size and weight of a Kenmore dishwasher (and presumably in mom’s basement). In the same year Bremer began his Twins broadcasts, Bill James released the 1983 Baseball Abstract. In it he summarized the understanding of the game by writing that the walk was greatly undervalued as an offensive weapon and that it was viewed as a “random result of being at bat when a pitcher is stricken with control trouble” rather than a skill.

In that same book, James wondered why baseball fans at that time focused too much on the results. Like wins and losses for pitchers, the RBI instead of the men who got on base to create the opportunity, and so on. “If the food is good,” wrote James, “you tip the waitress. Sabermetricians are an odd lot. We always want to know what the recipe was.”

That’s the best definition I have ever heard for statistical analysis. Statistical analysis of baseball is wanting to know the recipe.

Since then the publication of Moneyball and the rise of websites like Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs have given a broader appeal and understanding to baseball fans regarding the concepts that influence the game, like the importance of walks and beyond. The knowledge of what goes in the recipe has grown tenfold as well as the access to those ingredients too.

On the mainstream side, thirty years have passed and baseball’s broadcasters are still wrestling with how – of even if – they should communicate these findings to their audience. While there are some markets who have included some of the principles in their broadcasts, Minnesota has not been one of them. The Twins’ radio broadcaster Cory Provus suggested that his medium is not designed to be able to properly inform without the visuals to drive it home. How about television? Dick Bremer shares his thoughts:

How do you see advanced stats as it relates to broadcast today?

“Stats have mushroomed into a completely different stratosphere. They call it “broadcasting” because you have to include as many people as you can. I think the new math in baseball tends to exclude a lot of people because a lot of people don’t comprehend it…yet. As we move forward, it will become more and more a part of the lexicon of baseball and it will be incorporated more into the broadcast.”

Should broadcasters discuss some of the statistical analysis and advanced metrics most teams use in some capacity for roster-building?

“I think it is getting to that point, I don’t know if it is quite there yet because I don’t know if our average viewer knows what WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is. When it gets to that point, then I think that our broadcast and other broadcasts will find it more mainstream subject matter to talk about. I just don’t think it is there yet. If we came on with Batting Average On Balls In Play, for instance, I think our audience – a significant portion of it – still would be, well, what’s that mean as opposed to batting average? Batting average is easy to explain though it is not the ideal stat to determine a hitter’s value in a lineup, but that’s something that everyone can comprehend. We still are in the business of trying to include people and not exclude them."

How have the numbers, stats and analysis changed in over your career in the broadcast booth?

“When I started this each team produced one sheet, front and back, for their press box. Now it’s five and you get the stat pack which is twenty-some pages and that doesn’t even begin to tell you the numbers you are speaking of, you know, what a player’s Wins Above Replacement is. That doesn’t even touch that and that is still so much more numerical information then we can give in a broadcast.”

Television is a medium that gives the opportunity to put visuals of stats on the screen.

“When we started giving more and more on the screen, the internal debate among play-by-play guys was now do we still need to give the count? Or do we mention that there are two outs? Or can people see the two dots on the screen? I think the consensus among most play-by-play guys is that we still need to do it because people are doing other things and they’re not locked in on the screen studying everything like some people are but most people are not so you still have to do the basics. Now, if information is given on the screen, the question is maybe the announcer should give other information then what we have to watch for is it becoming a mass of numbers.

Even before sabermetricians became more common in baseball that was our great concern: What are we doing on television? We can do some things on TV that they cannot do radio. But are we giving people too many numbers? If you put up a screen full of numbers then you need to leave it on the screen so people can go ‘Ok, alright, ok I get it, this is what they are trying to say’ well then you are not watching the game.”


Len Kasper and the Chicago Cubs WGN broadcasts do a regular Stats Sunday feature to discuss the concepts to the fans. Could you see FSN doing something similar?

“Absolutely, to educate people, which is what we try to do and is one of our functions - to educate people about how the game is played and how decisions are made by people in the front office – absolutely I can see that happening. It hasn’t happened yet and maybe it is something that, to Len’s point, we should be adapting to or including in our broadcast. Anything that adds to or enhances the enjoyment of the game, that’s our job.”

You’ve been broadcasting with the Twins since before the Moneyball area. Have you noticed many changes in the game?

“Since then, you’ve seen it everywhere; you’ve seen it in the Twins organization. People are far more aggressive in analyzing the game mathematically. I think most baseball executives still need the new math to pass the eye test – what they see on the field. Are there numbers that support this? One thing that I saw years ago was that Wins Above Replacement was suggesting that Alexi Casilla was a really good middle infielder. I don’t know if anyone who saw him play the game believed that but yet you can find numbers out there that supported that. There’s been a change in that direction, there’s no question, and where it will lead I don’t know, but you still need scouts’ eyes and general managers’ eyes to see what the numbers might support."

How about having an analyst dedicated to talking about the statistical side of the game in the broadcast?

“If baseball’s new math becomes more mainstream, yeah, and it might very well be heading in that direction. What we have to do as broadcasters though is not talk over the heads of too many people and to the extent that most of our audience does not want to or can’t comprehend baseball’s new math, how much time would we spend trying to educate them over the course of an evening’s broadcast? What is Wins Above Replacement? I hate to keep using that one but that’s actually one of the more elementary ones in terms of explaining what it means. We’re still wondering once or twice a year if we should explain the Infield Fly Rule.”

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