Sabermetrics in the Broadcast
I thought this was an extremely insightful piece by Len Kasper, the Chicago Cubs play-by-play man, on Baseball Prospectus today that is a must-read.
Kasper detailed how quickly the mainstream broadcast aspect of the game exploded from awaiting annuals from Bill James and Baseball Prospectus in 2002 to the instantaneous nature of analysis available today thanks to the proliferation of websites like Fangraphs.com and Twitter (which, shameless plug, you can follow me a Twitter for some of that type of analysis) which pumps out up-to-the-second breakdowns and decisions.
Internally, too, Kasper has witnessed a change in the culture:
However, while there are small steps forward in changing the mentality and integrating new thoughts into the grand old game, Kesper stops short of suggesting we will turn on our TVs to see graphics depicting UZR or the triple-slash (although, I do believe FSNorth had flashed that during players at-bats) or xFIP any time soon.
“As someone who has been working at a ballpark every day for the past 11 years, trust me when I tell you times have changed. Just five years ago, I would have had a difficult time finding anyone at the park, let alone a manager or coach, who would have known what FIP
or “replacement level player” even meant. Being a stathead wasn’t viewed altogether favorably in most clubhouses into which I ventured, forcing me to bite my tongue when someone would claim that hitting with runners in scoring position is a repeatable skill.
What is really thrilling for me is to hear people in uniform talk about what really matters. Cubs' manager Dale Sveum
speaks openly about team and individual OPS
scales and his pitchers trying to limit opponents' slugging percentage. My own partner, a three-decade veteran of the big leagues in every capacity, is dropping advanced fielding stats into our broadcasts to discuss the merits of Darwin Barney
as a Gold Glove candidate. And veteran writers like Jon Heyman, while telling us he’s voting for Miguel Cabrera
for AL MVP, meticulously works OPS
and WAR into his analysis because he understands that these things do matter and are essential to the debate.”
In tying it to our local broadcast team of Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven, do you feel like there have been advancements in the way they have announced the game in the past five, ten years? Would a broadcast which focused more on sabermentric stats enhance the viewer process or convolute everything? What if instead of always cutting away to Roy Smalley or Ron Coomer, there was an stats equivalent to provide a brief snippet of analysis?
“But slowly, things have progressed. I think we have done a decent job of blending new stats into our broadcasts. I don't know if we will ever completely go to slash-line stats—BA/OBP/SLG—in lieu of BA/HR/RBI for each hitter, but we are at least getting close to broaching the subject. I do believe we need to be careful to not overload fans at home. As a play-by-play guy, I am always cognizant of the narrative aspect of the game, and getting overly clinical with esoteric stats is a good way to lose your audience in that setting. The best way for us to push the conversation forward is to pick our spots and relate the new numbers to the game/topic at hand. If a team rates highly in Defensive Efficiency, I can merely say, "The numbers say when balls are put in play, this team converts them into outs better than most." Or if a starting pitcher's BABIP
is killing his ERA
, we can say, "His peripheral numbers might indicate some bad luck this season, and an adjustment may be in order." These are ways to introduce people to better evaluation tools without turning the broadcast into an advanced math class.”