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Thread: Sabermetrics in the Broadcast

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    Owner All-Star Parker Hageman's Avatar
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    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:

    “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.

    [SNIP]

    What is really thrilling for me is to hear people in uniform talk about what really matters. Cubs' manager Dale Sveumspeaks 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.”
    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.

    “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.”
    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?

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    Senior Member All-Star Willihammer's Avatar
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    Bremer: And now for our Liberty Tax game break, we turn to statistician Dave Mills. Liberty Tax - we know numbers!

    Dave, what do you have for us today?

    Dave: Thanks Dick. In his first 3 spring training starts, we've watched Ervin Santana pitch for a very good 3.14 ERA, allowing just 1 home run in 19 innings pitched, following a year where he allowed a league high 39 home runs. Today we're going to look at why Santana's been more successful at keeping balls in the yard.

    Bert: Well that's easy, you keep the ball down...

    Dave: Well, turns out there's a little more to it. Santana's a fly ball pitcher, and last year saw his-

    Bert: ...by staying on top of the ball

    Dave: -Last year, one in every five fly balls left the park. That's a significant deviation from his career average of one in 10. And one thing sabermetricians have found is this rate will tend to average out over time.

    Bert: Well, we saw Ervin as an Angel last year pitch 7 very strong innings against the Twins, and it was plain to everyone at Target Field that he was pitching to a downward plane, and...

    Dave: Now Ervin's career HR/FB rate is less than 11 percent...

    Bert: ...staying on top of the ball

    Dave: So when you give up a lot of fly balls like Santana does, even a difference of 6 or 7 percent can make a huge difference.

    Bert: .. and keeping the ball down.

    Dave: Between a strong season..

    Bert: Downward plane

    Dave: and one like we saw last year.

    Dick: Thanks, Dave. That's been your Liberty Tax game break.
    Last edited by Willihammer; 10-16-2012 at 01:03 PM.

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    Willihamer does a fine job showing the difficulty the people who are only concerned with stats have with the people who want to know the how and mechanics of the game. The people who would prefer descriptions would tune out quickly to a talk of statistics.

    Then again, they can discuss the WAR of the Twins roster conisting of the very replacement players they are.
    Last edited by old nurse; 10-16-2012 at 01:55 PM.

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    Really? We are going with" people who only care about stats" in some kind of straw man comment? I thought it was a well written piece. I only listen on the radio, and have noticed little change, but admittedly, I did not listen much this year.

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    Senior Member All-Star Jim Crikket's Avatar
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    yep, the quotes from Kasper hit the nail on the head for me. For every stathead out there who would love more discussion from the booth about advanced analysis during a game, there are 10 casual fans who not only wouldn't understand but have no desire to even try. If a professional broadcaster who has a high likability quotient with fans can find ways, such as suggested by Kasper, to provide the information in a narrative manner, we'll have made a lot of progress. As has often been the case, the best way to teach people math is to find a way to do so without them knowing it's math. Converting statistics to story-telling takes a talent that, so far anyway, is very rare.
    I opine about the Twins and Kernels regularly at Knuckleballsblog.com while my alter ego, SD Buhr covers the Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
    Really? We are going with" people who only care about stats" in some kind of straw man comment? I thought it was a well written piece. I only listen on the radio, and have noticed little change, but admittedly, I did not listen much this year.
    Again, since you did not appear to read the commet, It was in regards to what Willihamer posted. Clearly in his senario the announcers are not talking together. OPS is advanced? How is that going to be predictive of Cano or Nix hitting against Verlander? In describing the overall talents of a player, all the stats are great. Doesn't mean much against a higher leveel of talent. Doesn't mean as much if they were facing a junkballer either. In the game they need to describe the situation and what the player can do. Nothing much of a slash line will describe that. Knowledge of what the player can do is.

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    Owner MVP Seth Stohs's Avatar
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    I would like to hear some sabrmetrics brought in from time to time, but I agree with what Jim Crikket and others have said. If it's overwhelming or too they'd lose viewers. WE're going to watch regardless of what the announcers say. Some mute it to just watch the game. IF you're here and reading , you're gong to follow regardless. But the majority of fans aren't this heavily into it. And although I would like to hear more indepth discussion or an occasional advanced stat, too much is too much.

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    Owner All-Star Parker Hageman's Avatar
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    But the majority of fans aren't this heavily into it. And although I would like to hear more indepth discussion or an occasional advanced stat, too much is too much.
    For every stathead out there who would love more discussion from the booth about advanced analysis during a game, there are 10 casual fans who not only wouldn't understand but have no desire to even try.
    I think it is a sort of chicken-and-egg argument that both Jim and Seth have presented. In someways they are right. Simply throwing advanced stats or ideas into the game for the sake of placating a segment of the audience is not the right way to go about it but saying that because a "majority" of the fan base doesn't understand it does not necessarily a good thing, either. There has to be ways to introduce these theories, stats and what they mean into the broadcast. If more people were educated on sabermetric thought, they may be interested in seeing more.

    Not long ago, OBP was not a stat included on the FSNorth's batter's line but now it is up every time they flash the at-bat stats. There are plenty of other ways to increase viewer's knowledge, and they do not have to be complex ones either, like the explanation of how to calculate WAR. With the ubiquitous of the Fox North Pitch Tracker -- something that is only a few seasons old -- there has got to be a way to integrate Pitch F/X and the information and insight it provides now that more people understand what it is (and not just say, "well, the ball crossed the plate there.").

    At the end of the day, I believe people crave more analysis and just because a presumed "majority" may be turned off by additional information, to me, is not a good enough reason to avoid engaging your fan base more.

  9. #9
    Member Single-A Sarah's Avatar
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    I also read that article and watched Cubs broadcasts on a regular basis. I agree that too much "stathead" talk will turn off casual viewers but I like the way the Cubs are trying to bring baseball discussions like Stats Sunday into the broadcast booth. You could say it's to take attention away from their product on the field but that's another story...

    It's ironic that he calls Bob Brenly the best analyst in the business though considering he just left the Cubs broadcast booth. Since Brenly is the best apparently his replacement won't be the best! And just on the subject of the Cubs, I found this article highly amusing:

    http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-to...p-sound-great/

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