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Monday, October 22, 2012

Leitch: Teams use advanced stats. Why won’t broadcasters?

Hey, I once heard John Sterling use “HA OPPS”...but I think that had to do with his idioshtick usage pattern or something.

Last week, during the increasingly gruesome Tigers-Yankees ALCS, TBS analyst John Smoltz got a burr in his bonnet. I’m not sure precisely what was going on in the game, but something came up that got Smoltz thinking about sabermetrics. At least I think it was sabermetrics; he could barely stand to even mouth the word.

It went something like: “So … [audible snort] … there’s all these people with their … [choked-off inhale, as if he had entered the Cardinals clubhouse bathroom right after Lance Lynn had left it] … mathematics, trying to understand … [grasping of the microphone as if it is the neck of Bill James] … the game. It’s … it’s just …” I don’t have the exact quote right, mostly because it was hard to hear Smoltz through the blood vessels bursting and his teeth grinding. As the immortal Twitter account @oldhossradbourn succinctly summarized, “‘Sabermetrics? What’s next? Marrying an animal?’ - J. Smoltz.”

... And look: This is not simply just some nerd complaining that the people on the TV aren’t using his nerd states. (It is that; it’s just not simply that.) This is how baseball is being played and discussed and assessed in the year 2012. By the front offices, by the arbitrators, by the people making all the decisions … heck, increasingly, by the players themselves. This is simply television doing a poor job of describing what we are watching. It’s the trading of reality for John Kruk and Mitch Williams to hang out with their friends and be paid for it.

This is going to take time. Four years ago, you’d never see a player’s slash-line and a starter’s pitch count shown on broadcasts; they’re regular features now. Pitch-f/x data and Hit-f/x data are too impressive technological breakthroughs not to be used on broadcasts. Many younger broadcasters are embracing the data as a way of breaking through to an audience that’s hungry for something more than the old broadcasting tropes.

But we’re not there yet.

Maybe someday we’ll have a broadcaster describe the way baseball is being played, managed and evaluated without, you know, spitting the words at us as if they were venom. A fan can dream.

Repoz Posted: October 22, 2012 at 04:23 PM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: media, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. flournoy Posted: October 22, 2012 at 05:08 PM (#4279257)
Caveat: I didn't watch any of this, so take my opinion for what it's worth.

Sabermetrics didn't exist, at least not in the mainstream, for the majority of John Smoltz's career. He formed his understanding of baseball with different terms and concepts. If I were John Smoltz, the illustrious former baseball player, I would take offense to someone hiring me to talk about baseball, but telling me to talk about baseball in a way that was inconsistent with how I understood it during my career. Hey, if that is what you want discussed, get someone else.

Apparently TV networks have decided that having a well-spoken, recognizable name makes for a better broadcast (or at least a more marketable one) than discussing newfangled terms and concepts. I'm not sure that they're wrong.

Either way, as players who grew up with sabermetrics as part of the baseball lexicon retire and start broadcasting careers, we'll get that kind of broadcast. The problem will eventually take care of itself.
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 22, 2012 at 05:24 PM (#4279272)
Who does talk sabermetrics well? I know David Cone does. I think Ron Darling does. I believe Jon Miller has talked about them.

I've noticed the Royals TV production staff used WAR once in a graphic. I know they use OPS a lot more now, even if the announcers (Ryan Lefebvre in particular) are pretty dismissive of sabermetrics.
   3. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: October 22, 2012 at 05:27 PM (#4279277)
Costas uses them a lot, at least when I've listened to him.
   4. billyshears Posted: October 22, 2012 at 05:42 PM (#4279290)
There is market pressure on teams to be right in their evaluation of players. There is no market pressure on broadcasters to be right in their description of players.
   5. JJ1986 Posted: October 22, 2012 at 05:59 PM (#4279306)
Len Kasper is good.
   6. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: October 22, 2012 at 06:25 PM (#4279331)
It went something like: “So … [audible snort] … there’s all these people with their … [choked-off inhale, as if he had entered the Cardinals clubhouse bathroom right after Lance Lynn had left it] … mathematics, trying to understand … [grasping of the microphone as if it is the neck of Bill James] … the game. It’s … it’s just …” I don’t have the exact quote right, mostly because it was hard to hear Smoltz through the blood vessels bursting and his teeth grinding.


Shut up.
   7. DA Baracus Posted: October 22, 2012 at 07:23 PM (#4279386)
Boog Schambi does a good job of using them.
   8. DL from MN Posted: October 22, 2012 at 07:40 PM (#4279393)
Just getting rid of AVG/HR/RBI and replacing it with AVG/OBP/SLG would be enough for me.
   9. Tricky Dick Posted: October 22, 2012 at 08:04 PM (#4279418)
Jim Deshais, who broadcasts Astros' games, has discussed advanced stats on air for several years. His pitching career predates Smoltz's. I'm sure that baseball analysis was different in his days as a player. My impression is that Deshais finds the new stats to be useful and interesting. He is an example that older players don't have to be anti-sabermetrics. I haven't heard Darling or Cone broadcast games, but based on No. 2, they would also be examples of players from that same era are willing to consider new ideas.
   10. dr. scott Posted: October 22, 2012 at 08:05 PM (#4279422)
Miller has consistently brought them into the broadcast in a way where he seems to want to educate without alienating. The first time I remember him bringing up advanced stats was in 2001 when he said that by one advanced metric ( I forgt which but did read the article) rich Arriulla was having one of the 10 best hitting seasons for a shortstop in the history of baseball.

There are so many cool, quaint and ridiculous things about that statement.
   11. JJ1986 Posted: October 22, 2012 at 08:40 PM (#4279499)
Jim Deshais, who broadcasts Astros' games, has discussed advanced stats on air for several years. His pitching career predates Smoltz's. I'm sure that baseball analysis was different in his days as a player. My impression is that Deshais finds the new stats to be useful and interesting. He is an example that older players don't have to be anti-sabermetrics. I haven't heard Darling or Cone broadcast games, but based on No. 2, they would also be examples of players from that same era are willing to consider new ideas.


These guys are all full time announcers and have to keep up with the game. Smoltz probably doesn't.
   12. bunyon Posted: October 22, 2012 at 09:01 PM (#4279581)
Just getting rid of AVG/HR/RBI and replacing it with AVG/OBP/SLG would be enough for me.

Eh. I'd say, OBP/SLG and either R or RBI, depedning on which the player was better at.
   13. McCoy Posted: October 22, 2012 at 09:49 PM (#4279779)
What sabermetric stats would one actually want announcers to use? Announcing games is a different format than writing an essay or a book.
   14. cardsfanboy Posted: October 23, 2012 at 12:16 AM (#4280313)
What sabermetric stats would one actually want announcers to use? Announcing games is a different format than writing an essay or a book.


Ops+, ERA+...this allows people to contextualize park effects. and of course use obp as frequently as batting average. Batting average should never be mentioned without mentioning obp, except if the discussion is centered on the batting average crown.

Requiring a disclaimer when mentioning RBI, "that it's as much a product of the slot in the batting order, and the quality of the batters in front of them"

Using win shares (which I think is easier to get the fans behind) as an uber stat. Or if you use war, always say "bWar" or if you are stupid "fWar" but don't just say war.

I wouldn't mind runs created also being used, instead of Rbi or runs and then get used to RC/9.
   15. Sleepy supports unauthorized rambling Posted: October 23, 2012 at 01:03 AM (#4280345)
It would crack me up if fox came up with their own war implementation, and their announcers started calling it FWar. Or foxwar. Or Fox HittyWins, and Fox PitchyWins, to avoid copyright infringement, or something. But I'm fairly easily amused.

Anyway, I'd just like to see them start calling out managers for doing things like starting Skip Schumaker at second against a lefty because skip was 3 for 7 against him, in two games, three years ago. Or asking Jon Jay to bunt with a man on second, no one out, and Beltran/Holliday/Craig behind him. And the converse- acknowledge that it might not be a good move, tactically, but explain that their connections tell them that replacement-level RHB 2Bguy is suffering from flu-like symptoms, or whatever.

   16. Toothless Posted: October 23, 2012 at 04:33 AM (#4280369)
Picking nits: he would mean burr under his saddle, or bee in his bonnet, right? Sorry. I had to.
   17. John Northey Posted: October 23, 2012 at 07:06 AM (#4280375)
I'm picturing announcers going 'his WAR against this pitcher is just 0.2 lifetime' without figuring out that would be meaningless (over, say, 20 PA over 4 years). Situational stats are what kills broadcasts and the reputation of stats with average fans.
   18. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: October 23, 2012 at 07:50 AM (#4280380)
Picking nits: he would mean burr under his saddle, or bee in his bonnet, right? Sorry. I had to.

Did you ever have a burr in your bonnet? Pretty damn annoying, I'd say.
   19. Matt Welch Posted: October 23, 2012 at 08:11 AM (#4280386)
There is no market pressure on broadcasters to be right in their description of players.

While true, and important, I think the moment that a broadcaster becomes popular & successful in part *because* of smart usage of the stuff will begin to change that dynamic.
   20. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: October 23, 2012 at 08:54 AM (#4280397)
Most people who watch postseason baseball don't understand balls and strikes, let alone wOBA and WAR.
   21. Justin T., Director of Somethin Posted: October 23, 2012 at 09:08 AM (#4280401)
Umpires are a really small demographic.
   22. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 23, 2012 at 09:17 AM (#4280407)

What sabermetric stats would one actually want announcers to use? Announcing games is a different format than writing an essay or a book.


Really, just understand principles, its not essential that they use the jargon. Quit applauding for bunts. Quit suggesting matchup stats of 13 ABs means anything. Quit using fielding percentage.

I would guess though that most announcers are resistant to sabermetrics because most managers are resistant to sabermetrics, and announcers don't like to criticize the home manager.
   23. McCoy Posted: October 23, 2012 at 09:26 AM (#4280411)
Quit applauding for bunts. Quit suggesting matchup stats of 13 ABs means anything. Quit using fielding percentage.


Announcers have to fill up space and bashing a manager or even just saying it was the wrong move a lot is going to fill up air time but it is also going to ruffle feathers.
   24. Crosseyed and Painless Posted: October 23, 2012 at 09:34 AM (#4280414)
Really, just understand principles, its not essential that they use the jargon. Quit applauding for bunts. Quit suggesting matchup stats of 13 ABs means anything. Quit using fielding percentage.


Yeah, this would be a big start. I don't care if they start talking about xFIP or not, though a mention here or there would be cool. Start by getting rid of the absolutely ridiculous stuff.

I'll say that ESPN is better at making some progress in this regard than Fox Sports Detroit, on which I watch the majority of my baseball. They throw fielding percentage around like crazy. They love the meaningless small sample size stuff, and they usually don't present it as trivia.
   25. alilisd Posted: October 23, 2012 at 02:05 PM (#4280690)
I don't think former players should be filling the statistical analysis role in the booth. They should be offering insight into what they know best, and those are on field and clubhouse issues. Let someone else provide the statistical insight.
   26. McCoy Posted: October 23, 2012 at 02:14 PM (#4280698)
National broadcasts can move more than local since they don't have to worry about ticking off the club as much as the local guys do.
   27. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: October 23, 2012 at 02:20 PM (#4280702)

Did you ever have a burr in your bonnet? Pretty damn annoying, I'd say.


I had a burro in my bonnet once, but it wouldn't stay there.
   28. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: October 23, 2012 at 02:33 PM (#4280715)
I remember 1992; the Yankees were struggling through another lost season. And Andy Stankiewicz came in. I followed his progress every day, and his BA went a-sinking. I wished for some way that I could see his OBP (I remember wishing for that metric specifically) because it measures his walks. And, I figured, it would be impressive. This was not available in the two ways I could get my hands on sports statistics - the MSG telecasts and the Sunday newspaper.

Sure enough, it was close to .340 that year. That's a bright spot - there wasn't a lot else for me to cheer for.
   29. Tom Nawrocki Posted: October 23, 2012 at 02:40 PM (#4280729)
Just getting rid of AVG/HR/RBI and replacing it with AVG/OBP/SLG would be enough for me.


I'm pretty sure ESPN puts up Avg/HR/RBI/OBP on its broadcasts.
   30. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: October 23, 2012 at 02:43 PM (#4280733)
YES puts Avg/HR/RBI/OBP in the "hero" graphics.
   31. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 23, 2012 at 03:23 PM (#4280764)
Did you ever have a burr in your bonnet? Pretty damn annoying, I'd say.



I had a burro in my bonnet once, but it wouldn't stay there.


I had a burrito in my bonnet once, but then I ate it. The burrito, not the bonnet.
   32. Tippecanoe Posted: October 23, 2012 at 03:36 PM (#4280781)
I seem to remember Sciambi posting here at one time or another -- true? I agree with 7, he's the sabr-savviest of the guys I've heard.

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