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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Len Kasper: Bringing Sabermetrics to the Broadcast Booth

And a neat Chass-generated shout-out from Len.

Well, fast forward from 2002 to 2012: the landscape has completely changed, and for the better, I think.

On a personal level, I just finished my eighth year in the Cubs TV booth, and I’m still pinching myself. I work with the best analyst in the game in Bob Brenly, and we have a national audience for about half our broadcasts on WGN, which gives us a good platform to talk about some of the things you read about at Baseball Prospectus all the time. We added a fun Stats Sunday feature and had a star-studded list of guest bloggers help us teach our viewers about some stats they should know. I’ve also gotten a chance to observe Theo Epstein and his incredibly bright front office do its thing up close on a daily basis. While 2012 was the first time I ever covered a 100-loss team, it was pretty enjoyable on one particular level—I am watching Theo, et al rebuild this organization from the ground up, a pretty exciting and new way of baseball business here on the north side of Chicago.

...But here is where it really crystallizes for me. Recently, two long-time New York sportswriters took personal and unnecessary shots at us “geeks.” Murray Chass called Bill James a “self-professed expert” and wore as a badge of honor the fact that he had no clue what Baseball Think Factory was. And Bill Madden wrote that WAR is ludicrous and that all the smarty-smarts have somehow disparaged guys like Miguel Cabrera and R.A. Dickey (which, by the way, is totally false in both cases).

But guess what? These horribly out-of-date, the-earth-is-flat diatribes were received by the Twitter universe and the blogosphere just how you’d expect them to be taken: with a chuckle and a figurative wave of the hand. You just can’t get away with writing uninformed stuff like this anymore in an arena in which the audience has gotten so smart.*

And that’s why we are in a better place now. We all know better, and we now have a wonderful, wide-open forum in which to make our thoughts clearly known. Keep spreading the word. It’s working.

Repoz Posted: October 16, 2012 at 04:55 PM | 42 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: announcers, cubs, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. asinwreck Posted: October 16, 2012 at 05:11 PM (#4272788)
I still hope for a Len Kasper-Hawk Harrelson trade. Like Matt Karchner for Jon Garland, but even more lopsided.
   2. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: October 16, 2012 at 05:31 PM (#4272811)
NO! He's OURS! You CAN'T HAVE HIM!

Seriously, TFA is a great read. Len impresses me more and more as time passes.
   3. JE (Jason) Posted: October 16, 2012 at 05:42 PM (#4272820)
I work with the best analyst in the game in Bob Brenly

Really, Cubs fans? Has Brenly upped his game?
   4. Walks Clog Up the Bases Posted: October 16, 2012 at 05:59 PM (#4272836)
Really, Cubs fans? Has Brenly upped his game?


I don't know if I'd go with that superlative, but Brenly has improved drastically since 2005. I find him insightful, amusing, and open-minded enough about "new" statistical analysis that he's found room for it alongside some of his gritty, old-school take on things.
   5. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:02 PM (#4272843)
Really, Cubs fans? Has Brenly upped his game?

I never thought I'd say this when he was hired, but Brenly is, in fact, one of the best. When he managed he seemed really old school, so I did not have high hopes. My recollection at the start is that he was nothing special. But he's really adjusted (learned?) and it's now at the point where I would be sad if he left. However, like kids leaving home after school, I would like to see him get another crack at managing if he wants it.
   6. salviaman Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:07 PM (#4272850)
Brenly is much much better/preferable to the smug former Cubs color man Steve Stone. And Kasper is great, he is sabermetrically aware, but he doesn't overemphasize it.
   7. Kiko Sakata Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:30 PM (#4272874)
I'll just agree with #2 and also agree with #4-6 in answer to #3: "the best analyst in the game" is being over-the-top nice to a friend, but he really is very good and noticeably better than when he started. Now, if only they had a decent team to announce for.
   8. Dan The Mediocre Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:33 PM (#4272879)
Early on I wished Kasper and Stone could work together, but Brenly has gone from pretty bad to pretty good. I think Brenly would have a decent shot at being a good manager if he wanted to do it again, but I'd rather him stay in the Cubs' booth for completely selfish reasons.
   9. Walks Clog Up the Bases Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:45 PM (#4272891)
And as others mentioned in the thread about Hawk-Stone, Stoney seems like he's been on a precipitous decline since he left the Cubs booth in 2004. Part of that is working with Hawk, no doubt, but he seemed increasingly bitter and arrogant during his brief stint with ESPN and his radio show following his departure from the North Side. He was always sarcastic, but it's as though he finally bought into his own hype and it's negatively affected his work since.
   10. Justin T., Director of Somethin Posted: October 16, 2012 at 07:46 PM (#4272971)
I don't sample a lot of Brenly currently due to the Cubs badness, but it seems more like he and Kasper just like each other and are pros so neither gets argumentative when one makes a point the other doesn't subscribe to. And it works well, it's a fine booth. I just mean to say that I think Brenly would manage quite similarly to the way he did the first time, if given the opportunity.

They do a SABR Sunday thing, right? Explain a stat? Like, in those I have not observed Brenly diving in head first. He just kinda goes with it.
   11. Justin T., Director of Somethin Posted: October 16, 2012 at 07:48 PM (#4272973)
They're polite, is I guess the right way to put it.
   12. JJ1986 Posted: October 16, 2012 at 08:17 PM (#4272996)
Who is the best analyst in the game? Krukow?
   13. zonk Posted: October 16, 2012 at 08:18 PM (#4272998)
It's weird to agree that Brenly's one of the best, but I honestly would have a hard time thinking of someone I'd prefer.

Now granted - there are 27 teams whose booth I don't get to hear regularly, but off the top of my head... from the national broadcasts? ESPN? Every name that comes to mind is a "God, no..." I agree with everyone that Stone has just gotten too bitter or arrogant (forget the way the Cubs bounced him, but also remember -- Stone also variously wanted a front office job, tried to become part of an ownership group, and if memory serves -- at one point was fishing for a manager's job, but wouldn't take a pitching coach job).

I don't think I'd trade Stone for Brenly at this point.

Anyone from the non-Braves, non-ChiSox have any ideas of color men I'm missing? The legends - Scully, Jon Miller - are PBP guys...

Who really is a "good" color man?
   14. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: October 16, 2012 at 08:19 PM (#4273001)
I just finished my eighth year in the Cubs TV booth, and I’m still pinching myself.

Geez, he must be black and blue all over!
   15. zonk Posted: October 16, 2012 at 08:33 PM (#4273015)
I spaced Ron Darling - I think he's pretty good... I don't know that I'd say I like him more than Brenly, though.
   16. JJ1986 Posted: October 16, 2012 at 08:35 PM (#4273018)
Darling is much better on the Mets broadcasts than he is on TBS. Both he and Keith are top-tier.
   17. VoodooR Posted: October 16, 2012 at 09:02 PM (#4273067)
Rick Sutcliffe is the worst. Absolutely atrocious.
   18. Jay Seaver Posted: October 16, 2012 at 09:09 PM (#4273081)
Anyone from the non-Braves, non-ChiSox have any ideas of color men I'm missing?

The fact that both NESN and TBS keep Dennis Eckersley back in the studio most of the time is not using him to his full potential. Eck was the main substitute for Jerry Remy during his sick leaves, and maybe it was just because he was a short-timer, but he's fun to listen to, smart, and brutally honest.

Then again, I'd hate to see him used regularly enough that he started measuring his words.
   19. MauryWillSay Posted: October 16, 2012 at 09:50 PM (#4273184)
Sutcliffe doesn't even know what sabermetrics is/are.
   20. Good cripple hitter Posted: October 16, 2012 at 09:59 PM (#4273207)
Sutcliffe doesn't even know what sabermetrics is/are.


Sure he does, he used the word (well, sabermetricians) in his "these geniuses are ruining the game by using defensive shifts instead of playing the game as Abner Doubleday created it" rant.

Alan Ashby's a great colour commentator, it's a shame he's stuck doing radio when Pat Tabler is used on TV broadcasts.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: October 16, 2012 at 10:02 PM (#4273216)
Sutcliffe doesn't know what the English language is.

   22. Walt Davis Posted: October 16, 2012 at 10:07 PM (#4273230)
I actually can't think of a color or PBP guy I dislike more than Sutcliffe. I mean I think I dislike him even more than Berman -- the pairing of them was just astounding.

What annoys me most about Sutcliffe are these moments:

"Johnson is coming out to talk to Zimmermann."
"Well, Davey can see he's getting tired and he's got Storen warming up in the bullpen, this is absolutely the right time for this move."
"Johnson's leaving him in the game."
"This is absolutely the right move here. Zimmermann is a real gamer and Davey is showing confidence in his pitcher, letting him work out of a jam."
"It's gone, 3-run home run. And here comes Johnson out of the dugout."
"This is absolutely the right move to make here. Zimmermann is clearly tired and Storen is gonna be tough on these hitters."

Alan Ashby's a great colour commentator, it's a shame he's stuck doing radio when Pat Tabler is used on TV broadcasts.

Except when the bases are loaded.
   23. odds are meatwad is drunk Posted: October 16, 2012 at 10:55 PM (#4273373)
Len kasper really is damn good at his job and I am glad he took a shot at Chass. The more people involved with baseball do it the more chass is discredited. Cant wait to see how his lazy ass responds to this. Also its kind of cool that kasper knows what btf is.
   24. zonk Posted: October 16, 2012 at 11:14 PM (#4273444)
Sutcliffe...

Do have to say, after he retired but before he took up broadcasting, he bought me a beer (and then signed the can) at a bar called Kronies that was once famous for penny beer night...
   25. VoodooR Posted: October 16, 2012 at 11:22 PM (#4273510)
Also its kind of cool that kasper knows what btf is.


That's what I thought! I bet he's checked in on Cubs chatters before! (back when we had Cubs chatters)
   26. CFBF Is A Golden Spider Duck Posted: October 16, 2012 at 11:49 PM (#4273623)
Sutcliffe once said of Chipper Jones, "He can play any position on the field, including pitcher and catcher."

I feel like the Braves botched a tremendous opportunity with Chipper's career, if that's true.
   27. Cabbage Posted: October 16, 2012 at 11:58 PM (#4273628)
I really dislike Sutcliffe, to the point where I sometimes mute the game if he's calling (and I don't even do that with Hawk, Berman, etc.). I know a guy who is an insufferable ass and speaks with the same inflection as Sutcliffe, and I always assumed it was just a personal bias. Much like how I hate carrots but I understand that most people enjoy them.

That's what I thought! I bet he's checked in on Cubs chatters before! (back when we had Cubs chatters)

We will all probably come around when the team gets better. Its hard to comment much when the season is such a drag. I'll have to remember to post some shoutouts to Len. Ask him to play the meow game or sometime.
   28. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: October 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM (#4273632)
Alan Ashby's a great colour commentator, it's a shame he's stuck doing radio when Pat Tabler is used on TV broadcasts.


I think it was Ashby who filled in for Jerry Remy last year when the Red Sox were in Toronto and be was excellent. Easy voice and insightful.

The Red Sox team is the only one I feel real comfortable talking about. Orsillo is a good if somewhat bland guy though I prefer that. Remy can be excellent when he wants to be. While he rarely rips a Red Sox player he will be critical and is more than willing to compliment an opposing player. The problem the two have is they get silly too often. In blowouts it's great, I find them amusing. They do it in close games or early in games too often.

I think Eck was tolerable because of his short timer status. His schtick was already getting old for me when Remy came back.
   29. JE (Jason) Posted: October 17, 2012 at 12:03 AM (#4273637)
Darling is much better on the Mets broadcasts than he is on TBS. Both he and Keith are top-tier.

This. Darling's IQ seems to drop 50 points when he walks into the TBS booth.
   30. The Fallen Reputation of Billy Jo Robidoux Posted: October 17, 2012 at 02:37 PM (#4274261)
Weird fact: Kasper was in a band that was almost named Indentured Cervix.
   31. Dan The Mediocre Posted: October 17, 2012 at 03:37 PM (#4274363)
Weird fact: Kasper was in a band that was almost named Indentured Cervix.


That name is awesome.
   32. My guest will be Jermaine Allensworth Posted: October 17, 2012 at 03:43 PM (#4274375)
Anyone from the non-Braves, non-ChiSox have any ideas of color men I'm missing?

I like the job Jim Palmer does on Baltimore broadcasts.
   33. jack the seal clubber (on the sidelines of life) Posted: October 17, 2012 at 03:52 PM (#4274388)
Rick Sutcliffe is the worst. Absolutely atrocious


I just want to weigh in concurring with this. He is the worst announcer I have ever heard, and I have heard Hawk Harrelson, Joe Morgan, Joe Buck, and Phil Rizzuto. Pompous, ponderous, and wrong on a consistent basis. Awful.
   34. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 17, 2012 at 04:02 PM (#4274406)
Who really is a "good" color man?


Bob Walk on the Pirates' broadcasts.

-- MWE
   35. Dr. Vaux Posted: October 17, 2012 at 04:24 PM (#4274445)
Ahsby is a good play-by-play man, too, so it would be a shame to waste that talent by putting him on television.
   36. Charlie O Posted: October 17, 2012 at 04:25 PM (#4274446)
I didn't know that's Bob Walk. I catch a fair number of Pirates games on DirecTV's Extra Innings and I've always liked their broadcasts. I agree with MWE. I like the Detroit guy, too. What I really like is they talk about the game in front of them. I can't stand the local guys, Krukow and Fosse. I don't want to know about the food being served in the booth or the costumes the people are wearing in the stands. Describe the game! If I want to hear about everything but the game, I can just put on ESPN.
   37. ASmitty Posted: October 17, 2012 at 04:33 PM (#4274462)
I like the Detroit guy, too.


Rod Allen, of internet-viral-video-japanese-pitcher-chasing fame. Detroit's TV booth is really good, though they've added some unecessary bells and whistles in recent years. Allen wasn't much of a player, but he spent some time as a hitting instructor in the minors and his baseball IQ really shows. He makes a lot of spot-on predictions involving the next pitch in a sequence and it's effectiveness or lack thereof.

Confimartion bias is always an issue, but it surprises me how often Allen will say something like "if he throws this pitch here he will get a strikeout/it will get crushed" and it immediately happens.
   38. JE (Jason) Posted: October 17, 2012 at 04:41 PM (#4274481)
Rick Sutcliffe is the worst. Absolutely atrocious

I just want to weigh in concurring with this. He is the worst announcer I have ever heard, and I have heard Hawk Harrelson, Joe Morgan, Joe Buck, and Phil Rizzuto. Pompous, ponderous, and wrong on a consistent basis. Awful.

The content is indeed awful, but the voice is even worse.
   39. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: October 17, 2012 at 06:26 PM (#4274736)
Bob Brenly is leaving the Cubs.

The assumption is that he'll be joining the Arizona booth for 2013.
   40. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: October 17, 2012 at 06:30 PM (#4274746)
Damn. Brenly wasn't my fave, but he definitely had gotten better.

Wonder what we'll get stuck with now. Hopefully not Mark Grace or Keith Moreland.
   41. DFA Posted: October 18, 2012 at 02:50 AM (#4275051)
Rick Sutcliffe is car wreck awesome. His pairing with Chris Berman was like a time machine...
   42.   Posted: October 18, 2012 at 10:54 PM (#4276279)
re:22. The thing that's amazing about that is Sutcliffe's total willingness to look like a complete fool. He makes predictions about the near future with 100% certainty and they seem to make him look like an idiot about 99% of the time. But he still does it, time and time again. Moments before that ludicrous anti-saber rant, Doug Fister took a comebacker in the wrist and looked like he might be sore. Sutcliffe said "he's done. There's no way he's pitching again tonight." And then when Fister didn't seem to be done "He might try to throw a few, but he's not going to be able to pitch. He's done." Fister, of course, pitched about four more innings, with nary a lesson learned from the toolshed Sutcliffe. Boggles the mind.

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