It’s Time for the Sabermetric Revolution to be Televised

Baseball broadcasters should be more open to the idea of utilizing sabermetrics on TV. (via Matt Montagne)

Baseball broadcasters should be more open to the idea of utilizing sabermetrics on TV. (via Matt Montagne)

From the pastime’s earliest days, the media have played a critical role in delivering baseball to the masses. It dates all the way back to fedora-clad newspapermen weaving game stories onto ink stained pages, but even in the internet age we still rely on teams, radio affiliates, and national and regional sports networks to shape the way we experience the action.

Unless you’re lucky enough to travel to every game with your favorite team, someone else is likely responsible for filtering baseball games into your brain. For a large portion of us, that means our club’s television partner and the broadcast team it employs are responsible for helping us experience up to 162 separate contests a season.

To keep the sport relevant and competitive in a world with so many leisure options, MLB and regional sports networks need to deliver the game in a way that speaks to the modern fan. Things like high definition broadcasts, multi-device streaming options, and social media integration are some of the changes we’ve seen working toward that goal over the past several years. But in addition to the actual delivery of the broadcast, the content of the coverage should adapt as well.

Over the past two decades, public interest in sabermetrics has grown significantly and in recent years we’ve seen that start reflected on television broadcasts. Sabermetrics aren’t for everyone, but a growing portion of the major league baseball fan base is hungry for baseball commentary that goes beyond won-lost record, ERA, batting average and RBI, and television broadcasts should work to satisfy that portion of their audience.

It would be silly to suggest that everyone is interested in attending math class on a nightly basis while they watch their favorite team chase the pennant, but even the least statistically minded fans ought to be exposed to the principles of sabermetrics that teams use to evaluate players. Not everyone is going to be convinced that wRC+ is a better measurement than batting average, but broadcasts serve as baseball filters and should inform the broader public about the state of the game. Even if you’re not preaching the importance of spin rate, you should let you viewers know that it’s out there and gaining converts within the game.

In general, this shouldn’t be a terribly controversial concept. As fans and teams become more invested in sabermetrics, television broadcasts should as well. The challenge lies in creating a broadcast that is informative for statistically minded fans while also remaining accessible and compelling for people who don’t wish to think about the game through that lens. How can TV crews go about modernizing their coverage without alienating any of their key constituencies?

In a perfect world, viewers would have several broadcast options, each catering to a different type of fan. As it stands, fans who live within their team’s market have one television broadcast option and fans who live outside of their team’s market can pay for two. You’re either stuck with your home crew or you can choose to watch the other team’s broadcast, but your choices are otherwise limited due to the nature of MLB television deals. If you don’t like the way your local sports network presents the game, you can’t take your business to a competitor because such competition is not permitted. The business model simply wouldn’t support it.

For this reason, broadcasts need to speak to their entire audience and that means they need to satisfy die-hard stat-heads, eye-test back-seat managers, casual fans, and everyone in between. Even though the number of saber-friendly fans is growing, most baseball fans don’t have FanGraphs saved as their homepage and any attempts to integrate the information found on sabermetrically inclined sites need to take that to heart.

At the most fundamental level, this is matter of language. When I spoke with Brian Kenny last August about MLB Network’s first advanced stats-focused broadcast, he suggested the key was to speak the language of the mainstream fan while bringing “our way of thinking” (i.e. sabermetrics) into the discussion.’s Mike Petriello, a key cog in the league’s new MLBPlus broadcasts, echoed Kenny’s sentiment recently. Even though Petriello notes that his audience tunes in expecting analytically focused coverage, he indicates you still can’t be sure that everyone will know what wRC+ is, for example. Petriello says when you want to use wRC+, you have to be ready to “explain that it’s an inclusive offensive stat that accounts for this and includes that where 100 is league average, etc, etc…and eventually it’s just easier to skip the terminology entirely and just say [the hitter] is 15 percentage points better than an average hitter.”

Kenny and Petriello, both devotees of sabermetrics, recognize that stopping to run through relatively simple explanations can pull the viewer out of the flow of the game. Instead of saying that a player has a 140 wRC+ and letting the viewers take it upon themselves to figure out what that means, Kenny and Petriello both seem happy enough to simply communicate what the stat is saying. A good announcer ought to explain the metrics every so often over the course of a long season, but it’s simply not practical to launch into a full description every time you want to mention how well a hitter is performing.

For sabermetrics to thrive on the air, announcers need to be comfortable translating statistics into language that everyone understands. The stat-head viewer loses nothing if the announcer describes the hitter as being 40 percent better than the league average hitter rather than saying he has a 140 wRC+, but the less analytically minded viewer has a strong preference for the former. An ability to communicate advanced concepts in a straightforward manner is a vital skill for the modern announcer.

Tigers radio play-by-play announcer Dan Dickerson is a shining example. I’ve rarely heard Dickerson utter the phrase “weighted on-base average” or “fielding independent pitching,” but it’s obvious he’s uses those stats when describing a player to his listeners. He tells the audience a batter is “hitting .300 with plenty of walks and good power” instead of saying he has a .385 wOBA. When he discusses a pitcher, he doesn’t say that he has a 3.75 FIP, he says something like “he’s striking out a batter an inning, walking about 2.5 per nine, and not giving up too many home runs.”

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Petriello would likely be a fan of Dickerson’s approach, telling me that “it’s not about cramming new stats down people’s throats, it’s just about using ideas that make sense. Really, any broadcast that doesn’t focus on wins and saves and batting average over three games as being meaningful indicators of anything whatsoever is 90 percent of the way there. If they add on fancy new stats, all the better. Less dumb is more important than more smart, I say.”

Building a better broadcast starts with de-emphasizing information that isn’t important and focusing on information that is. No one has to say “xFIP” for the concepts that call for its usage to be on display. It’s easy for anyone to see why strikeouts are good and walks and fly balls are bad, and that information doesn’t have to be presented in a single metric with a funny name to improve the quality of a television broadcast.

Over time, flashing xFIP on the screen during a lull won’t hurt, but by then the audience will be primed that this is a stat that communicates the concepts the broadcast has been mentioning. It’s a lot harder to dismiss a metric after you’ve already decided the underlying principles make sense. The focus should be on the usage and acceptance of the principles of sabermetrics over the actual statistical product. You can talk about sample size, aging, batted ball luck, and a host of other important factors without ever posting an acronym that creates a barrier between you and your audience.

If I were creating my own personal chyron, there would probably be PA, BB%, K%, ISO and wRC+, but if you switch from average, homers and RBI to that overnight you’re likely going to alienating one group of fans for another. A slow transition in which the broadcast talks more about the value of extra base hits and walks relative to singles is the way to start that conversation rather than simply imposing a new statistical package right away.

But there are also structural challenges that extend beyond simply avoiding audience alienation. A television broadcast is not a blog post and you have to be able to integrate information into graphics and spoken words on the fly. If I want to convey something about a hitter’s power in writing, I have lots of time to think about it, an extremely flexible set of tools to display it, and at least one editor who can review it before deciding it’s ready to hit the web. Television doesn’t have that luxury for live events. Certainly you can plan ahead for the starter’s first inning, but You Can’t Predict Baseball and broadcasts have to respond to the events of the day.

On a basic level, this requires voices within the chain of command who want to bring this kind of information to the viewer. Announcers are the face of the operation and are vital to the process, but the production team, from the director to the graphics specialists, plays a major role. Someone in the chain has to have an idea and then has to be able to carry it out. It’s easier if the announcers are fully on-board (i.e. Dickerson, Kenny, Petriello, and many others) because they have the freedom to riff, but things can work just fine if the announcers are simply open to new ideas. It’s more of an uphill climb if someone in the truck has to first convince the announcer something is worth doing, but as long as the announcer doesn’t laugh off the idea of sabermetrics, progress is possible.

Even after the right people sign off, there is still a visual hurdle to overcome in some cases. If you want to talk about success against the shift, that calls for a spray chart or other graphic and that’s not the kind of thing you can code from scratch on the fly. Regional networks rely on stats and graphics packages from their parent companies or third parties and that can limit the information that makes it onto the broadcast. It’s much easier to present something to the viewer if you can rely on automated processes built into the system rather than having to look something up on FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, or Baseball Prospectus and then find the right blank template to use.

In other words, the barriers to sabermetric integration on television are numerous. The network is a self-interested business and even if everyone on the inside is on board, they still have to think about how changes to the broadcast will affect their viewers. Additionally, any integration requires that the announcers have enough command of the metrics and a talent for communicating that type of information in way that makes sense to everyone. While there are many announcers who are skilled in this regard, there’s no guarantee that someone selected for poise and delivery will excel at speaking about advanced metrics, even if open to them as a tool.

But it’s not just about the announcers. They’re frequently the ones who receive praise and ridicule for what happens on the air, but there is a team of people who take the action on the field and pipe it onto your screens. If they don’t have the right production tools or people within that structure don’t see the value of bringing advanced metrics to the viewer, it’s a much heavier lift. Having announcers who inject sabermetrics into everything greases the wheels, but there is more to it.

Once broadcast teams begin to clear those hurdles, there is still the matter of deciding what information works well on television. Of course we want to see more holistic offensive metrics used instead of average and RBI, but there are a number of metrics and tools that are well-suited to live broadcasts.

The obvious one, which we’ve seen come on line recently, is Statcast. While there has been some internet mockery about the rise of exit velocity as a standalone point of interest, bringing a more complete set of Statcast metrics to television viewers has significant potential. You probably wouldn’t expect to see spin rate displayed for every pitch, but using spin rate and other pitching measurements to communicate whether a home run occurred on a bad pitch or was the result of a good piece of hitting could be very informative.

Should the third base coach have sent the runner? We can look at the runner’s speed, distance he needed to cover, and measurements about the outfielder’s arm strength and accuracy. Did the fielder get a bad jump/take a bad route or was it hopeless from the start? Statcast can hopefully tell us that.

In the same vein, one of the easiest additions should be a shot of the defensive positioning before each plate appearance. This is becoming more commonplace with the rise of shifting, but it’s something that takes two seconds and can fill the time between pitches that is often used on uninformative closeup shots of players. Whether you are for or against the shift, getting a heads up about where the players are standing is really informative. Directors could mandate this tomorrow league-wide and no one would complain.

Further, stats such as run expectancy, win expectancy and leverage index are perfect for the live viewing experience. Fans are constantly frustrated by their team’s seeming inability to deliver with men on base and using run expectancy to communicate how many runs a team should expect versus how many it scores would be a huge improvement over average with runners in scoring position. As a bonus, it might even help kill the sacrifice bunt.

Win expectancy and leverage index go hand in hand, especially when the game is close late. Broadcasts might not want to show a 92 percent win expectancy in the third inning, but using win expectancy and leverage index to demonstrate how significant big moments are has a lot of value. If a player is at the plate with the bases loaded, down two runs in the seventh inning, that’s a huge moment and being able to tell the viewer how important it is relative to the average moment can build excitement. And if the batter doubles and changes the win expectancy in a big way, all the better.

While many of us find WAR, wRC+ and FIP to be intuitive, there is nothing more intuitive than leverage and win/run expectancy. Run and win expectancy are also presented in a really straightforward way already and would be easy to work into the common parlance of the game. Leverage index might need to be converted into a percentage to make it easy to understand, but the concept is straightforward and even if you don’t know how it’s calculated, it’s one of those stats that passes the sniff test in virtually every instance.

Regional networks should give advanced metrics a place on television not only to speak to a group of fans who they haven’t spoken to in the past, but because sabermetrics are an important part of how the industry operates and it’s a disservice to all fans to pretend otherwise. Teams don’t look at RBI when building a roster and it’s the media’s job to pull back the curtain and tell the public what they use instead.

I have an obvious bias, but I’ve found that people in my life have responded really well to this kind of information when presented in the right way. Being a Tigers fan in Michigan is a good test of this concept, as Fox Sports Detroit has added Kirk Gibson to its TV rotation over the last two years. While Rod Allen, the network’s other main color commentator, is popular for his delivery and enthusiasm, Gibson has been extremely well received and commended for his insight into the game. While many of you probably think of Gibson as an old-school type based on his days as the Diamondbacks manager, he’s shown himself to be a believer in sabermetrics. People I know who aren’t likely to ever visit FanGraphs have remarked to me how much they like Gibson in the booth.

As a last small point, there’s a broader value in welcoming more scientifically rigorous thinking onto television. We live in a society that isn’t great at working through problems scientifically. In some cases, evidence is ignored and people doubt things that should be obvious. Sports have an important place in our culture and moving the needle on small things can lead to progress on larger issues. No matter what, there will be growing pains and angry tweets from people who are resistant to change, but bringing television into the modern era will improve the viewing experience and lead to better informed baseball fans.

Neil Weinberg is the Site Educator at FanGraphs and can be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.
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6 years ago

David Cone, on YES, does a great job introducing and speaking to BABIP, FIP, OPS+, and exit velocities.

Also in NY we have Keith Hernandez who considers “rib eye steaks” an advanced stat, and is slowly turning into Phil Rizzuto, talking more about ball park food in the booth than the game itself.

Craig Tyle
6 years ago

The flip side would be to stop reporting garbage stats – e.g., “He’s batting .400 this year with the bases loaded in home games.”

6 years ago

Sabermetric commentating aside, it would be nice if Fox Sports Detroit actually learned how to properly televise a baseball game. The game is on the field, it’s not in the stands, and it’s not in the dugout. Why do I need to watch Brad Ausmus for 10 seconds before the camera finally cuts back to the pitcher now in mid-motion? I guess I should turn on the radio broadcast, because I’m not sure that enlightened commentating will improve a crappy tele-presentation. Do you realize that they trailer advertisements between pitches? Maybe it should be called “pitches between pitches”.

Sorry if I went off-piste, but it’s impossible to contact Fox Sports Detroit. But hey, you made great points in your article.

Dan Greer
6 years ago
Reply to  Thomas

Detroit also has a horribly aligned centerfield camera.

6 years ago

I second the props for Cone. Fun guy to listen to, and really seems to like digging into sabermetrics. He talks about spin rate even!

Marc Schneider
6 years ago
Reply to  Terry

Yes, I saw the game on MLB the other night with Cone broadcasting and was impressed by his knowledge and interest in advanced stats. Most of the ex-jocks make fun of the stats. I don’t necessarily want to hear nothing but stats but it’s nice when the announcer shows at least a passing knowledge of them. I really find it unprofessional that the play-by-play guys-who ostensibly are professional announcers-seemingly don’t put in the minimal amount of effort to at least understand sabermetrics. Maybe they think it would offend their jock booth partners.

John Conely
6 years ago

Kirk Gibson is the worst thing that ever happened in a baseball booth. He is so boring I no longer watch any games that he broadcasts. No one cares about sabermetrics when they are watching a game on television. Trying to cram it down our throats is not going to work. You will just lose viewers. Ask many of the tiger fans who no longer listen to games when Gibson is on there. I never thought I would actually be bored watching a baseball game on television . Thanks Gibson .

Marc Schneider
6 years ago
Reply to  John Conely

Is your argument that Gibson uses stats too much or that he is just boring? It’s not clear what you are trying to say?

6 years ago

I would also throw out Jim Powell from the Braves radio broadcasts as a great example of merging sabermetrics with mainstream broadcasting. Last night he very intelligently wove Danny Salazar’s league leading wCH from fangraphs into an explanation of how it’s one of the best pitches in baseball.

6 years ago
Reply to  Elliott

I lurve Powell. The flip side to that is Joe Simpson, who is just…well, let’s say he is happy in his ignorance, and in showing it.

But you are correct. Powell usually does a good job introducing new metrics without losing the attention of a listener.

6 years ago

During yet another lost game versus the Indians recently the Atlanta announcers, Chip and Joe, were amazed by the stellar play of the Cleveland SS, Lindor. I was SHOCKED to hear Chip say something about the number of runs a great SS like Lindor could “save” for his team. He went on to say something about how someone should compile those kind of stats. I was STUNNED to hear Joe chime in with, “I believe Lindor leads MLB in defensive runs saved.” I kid you not…you can look it up…and if I had not heard it with my own ears, I would be forced to try and find the earlier broadcast because Joe has ridiculed “stat-heads” on air. It is more than a little obvious how he feels about sabermetrics. Yet even one so dense can wrap his mind around a SS “saving” his team X number of runs.

My favorite stat is WAA (Wins Above Average) at the Baseball Reference website because it is simple to explain, unlike WAR. I explained it to my wife after trying to explain WAR. Her response was, “Why would anyone use something convoluted like WAR when WAA is so simple?” She could wrap her mind around a player being worth three wins to an average team and finishing with an 84-78 record. She also understood the concept of arbitrarily asigning a level for a replacement player, but wondered why anyone in his right mind would do so when everyone understands “average” or “even” as in .500. She also wondered why it is “defensive runs saved” as opposed to “hits saved.” Her question was, “Exactly how many hits would a SS have to “save” to amount to saving one run?”

The Sabermetric community needs to keep the KISS principle in mind when advocating announcers utilize advanced statistics, such as has been done with OPS. Because OBP means much more than SLUG the number means practically nothing, but it is easy for fans to add the two numbers in lieu of doing it the right way. Even the websites add the two numbers rather than letting the computer programs do it right. Most people can add the two numbers in their head, but how many can do the correct math in their head? That is why B-Ref and Fangraphs do a disservice to we fans by simply adding the two numbers.

6 years ago
Reply to  BaconBall

Poeple prefer WAR because it tells you the value of the player. Let’s say a guy put up -1 WAA and 1 WAR in a season where the team finished 82-82, if he wasn’t on the team, the position would likely have been filled by a replacement level player, so the team wouldve actually been 81-82 without him, not 83-81.

People prefer defensive runs saved, because baseball is measured in runs and not hits. Why would I care how many hits a player saved? If you told me a SS saved 8 hits above average and a CF saved 6 hits above average, it is entirely likely that the CF provided more value to the team in preventing runs.

I have no idea what your last paragraph is talking about.

6 years ago
Reply to  BigChief

Big Chief writes, “Poeple prefer WAR…” What poeple? Who are these poeple? Stat-heads may prefer WAR, but the vast majority of baseball fans have absolutely no understanding of what, exactly, is WAR, and most could care less. If you do not believe me I suggest the Big Chief talk with many average fans and tell them a player is worth one WAR, then after attempting to explain WAR, which will cause the target to be even more flummoxed, tell them the player is worth one win above average. Guess which will be understood…

As for the last paragraph, I suggest you go here:

OPS stinks because it is WRONG to add OBP & SLUG. The number is unrealistic, yet it proliferates on many, if not all, baseball websites. It does this because it is easier to add than multiply. How can the Sabermetric community expect to be taken seriously when one of the most popular numbers is bogus?! I hope this elucidates the Big Chief about what the “last paragraph is talking about.”

6 years ago
Reply to  BaconBall

I think you are underestimating what the typical fan can understand. Saying that WAR is how many wins that player provides over a AAA or bench replacement will definitely not puzzle too many fans of the game.

I don’t know why it would be wrong to add OBP & SLG, you can do whatever you want, it just may not be the most accurate measure of offense. When you say, “OBP means much more than SLUG the number means practically nothing” I’m not sure if I understand what you mean by means. I guess, if you are saying OBP is easily defined, and SLG isn’t, I can agree, but as far as what is the better indicator of offense performance, I’m pretty sure SLG correlates better with offensive production than OBP. What the aritcle is talking about is the fact that SLG is over valued when you add the two together in OPS, which is absolutley correct, but relative to OBP, SLG is the better number by itself.

This is incredibly strange solution for wanting to keep it simple. The factor(1.75-1.8 depending on the year) that you have to multiply SLG by to get an more accurate OPS is calculated by running a regression to see how events change OBP and SLG relative to the linear weight values of those events. So yes, doing this to find a multiplier for OBP before adding to SLG (you could also apply the multiplier to SLG, it would just be the inverse of the OBP multiplier) gives you a more accurate representation of OPS. But it far from simple, and it still isn’t completely accurate (I get it’s like really close, but honestly, OPS gets you 90% of the way their already).

If you are already going to use linear weights to calculate a number for offensive prodction, why not use them directly instead of using them to fit a line that will give a good multipler for OPS? This is what wOBA does, just scaled to look like an OBP. So I’d agree that I’d prefer a world where OPS is used less often. Though if you’re replacing it with a stat, I think most people in the saber community would prefer wOBA. “How can the Sabermetric community expect to be taken seriously when one of the most popular numbers is bogus?!” This is one of the silliest things I’ve ever read. Okay, not actually but it still is pretty stragne. OPS is one of the most popular stats because it is so simple that average fans can easily understand the calc, even if it is a little inaccurate. I can’t imagine someone who would take the sabermetric community less seriously because of inaccuracies of a mainstream stat, especially when the mentioned inaccuracies have been indentified and corrected for, by the sabermetric community.

6 years ago

Here are my recommendations:

Do not shy away from using traditional stats

Mention the sabermetric stats when it makes sense. For example if a player has a .300 average with no walks and a 35 K% and a .400 BABIP, explain that his .250 wOBA is below average, explain the difference, and how he is likely to regress the batting average, etc.

No need to explian in full detail what wOBA means every time but please do say these simple terms: Average, better than average, much better than average, much worse than average; when saying a player has a .320 wOBA, etc.

Please do not use K/9 or BB/9, those stats are rather silly in my opinion, especially for relievers, K% and BB% are much more representative.

6 years ago
Reply to  Tesseract

“Do not shy away from using traditional stats”

This is true. We should keep in mind that, given an 8-year-old can calculate batting average and ERA, traditional stats can serve as a “gateway drug” to better information, as well as to the game itself, for kids. Consider: No one without a Ph.D. in math can figure out a quarterback rating, and what are we to make of a sport that lists its leading rushers by yards gained, not by carries, but ranks its receivers by the number of catches, not yards gained?

The little I’ve listened to him, the Pirates’ new PBP guy, Joe Block, seems to be trying to ease some more advanced stats (or at least their concepts) into broadcasts, somewhat the way it sounds like others here have described David Cone. Block kind of has his work cut out for him with Steve Blass as a sidekick, but he’s giving it his best shot.

Anon Mathematician
6 years ago

NESN (the home network for the Red Sox) has been tentatively experimenting with some more advanced statistics this season. In addition to the fielding position thing and pull%/opposite% information (which they present very concisely, graphically between pitches), they have also been bringing up random statistical blurbs about various players throughout the game, usually credited to Alex Spier (Boston Globe). These blurbs very frequently use measurements like WAR, wOBA, wRC+, FIP/xFIP, xBABIP, and such. They’re generally just presented in textual form without comment, but it’s a start.

WAR seems to me to be a very obvious candidate for near-term inclusion into the modern broadcast. It’s an all-encompassing stat, very naturally-understood (a win is a win), and it takes literally half a second to contextualize (“Oh, that Mike Trout fella has 10 WAR, and my guy has 8, so my guy must be pretty alright.”). Though it has the pronounced weakness of undervaluing relievers, and I suspect that might undercut some of its trustworthiness to the baseball viewing audience.

Context-independent pitching metrics need to settle down before broadcasters really do anything with it. The fact that we have FIP, xFIP, DRA and more really doesn’t help sell the message that this is a better measurement than plain-old ERA (or win/loss). K/9 and BB/9 are a lot more understandable, and have the advantage of not literally acting as an active research field, so I expect we’ll see them sooner rather than later. Once we settle on a more closely regressed pitching metric that properly rewards contact management (e.g. Estrada, Wright, or even Kershaw) and doesn’t get replaced every few years, maybe the broadcast community will consider it.

wOBA seems like a stat that will make it sooner rather than later, though no broadcaster is EVER going to say the acronym. I already hear some booth guests (e.g. Alex Spier) talking about hitters in terms of “odds of making an out”. It’s a very direct, very easy to understand stat, even if the calculation is more complicated. My main concern is that wOBA might be superseded by xOBA in the coming years, which leads us right back to the pitching metrics problem.

Oh and I’ve already heard several mentions (even on national broadcasts) of RA9 and WPA, most notably when discussing last year’s “Trout vs Donaldson” MVP question.

It’s happening. Slowly. Cautiously. Hindered by the active nature of the research field. But happening none-the-less.

For all its progressive features, NESN still dwells extensively on RBI and win/loss. I almost feel like the generation has to roll over before we see that particular institution abolished.

Marc Schneider
6 years ago

I was agreeing with what you said until you arrogantly said we need to do away with non-progressive stats. RBIs and win/loss have historical resonance that I enjoy even if I understand that they are not particularly good indicators of ability. What I dislike is this sort of totalitarian notion that we have to do away with all non-progressive ways of describing baseball. Is the next step sending fans to re-education camps so they can learn to talk about baseball the “right” way?

Don Pedro
6 years ago

Very good article, very interesting even for a stubborn old fashioned fan like me. Now, could you please write something to persuade players to leave that ridiculous long hair, thick beard, baggy uniforms fashion?

6 years ago

Adam Goldsmith is great at this. Dave Sims is atrocious.

6 years ago

Hey at least the networks are trying…
… well, sort of.

6 years ago

For many casual and even serious fans, what could be lacking for many in understanding advanced stats is context.

Most baseball fans have a pretty good idea if they’re told the batter has 25 home runs and 60 RBIs at the All Star Break that not only is the player having a damn good year but is likely up near the top of the leader boards for those stats.

So if announcers are going to tell us a player’s WAR and wRC+, etc., it would help the casual fan understand such stats better if they are put in a historical context or how they compare to their opponents, league leaders.

6 years ago

I will ask all of you: IF you have a subscription, have ANY of you watched a game with MLB PLUS, the 3rd option in addition to the home team broadcasters, and the away broadcast?

MLB PLUS is the Sabermetric broadcast. The visual of the field is way tinier, the commentary is slow with no enthusiasm and plenty of monotone from the saber reporters. It is completely BORING. You can talk about BABIP, WAR, wrc, OPS+ FIP or XFIP, or defensive runs saved and it is completely dull. I know a good game, great play, a wonderful arm, a beautiful and thunderous swing and undeniable footspeed when I see it. I can appreciate a great play by offense or defense without all the minutiae. I cannot listen or watch this 3rd option, it drives me nuts, so slow, even for baseball.

Its not like I don’t understand these metrics, I do, I am a stat guy, but it is not incorporated well and its too dominant in the broadcast. I know linear regression and understand regression to the mean, and can do it quickly myself. Long before there was R, or Tableau, there was this little Microsoft Excel add-in called ForecastX. Any one ever hear of it? It simply gets tiresome listening to all of the prefaced qualifying of the data and hearing the same explanations over and over.

6 years ago
Reply to  Eric

I watched half a game with MLBPLUS commentary and I agree – I’m a saber-inclined fan and I found the broadcast obnoxious. First, it’s done remotely from a studio so you don’t get any ambient park sounds. It also shares the same problems of traditional national broadcasts in that the commentators will ramble on long tangents with minimal attention being paid to calling the game itself. In fact MLBPLUS may be even worse than traditional national broadcasts in this regard because the saber-centric commentators come off as trying too hard to show off their knowledge regardless of whether that knowledge is at all relevant to what’s going on on the field. They also are not very well trained as professional broadcasters and talk way too fast.

Overall the broadcast has none of the pleasant ambience or rhythms of an actual baseball game. It’s more like a podcast with a game being played incidentally in the background. Moreover, the role that advanced stats occupy in the broadcast feels so inorganic and forced. It’s like the stats are the focus of the broadcast rather than the game. There has to be a way to incorporate advanced stats while retaining the inherent charm of the game that good local broadcasters excel at conveying.

6 years ago

Good stuff here, Neil.

I understand that broadcasts have to appeal to everyone. It’s fine if a network wants to present a hitter’s triple crown stats in a graphic because there are still lots of people who are in to that kind of thing, but why not throw in OBP and SLG too? Then you have have something that appeals to everyone. You want to include pitcher record and ERA in a graphic? That’s fine, but how about also include their strikeout and walk rates? Even if it’s in the form of K/9 and BB/9, I won’t complain.

I’ve never been more frustrated with broadcast booths than I have been lately. Way too much discussions of RBI and pitcher record, and too much not understanding small sample sizes and the power of variance in the game of baseball. As much I would love for broadcasts to discuss WAR and wRC+ and other advanced stats, I believe they could make great strides in improving in-game commentary by just displaying a basic understanding of modern baseball analysis. If they just stopped talking about RBI, pitcher record, and small samples, and throw in some OBP, SLG, strikeout and walk rates, I would be very happy even if they never mentioned an advanced stat.

6 years ago
Reply to  Luis

“If they just stopped talking about RBI, pitcher record, and small samples”

Maybe not stopped altogether, but supplemented? There are a lot of fans who want to watch baseball to relax, and not have to think so hard, and they buy tickets too.

As I mentioned above, you could break in kids with traditional stats, and if they begin to show any interest in the game and the numbers behind it, blend in newer stats — go to Baseball Stats 201, 301 etc.

Baseball has enough problems attracting a young audience as it is (by young, I mean 10 and under, about the age when kids might start playing real ball). I wouldn’t start them off with discussions of wOBA, any more than I’d expect a third-grader to be able to pick up trigonometry and analytical geometry (at which I tried and failed in high school).

The game and its broadcasts aren’t all about us. The broadcaster has to try to make the game intelligible to a wide range of interests and intellects. I think sometimes we lose sight of that.

OTOH, baseball is terrific because it lends itself to such a huge and expanding range of number-crunching. It’s funny when other sports try to imitate baseball and upgrade their stats beyond counting and rate numbers (yards gained, yards per carry, points per game, goals plus assists etc.). They often end up with absurd numbers like Quarterback Rating that nobody knows how to calculate and which seem to make little contribution to improving our understanding of the game.

6 years ago

Regarding detested traditional stats (wins, RBIs, and the not-a-stat-but-I’m-including-it issue of small sample sizes) and getting them off the broadcasts: I think the problem is not that they are used, it’s that they are used as something more than what they are, or are used to prop up a poor bit of reasoning. For example, on the Blue Jays home broadcast, I cannot count the number of times that a pitcher’s record gets brought up and Buck Martinez launches into his “the object of the game is to win, therefore wins are the most important way to measure a starting pitcher” diatribe. Or when he talks about wanting a batter to change his approach from a successful one to a more swing-happy, aggressive, gambling approach because he’s “a run producer” as evidenced by his 100 RBI seasons and that means he shouldn’t take walks, he should swing the bat and drive in more runs.

That’s the problem with those stats. not that they’re inherently bad. Instead that they’re gateways to stupider arguments and shoddy, noisy conclusions that foster flawed ways of thinking about the game. I don’t want my kids to ignore or misunderstand wins or RBIs. I want them to know that they are there, and they have their uses, but that we shouldn’t get too carried away with what they might represent.

More broadly, I don’t particularly care if a broadcast wants to be sabr inclined or not. If they’re happy having progressed as far as including OPS or WHIP in the stat display, that’s ok. As long as they treat the idea of statistical evolution with respect, they can set the bar for stat integration wherever they want. What I don’t like is when a slightly newer stat is broached on a broadcast and it immediately turns into a chance for curmudgeonly old baseball guys to gripe and groan about all the new numbers and how batting average, rbis, wins, and era tell you everything you ever needed to know.

Also broadcasters need to ease up on explanations and repetition. It’s practically become a drinking game for Blue Jays broadcasts to listen for the first mention of WHIP in a given game. Because, without fail, Pat Tabler will immediately recite what the acronym stands for. Every. Single. Time. In the past 3 or 4 years it would not surprise me if they have mentioned WHIP 250-300 times and then said “that’s walks and hits per innings pitched” (with the unnecessary “s” on “innings”) immediately afterward.

Marc Schneider
6 years ago
Reply to  Matt

That’s exactly right. These guys can’t over the idea that there is some inherent character issue at play in “knowing how to win.” Yet, at the same time, most of them will acknowledge when a pitcher is pitching in bad luck and losing because of poor run support and so on. There is just such cognitive dissonance among the old-time baseball types and they are unable, or unwilling, to recognize it. There is nothing complicated about the idea that RBIs don’t really reflect skill. You don’t need advanced statistics to make the argument that the more times you come up with runners on base, the more RBIs you will get. Yet, they have a need to have RBI reflect “clutchness,” which, in itself, they see as a character issue. “Clutch” hitters have character, non-clutch hitters don’t. What amazes me, though, is that guys who played don’t understand this. You would think they would be the ones who recognize the randomness of hitting; if the pitcher throws a perfect pitch with the bases loaded, he will probably get the hitter out.

6 years ago

Marc Schneider said…
“If the pitcher throws a perfect pitch…
he will probably get the hitter out.”

But Charlie Root, Ralph Branca, Jack Fisher, Ralph Terry, Pat Darcy and Mitch Williams didn’t.”

And that’s why the batters who hit the memorable home runs off of them are remembered far more than the hurler.

Those “guys who played” grew up dreaming of being that hitter, delivering that important game-winning blow. Just as countless kids growing up today.