Saturday, April 12, 2014
Statistics have always been a big part of baseball. And a major crutch for announcers who have no imagination and nothing else to fill time with. Now with Sabermetrics and more detailed categories like VORP, DRS, FIP, EQA, WHIP and WAR number crunching has been taken to a whole new level. Not that these new stats aren’t informative and useful, but there is an avalanche of them. Certainly way more than the average baseball fan can process or wants to process.
And now the Houston Astros have mandated that these analytics be a prerequisite to their broadcasts. I feel especially sorry for their longtime TV announcer, Bill Brown. He’s a terrific play-by-play man. But now saddled with this emphasis on modern-day stats and a bad team, this was the rating for the Astros’ telecast last Monday against the Los Angeles Angels: 0.0. Let me repeat that number. 0.0. And this isn’t the end of the season when the team is mathematically eliminated. It’s their first homestand. How is that even possible? (And it wasn't the first time.)
Yeah, WHIP and WAR really save the day.
Listeners want to hear storytellers. They want to be entertained. If they’re listening on the radio they want the game to come alive. They want the announcer to put them in the stadium through vivid descriptions. They want personality.
Statistics are fine in key game situations. Especially if the games have import. Playoff games, for example. Ninth innings. Pennant races. They can enhance a big moment. But breaking down a batter’s average against a certain pitcher when he’s had only six at bats against him and it’s the second inning of a game in mid April – who gives a shit?
Why cater your broadcast to the diehard fans? A) There are not that many of them. B) They’ll listen no matter what you do. C) You chase away casual fans. Women (50.8% of the American population), in particular, tend not to care about Wins Above Replacements.
Who would you rather spend two hours with – a captivating storyteller or someone reading actuary tables?
Yes, I'm old school, but give me Ernie Harwell, Bill King, Jack Buck, Dave Niehaus, Hank Greenwald, Lon Simmons, Harry Caray, Chuck Thompson, Bob Prince, Harry Kalas, Mark Holtz, and Jack Brickhouse.
Baseball broadcasts need showmanship, not additional deep-dish analysis. The only statistic that really counts is this: 0.0.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM