Statistics in broadcasts? Fine, as long as you’re not just “throwing obscure percentages” at viewers

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There’s a story in the New York Times today discussing advanced statistics and how some broadcasters are trying (in some cases failing; in some cases wondering how to try) to integrate them into the telecast of ballgames. It has a particular focus on the Astros’ broadcasting team of Robert Ford and Steve Sparks, who are tasked with explaining the team’s new direction and management philosophy to Astros fans, much of which does include advanced metrics.

The story uses Indians’ broadcaster Tom Hamilton as a counterexample — someone who is loathe to go that route. His quote:

But some old-guard broadcasters have resisted adding obscure percentages and acronyms to their banter and game descriptions. Tom Hamilton, 58, who is entering his 24th year as the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians, said he believed listeners would rather hear stories from the clubhouse than statistics from spreadsheets.

“Nobody after a game is going to remember numbers you throw at them, but they might remember a story about a player,” Mr. Hamilton said.

This, in my view, evinces a total misunderstanding of how stats can and should be meaningfully conveyed to ballplayers.

Because, actually, Hamilton is right: if you just rattle off numbers at viewers, they won’t make any impact. Indeed, if I ran a broadcast team which I wanted to go a bit deeper into advanced statistics, I’d fire them if all they did was rattle off “obscure percentages and acronyms.” That’s boring. Rather, I’d want them to explain the concepts behind the numbers, even if they never mention the numbers themselves.

There’s no real need to tell viewers some BABIP stat if you’re explaining the idea that many pitchers have bad/good years because they have bad/good luck on balls in play and apply that to the guy on the mound. There’s no need to list the WAR leaders as long as you’re explaining to them that a players’ all-around play — defense, baserunning and offense — matter when comparing them to others. Yes, you note that those things are measured and, sure, if you’re comfortable with them and your listeners trust you you can eventually go down the road of listing leaders and stuff. But the key idea is to get at what those stats are describing, not the numbers themselves. You can hip your viewers to these ideas — many of which are totally intuitive — without throwing math at them.

I don’t care if a broadcaster ever even cites WAR or whatever. As long as he’s intelligently explaining baseball and is able to simply and entertainingly convey the concepts, it’s all good.

The Red Sox start is ridiculous

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The red-hot Red Sox completed a sweep of the previously red-hot Angels last night, outscoring them 27-3 in their three-game series. Last night’s game was, relatively speaking, a close one, with the Sox winning “only” by six runs. They did manage to strike out Shohei Ohtani three times, though, so some style points help make up for the “squeaker.” Also worth noting that they held Mike Trout of all people to a 3-for-11 line in their three-game series. He did not score a single time and drove in no runs.

That series win puts the Sox at 16-2 on the year. They dropped their Opening Day game to the Rays, but then won their next six games against Tampa Bay, which I’d say makes up for it. In between those two series they swept a two-game series from the Marlins and afterwards they took two of three from the Yankees and three in a row from the Orioles. The only thing that even threatened to slow this juggernaut down is the weather, resulting in a postponement of Monday morning’s Patriot’s Day game. Somewhere in here we should notice that they’re doing this with their starting shortstop and starting second baseman on the disabled list.

As we’ve noted many times, their 16-2 record is the best start in the Red Sox’ 118-year history. It’s also the best start for any team since the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers began 17-1 (let us just forget, for the time being, that those Brewers lost 18 of 20 in May of that year). They are the fourth team since 1961 to win 16 of its first 18 games.

The Sox aren’t simply getting lucky here. They’ve scored 116 runs and have allowed only 50, which is a Pythagorean record of 15-3. They lead all of baseball in offense, scoring 6.44 runs a game, leading individually in average, on-base percentage and slugging. They are only three one hundredths of a run behind the Astros from leading all of baseball in pitching, allowing only 2.78 runs a game. They’re winning all of these games because, in the early going, they’ve simply been that dang much better than everyone they’ve played.

No, the Sox are not going to go 144-18, as they are currently on pace to do. Yes, they are going to find a lot more trouble in their schedule once they play the Orioles, Rays and Marlins less, play a healthier Yankees team more and face off against the Astros, the Blue Jays, the Indians, the Twins and some tougher interleague opponents. This is baseball, obviously, and no one makes it through a season without rough patches, long, short and numerous.

Still: this has been one whale of a start for Boston. Those wins are in the bank. It’s been quite the thing to see.