A story about Twitter engagement with televised sports shows that (a) half of all Twitter comments about TV shows are sports-related; but (b) baseball lags the other sports:
One league that should be somewhat concerned, however, is Major League Baseball.
In addition to the fourth-worst television ratings in history, the 2013 World Series failed to crack the top 10 in Twitter engagement. That’s troubling given the matchup between teams from major media markets in Boston and St. Louis that have especially engaged and long-standing fanbases, in addition to the nationally compelling “Boston Strong” storyline following the Boston Marathon bombing.
Setting aside the questionable metrics regarding and overall utility of “Twitter engagement,” the same flaws that infect every story about baseball and TV rankings infect this one as well: a failure to appreciate baseball’s hyper-local focus and fan bases and the disperse nature of baseball as a televised event compared to things like football. Baseball is on every day, with as many as 15 games playing. It’s championship is spread out over a week. Football is a one day a week event for the most part and its big event is the Super Bowl. It’s old territory we’ve discussed around here many, many times.
My experience with baseball on Twitter — which at this point is pretty damn extensive — is that there are extremely strong groups of users centered around specific teams. These groups are generally referred to by team names, actually: “Yankees Twitter,” “Red Sox Twitter,” etc., describing that fan base. Every beat writer is intimately familiar with team-based Twitter communities. Often because they are extremely vocal, sometimes hostile, but undoubtedly passionate. They follow games closely and “engage” I would say, even if I’m not 100% sure what Nielsen means by that term.
Put more broadly: I see no shortage of Twitter engagement in baseball. It tends to drive an awful lot of baseball coverage, marketing and everything else. I am skeptical, however, if whoever is measuring that stuff understands how baseball and baseball fandom work. If they don’t, they certainly wouldn’t be alone in that respect.
Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.
Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.
With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.
As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.
As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.
I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.