Sciambi on stats on TV: "VORP, EqA, WAR, and Robert Parish are not walking through that door"


ESPN’s Jon Sciambi — one of the better and brighter baseball broadcasters you’re ever going to hear — wrote a guest column for Baseball Prospectus today.  It starts out with a great Chipper Jones anecdote and (accompanying pic), and segues into the challenges broadcasters face in bringing more advanced stats to baseball games on TV:

We need to get to where the masses understand there is no choice. This isn’t subjective. I evaluate offense with OBP and SLG while you like RBI
and runs scored is not the same as “I like strawberry, and you like
vanilla.” It’s “strawberry is better than vanilla.” More accurate and,
therefore, more delicious. To be clear, I don’t speak for ESPN here,
just me, but I think we have a responsibility to inform correctly. If a
majority of teams are using advanced metrics to inform decisions, then
we should do some of the same in analyzing those decisions . . .

. . . If we eliminate the noise of RBI,
runs, etc., keep it basic and utilize the slash stats, I believe that,
slowly, the desert masses will drink the sand. The [Baseball Prospectus] base must
understand: VORP EqA, WAR and Robert Parish are not walking through that door. Not for a
while. But it can only help if the broadcasters are a team, too–in
uniformity (together, I mean, not wearing those blazers) while
patiently holding that door open.

This is probably the most clear-eyed assessment of the role of statistical analysis in the mainstream media I’ve seen (it’s basically a better-put version of what I said on the topic yesterday).  No, you’re not going to convince millions of casual baseball fans to accept very granular metrics while they sit on their couches and watch the Game of the Week, so you probably shouldn’t press it.

But broadcasters can be smarter about it. They can explain the general concepts behind advanced statistical analysis — e.g., not making outs is more important than merely getting hits; fielding percentage can be a very misleading measure of defense — and not get bogged down in the numbers. And if they do so, baseball fans will be a lot better off for it.