Last night ESPN 2 conducted a statistically oriented broadcast of the NL Wild Card game – a “StatCast” broadcast they called it. Mike Petriello, who is a very knowledgeable baseball writer with regards to analytics and their applications towards winning games, was joined by play by play man Jason Benetti and color commentator (and former player) Eduardo Perez in the booth.
With the caveat that my opinion is slanted, the broadcast and the game were a joy to watch and listen to. And based on social media tracking (there is such a thing apparently) positive comments outweighed negative comments at around a 9 to 1 ratio.
I found Petriello to be clear and succinct while still being comprehensive, Perez inquisitively interested and Benetti kept the focus on the gameplay, despite the slant of the broadcast. (Scratches head, wonders if Michael Kay noticed…)
If you didn’t catch the broadcast, here’s what you missed:
Clear, simple explanations of many of today’s newer stats. Many fans simply turn away from things like xFIP because they think it’s like doing calculus or something – it is not. Petriello, with great questions from Perez and Benetti explained all statistics that came up during the game (i.e., not forced) clearly and simply.
He mentioned how there is a correlation between how hard a ball is batted and its chances of landing safely as a hit. I will never understand how explaining to people that hitting the ball hard is a good thing is a necessity, but it clearly is. Exit velocity isn’t statistical tchotchke (looks at you, Matt Versergian), it’s a valuable manner in which to evaluate player performance.
When there was a bunt attempt, Petriello quickly gave the numbers on what the scoring chances were prior to the bunt and what they changed to after the bunt. Not judgments, speeches, debates, and lectures. Just here are the numbers, you decide if that was a good play or not.
Petriello’s communication skills came in handy when the topic of weighted runs created plus (wRC+) came up. Again, despite the cries of many, this isn’t linear algebra, it’s quite simple actually. wRC+ takes on base percentage and slugging percentage and weighs them accordingly because OBP is more valuable than SLG (one of the problems with OPS is that it weighs SLG more than OBP). Then adjustments are made for the park (Coors field is easier to hit in than Safeco field for example) and the era (it was easier to score runs in 2000 than in 1968 for example). That gives you a number that is a player’s wRC+, with 100 being league average.
So when Anthony Rizzo was leaving the batter’s box, Petriello noted that Rizzo had a 125 wRC+ in 2018, meaning he was 25% better offensively than an average major leaguer. Cool. Simple, right? Then Javy Baez walked up to the plate and Petriello noted that Baez had a 131 wRC+, meaning he was 31% better offensively than an average batter.
Then one of the better exchanges between broadcasters occurred:
After Rizzo and Baez, Petriello mentioned for perspective that Mike Trout’s wRC+ was around 194, at which point he was cut off by Perez who needed clarification and asked “ONE NINETY FOUR…?!?!”
Yes, Eduardo and anyone out there questioning the extent of Trout’s dominance. Anthony Rizzo is a power hitting 1st baseman, all-star, possible future Hall of Famer. The distance in offensive production between Trout and he is almost 3 times the gap between Rizzo and an average player. What do the kids say? ”JFC”…
Perez was cool about it. Clearly, surprised and impressed and seemed glad to learn a little.
Speaking of which…
What was said in last night’s broadcast was not as important as what was not said.
At no point did John Smoltz or Bobby Valentine misrepresent what the statistically inclined have said in order to make their ignorant and ultimately nonsensical points.
At no point did Paul O’Neill make baseless claims on how runs are scored. “Put pressure on the defense” wasn’t uttered once on last night’s broadcast.
At no point did Al “I know there are stats on this, but I don’t believe them” Leiter proudly proclaim his willful ignorance.
And at no point did we have to endure Michael Kay interviewing whoever is next to him as an excuse for him to interminably complain about everything he feels is wrong about the game. In fact, not only did Petriello – you know, the nerd – avoid calling a game unmanageable, he made a point about how fun it was to watch Baez and Wilson Contreras play. No numbers necessary. Just “fun”.
I’ve written it here before so there’s no need to rehash, but it’s always struck me as ironic that the people who believe statistics are taking the fun out of baseball are precisely the people who constantly crap on the product and complain that it isn’t fun.
Pace of play. Pitching changes. Length of game. No small ball. Too many strikeouts. Too many home runs. Too many relievers. Guys don’t go the other way. It’s all power pitching, not finesse. Back in my day…
I may be overly optimistic, but I’m hoping last night was a turning point. I’m hoping that the angry ex-jocks with the “hey kids get off my lawn takes” took notice:
It isn’t Mike trout’s wRC+, or Jacob deGrom’s xFIP that’s killing the game for many people.
It. Is. You.
Thanks to Tom Tango and Joe Sheehan for some of the info here.
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