“I don’t really understand OPS,” Drinkwitz said, referring to the metric that calculates on-base plus slugging percentage. “They don’t really explain what that means and what that’s really about and how it’s figured, what’s considered a good one and what’s not.”
On the other end, Jim Stanley of Elk River doesn’t take as kindly to advanced statistics.
“When I hear [radio analyst] Dan Gladden talking about exit velocity, I just want to heave,” Stanley said. “Baseball has always been the sport I love. I think it’s the best game there is, and sometimes we try to ruin it statistically.”
Waves of information populate baseball in 2018. New statistics and metrics pop up every season. It can be hard to keep up, and it presents an interesting challenge for broadcasters. How much of this information do you present to educate the audience about the modern changes to the game at the risk of confusing or alienating viewers and listeners?
“It’s vital to do that in today’s age,” said Twins WCCO-AM play-by-play man Cory Provus.
“If you don’t, you’re being naive to how teams are being assembled. … To just rely on home runs, batting average, RBI and pitcher wins and losses — you’re going to be behind the times and just maybe out of a job one day because you have to adapt.”
Provus and Fox Sports North’s Dick Bremer said it’s important for both broadcasts to make their audiences aware of some of the advanced statistics in the game. Frequently viewers will see or hear the broadcasts present Statcast information, such as exit velocity or launch angles after home runs.
But broadcasts can’t be too technical, they said, since many people might be absorbing a statistic or metric for the first time.
“It’s like trying to teach someone a new language almost in terms of your viewer base,” Bremer said. “What do you do if you flood all the information out at one time and just go overboard? Well, the retention isn’t going to be very good for your viewer.”
Provus said he will use stats like OPS (the sum of on-base percentage and slugging average) or weighted runs created for hitters and will use WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) for pitchers along with relaying Statcast information, which he said is a sponsored segment on Twins radio broadcasts (much to Stanley’s chagrin).
Provus will also cite WAR (wins above replacement), but he said he needs to add context behind every statistic.
“What I feel the need to do is that if I’m going to go down that path, and I try not to do it every day, but maybe once a week is to remind the audience what the league average is, to give it context,” Provus said. “Because if I’m not, then I feel like I’m maybe losing a percentage of my audience.”
Most of that audience is above 55 on radio, Gladden said.
“I don’t think it confuses the listener; I think there’s some listeners that get a lot of knowledge from it,” Gladden said. “I think you have to be able to broadcast to your fan base.”
Bremer said Fox’s research has shown viewers don’t want to get overloaded with too many statistics, but as a broadcaster he still has to do his job to inform viewers.
“It’s our responsibility to make them aware, but to a point,” Bremer said. “It does take time to explain fielder-independent pitching [FIP], and will we succeed in explaining it to them? In an ideal world, we would have some time to do that, but it is a live sporting event. It’s not a seminar.”
Or as one of Bremer’s partners in the booth, Bert Blyleven, said: “Just call the game. The game is the game. Sometimes you get overloaded.”
Some fans still prefer seeing only the statistics they grew up seeing, those that are intuitive to understand, such as batting average, RBI and home runs, even if they don’t present a complete picture of the game they’re watching.
“Baseball is a statistics game and so it does fit the game, the launch angle and exit velocity,” Drinkwitz said. “You know, they’re OK, but they don’t seem to mean a lot to an average fan.”
But that’s not going to stop the broadcasts from relaying that information in the hope that the average fan becomes an informed one.