Right Field

And Now for Something Completely Different

Are you a fan of sabermetrics? 

Did you enjoy, during the NCAA title game, ESPN’s BCS Film Room featuring additional camera angles and studio analysts breaking down the Xs and Os?

Or are you just unnerved by the sound of Joe Buck’s voice?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, Fox Sports 1 has a treat for you this evening.

Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight elaborates:

Although sabermetrics has substantially reshaped baseball’s on-field product over the past few decades, its progress in the broadcast booth has been slower. It’s not hard to see why the two trends haven’t moved in lockstep: While teams adopted the analytics model out of the need to win games, the same market pressures didn’t apply to commentators. For teams, integrating sabermetrics meant they were more likely to win; for commentators, it meant they were more likely to confuse. But now a younger generation is steeped in analytics, and statistically minded fans obsessively check sites such as Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference and Brooks Baseball to get what broadcasts and talk radio aren’t providing.

Broadcasters have taken note. In the past few years, we’ve seen some geeky milestones: Sun Sports produced a special sabermetric broadcast of a Tampa Bay Rays game, and WGN flashed a run expectancy matrix on screen during a Cubs broadcast. And Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver, not exactly standard-bearers for the analytics movement, are off the air.

On Saturday, Fox Sports 1 is hoping to facilitate the next breakthrough for on-air stat-geekery. During Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, the channel, working in conjunction with its Just A Bit Outside blog, is mounting a broadcast that promises to focus on “statistics, sabermetrics, and graphics, with plenty of debate and conversation while the action plays out on the field.” The show will feature a split-screen, with the game in one window and in the other a panel that includes longtime sabermetric proselytizer Rob Neyer and ex-players turned stat-friendly broadcasters Gabe Kapler and C. J. Nitkowski, not to mention current San Diego Padres manager Bud Black. It’s an experiment in whether mainstream America — or at least the America that watches Fox Sports 1 on a Saturday night — is finally ready for metrics to invade Morgan and McCarver’s former province.

Kapler certainly seems to think it is, noting that plenty of numbers now widely used on TV (like WHIP and OPS) were once just as foreign to viewers as xFIP and Ultimate Zone Rating. “Baseball fans are ready to absorb metrics they can use to predict what’s coming,” he said.

Along similar lines, Neyer hopes the JABO broadcast can put numbers to the baseball fundamentals that fans are used to. “We’ll be talking about the same things that everybody else talks about, just on a somewhat different — and ideally, higher — level,” he said.

Neyer’s pet example is pitch framing. While most serious fans know that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is an expert in what Neyer calls “stealing” strikes on borderline pitches, the NLCS coverage will highlight the fact that Molina’s counterpart on the Giants, Buster Posey, is just as good at that dark art according to the numbers.

More here.

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