Building smarter baseball fans starts in the broadcast booth

Living in Seattle and being a Mariners fan is growing more and more enjoyable. Yes, there's Jack Z and all the great moves he's made turning 100-loss team into a much buzzed-about contender. But on top of that, Mariners fans are blessed (yes, blessed) with a wealth of phenomenal reading material via what has to be the best blogosphere in the majors. There's Lookout LandingUSS Mariner, Pro Ball NW and even ASW's own Northwest Diamond Notes. It isn't mindless stuff either, these are intelligent baseball writers. As great as their content is, if I come across a post a bit too heavy with Sabermetrics and advanced statistics, I just can't do it. Like hitting an old 50 Cent song on shuffle, I roll right past.

It's not that I think they're wrong, I don't understand them. I read about sports for pleasure and haven't invested the time in doing 'homework' (see: LL's Sabermetrics 101 series) so I can understand some of the blog posts I read. These are the statists the best and most accurate baseball writers/bloggers use. They're the best evaluator on why one ball-player is better than another. And yet, a majority of baseball fans do not understand them, So, how does this change?

In a guest column on Baseball Prospectus, ESPN broadcaster Jon Sciambi says it starts in the booth:

Let's not forget "it's the search for objective knowledge about baseball." The goal is not unveiling newfangled stats; it's about getting people to understand basic ideas and concepts. To achieve that, we can't just slap stats up on the screen and explain them. Understanding has to come in the form of analysis. We have to use the stat and explain it. Sometimes it needs to be the [play-by-play] guy playing analyst and getting the color guy to react [...]

The metrics are getting so advanced that we're in danger of getting further away from the masses instead of closer. We, as broadcasters, have to find better and entertaining ways of explaining the math in bite-sized terms. Simplified, we need to explain that one of the problems with batting average, as opposed to slugging percentage, is that batting average values a single and a home run equally. We can't assume that's understood just because we understand it. And the only way it gets embedded is to keep beating the audience with it so that it becomes ingrained the way ERA eventually did, even though that once passed for advanced math. That, and we should all wear blue blazers with an emblem that reads, "OBP is life."

And that's what I need. Sometimes it feels as though sportscasting is never improving, with the only major advancements coming from technology, not an increased knowledge of the sport. It's not that there isn't more to learn, it's that not everyone is willing to learn it. It has to be worked into the normal routines of sports fans. That's the only way to improve the baseball acumen of the sport's fans.

Maybe you haven't noticed, but baseball fans love traditions. Hell, I'll even argue that Wins aren't a completely terrible pitching statistic. Sure, it doesn't determine the best hurler but a starting pitcher's job—in its purest and most simple form—is to allow less runs than the opposing pitcher(s). If they didn't do that, they didn't do their job that day, no matter how well they pitched. Yep, I'm an idiot.

So, while I plug away on the baseball blogs, possibly even doing some 'homework', I need the broadcasters to do the same. Someone in the mainstream media needs to advance the public's view of the sport. The bloggers have done their part in supplying anyone who wants the knowledge with the necessary materials. We just need every broadcaster to want to know more about the sport they cover, and pass that desire onto the rest of us.

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