At the 2018 SABR Analytics Conference, the Is the Media Doing its Part to Advance the Analytics Discussion? panel on March 10, 2018, included ESPN broadcaster Jon “Boog” Sciambi, Eno Sarris of The Athletic, baseball author Rob Neyer, and moderator Brian Kenny of MLB Network.
- Audio: Listen to the Media Panel at the 2018 SABR Analytics Conference (MP3; 54:57)
Here are some highlights:
ON ANALYTICS IN THE BROADCAST BOOTH
- Neyer: “I think the real issue on the broadcasts is not the play-by-play guys, it’s the analysts, the ex-players in particular. They seem incredibly resistant — and the reasons for that are obvious. They spent decades being told that what matters is not the data … they were told that the way to succeed is to do what your coaches tell you and to hustle and all these other things that have nothing to do with numbers. … I don’t think we’re going to see a real sea change in the booth until the Zack Greinke generation is in the booth. And then all of a sudden, there’s going to be a huge change. But we’re not there yet because those guys are still playing.”
- Sciambi: “Look, baseball people can see stuff that I can’t see. But one of the things you have to be able to discern is they can’t eyeball results. So when you go to a coach and ask, ‘Why is Ryan Braun struggling this year?’ And they say, ‘He’s getting fewer fastballs because Prince Fielder isn’t hitting behind him.’ … I can look [that up.] And if they said this result was happening, we just accepted [it]. And now we can look on our own [to see if it’s true.] So I’m still interested in the things they can see and their thoughts on why, but anything [where] they’re just eyeballing data, that’s where I think there’s a failure.”
- Sarris: “I think numbers represent management, to players a lot of times. Numbers represent someone trying to put a number on you, put a wins above replacement number, to reduce you to one stat. I think just now we’re starting to see front offices that are better at liaising with the players, and putting people from the front office on the coaching staff, having guys like Sam Fuld around, because that bridges the gap. … The more we do that, the more I think we’ll have a healthy relationship between front office and players, and players who become analysts, and the numbers.”
ON THE QUALITY OF BASEBALL WRITING IN THE 2010s
- Neyer: “There has never been a better time to be a baseball fan, a consumer. … Now, with so many great beat writers and so many blogs, it’s a great time to be a [reader]. … If we could maintain this level, given economic models, I think we’d all be thrilled.’
- Sciambi: “Baseball has led the way. … I would maintain baseball is ahead of the other sports in terms of the amount of smart coverage that you have the ability to get — this still happens in baseball too, but in hoops and in football, [you hear] ‘This guy is a winner and he makes winning plays.’ Kill me. Seriously, I want to see it keep getting better but baseball has led the way. … I think it’s at a higher level, in my opinion, than any other sport.”
ON INTRODUCING NEW CONCEPTS TO FANS
- Neyer: “This stuff is not super-complicated. You talk about [catchers’] pop time, this is not a complicated concept. Anyone who has ever watched five baseball games would understand what that is. Maybe they’re not familiar with the nomenclature, but give them a 10-second explanation and they got it. And now they’ve got it forever. … I think a great game analyst, if it’s an ex-player, is someone who can impart the things they learned as players. And if they can mix in a few metrics, like David Cone does, all the better. I don’t require that from an analyst, but there are too many analysts who don’t even impart the things they learned as players.”
ON PLAYERS’ PERCEPTION OF SABERMETRIC WRITERS
- Sciambi: “I think that at times there’s a collective negativity [in the sabermetric community.] It can turn into ‘we’re smart and you’re dumb.’ I think tone is important. So I understand maybe why at times the players perceive it as anti-player, because it’s not always delivered with good tone, but I don’t believe that’s true. Much the other way, that’s the one part that’s misunderstood, people here love baseball, man. They throw shoes at the TV like everyone else. They just like numbers, too.”
- Sarris: “My editor at FanGraphs, Carson Cistulli, always made a big point of trying to find a way, even if you were criticizing, to make the story kind of uplifting in some way. He always thought the cyncism — we weren’t going to be Fire Joe Morgan, you know. We weren’t going to just attack and tear down. It was always about building something. That’s something I always respected about him as an editor. Starting with a baseline of ‘these guys are amazing at what they do’ is really, really good. We can still investigate how Adam Wainwright can return to form and admit that he wasn’t very good last year. But come at it from let’s build this guy up rather than tear him down.”
For more coverage of the 2018 SABR Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics.
Originally published: March 14, 2018. Last Updated: July 27, 2020.